CFL Inter-League team set up West Cheshire rematch after penalty shootout drama
It is often said that a penalty shootout is the cruelest way to decide a cup tie and, whilst there is some truth to that, it seemed fitting that a game so action-packed with endeavour and guile from both sides should reach its conclusion at a breathless stalemate.
In the end penalties were the only viable means of separating two sides that were so evenly matched.
The Cheshire Football League and the Yorkshire Amateur League slugged it out for 120 minutes on a bitterly cold day at Hyde United’s Ewan Fields stadium and it was perhaps paradoxical that a game which had been all about heart, was decided by the ultimate test of nerve.
Before the game Cheshire manager Nick Dunn demanded that his players be ruthless and not show undue respect to their opponents but, after Liam Houghton had dispatched the winning penalty, he was full of praise for Yorkshire.
‘I was so impressed with them. As a team they were the best team we have played so far I thought they were fantastic.
They asked a lot of questions that we didn’t answer first half so we had to come out in the second half and take it to them and really force the issue,’ he said.
He was less complimentary about his side’s first half performance which he deemed below the standards his players have set for themselves.
‘The first half didn’t go so well. You can plan these things out but you don’t know what they’re (Yorkshire) going to do when they turn up. First half we didn’t play very well at all.
‘I challenged them to go out there and correct it and in the second half they did exactly what we asked them to do,’ he said.
Dunn looked on as the lively Elliot Morris, who tormented the Yorkshire backline until he went off injured in the second half, fired just wide after being played in behind by Ed Burthem.
Just moments after that opportunity Cheshire found themselves behind.
Joe Tasker was allowed to take the ball to the byline untouched before pulling back for Louis Surtees to tap in from close range.
Cheshire’s frustration manifested itself in the shape of a yellow card for the tireless Danny Clarke, a man who saw red for two yellows in Cheshire’s last outing, their 2-1 Cooper-Smith Trophy final defeat to the West Cheshire League.
If the first half was frustrating the start to the second couldn’t have been any different for Dunn’s men. They were awarded a penalty less than five minutes into the second period after Nial Dawson was clumsily fouled just inside the box.
Nathan Southern stepped up, as he had done in his side’s first round victory against the Isle of Man and slammed the ball into the top right corner.
Along with Morris, Southern would also depart prematurely after jarring his back; If Cheshire were going to win this they would have to do so without their talismanic striker and their most exciting attacking outlet.
Both sides had chances to win it inside the regulation 90 minutes but after Chris Quirk missed a gilt-edged opening and Yorkshire’s Rinor Ctupi rattled a post, it seemed inevitable that an extra 30 minutes would be required.
Going into that extra period Cheshire keeper Nick Ward was both hopeful and confident that his teammates could prevent the tie going to penalties.
‘All I’m thinking is I hope the lads score because I don’t want penalties. I firmly believed we were going to score. We’ve got so much talent and look so dangerous going forward. I know how threatening we can be and in all honesty I was surprised we didn’t score,’ he said.
Rather than watching goals fly in at the other end Ward was called into action to keep the scores level and in the process assembled the platform upon which he would later stand as a hero; he somehow denied Yorkshire in the second-half of extra time when he got his body in the way of an effort from James Burgess who must have thought he had won it.
Around 20 minutes later Ward was officially unveiled as the hero of the piece after saving two of Yorkshire’s spot-kicks. Yet, despite his heroics, he was in a modest mood after the game.
‘It’s pot-luck most of the time and I’m not normally very good at them. It’s just about getting something firm on them and luckily I managed it,’ he said.
Whilst Ward rightly won the plaudits his manager was quick to praise those who volunteered to make the long walk from the centre circle.
‘You feel totally helpless but I trust them. It’s all about characters and there are some great leaders in there. Adam Stening led by example. When it went to penalties five or six put their hands up straight away,’ he said.
Captain Adam Stening was as assured from 12 yards as he had been all afternoon at the heart of Cheshire’s backline and after the game he too spoke glowingly of his side’s character.
‘We had so much heart and passion, the lads on the pitch fight for each other. We gave everything and put everything on the line and it was a brilliant performance.
‘There is more to come. We had to bring new players in and that was our first game together so give us a couple of weeks and we’re going to be a really dangerous side,‘ he said.
His confidence in the ability of the group of players Dunn and his staff have assembled is echoed by Ward, too.
‘I don’t feel that we were 100% today. We had some nice spells of football but if we were on it all game I think we would have been out of sight.
‘When we do play to our potential I don’t see anyone touching us,’ he said.
Attention now turns to the quarter-final, to be played sometime in February of next year, against the West Cheshire League in a rematch of the Cooper-Smith Trophy final.
Dunn’s men lost that day and Stening knows that, if they are to make it through to the last four, they will have to be on their game.
‘We didn’t give a good account of ourselves that day so we’ve got a point to prove. They’re getting through the rounds and doing well so we have to respect them and if we don’t and we turn up like we did in the final we will get beaten.
‘It’s a local derby so we need to give 100% in that game,’ he said.
For Dunn the chance to avenge that defeat to West Cheshire can’t come soon enough.
‘I cannot wait. We didn’t turn up that night, we didn’t do ourselves justice and we need to correct that.’
CFL Press Officer