Goalkeeper Nick Ward was the hero as the Cheshire Inter-League side booked their place in the quarter-final of the FA Inter-League Cup with a 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory over the Yorkshire Amateur League. Yorkshire took the lead in the first half when Louis Surtees converted from close range following good work from Joe Tasker but that lead was cancelled out early in the second half when Nathan Southern converted from the penalty spot. The game then took on an a more attritional tone as both sides probed without much effect as the match wore on. Both sides had chances to win it with Chris Quirk going close with stooping header for Cheshire before Rinor Ctupi rattled a post for Yorkshire at the other end. Extra-time saw the first of Ward’s heroics when he foiled substitute James Burgess at point blank range. Before he saved two of Yorkshire’s spot-kicks and gave Liam Houghton the chance to win it.
The first half ebbed and flowed with Yorkshire being the first to establish a foothold in the game and they had the first meaningful chance of the game when Nathan Smith curled a shot just wide from 25 yards. Joe Tasker, who threatened all afternoon, broke into the box a short while later but was crowded out as he tried to get his shot off. As Tasker hustled and harried at one end Cheshire’s Elliot Morris was causing problems for the Yorkshire defence with his pace. He beat the full-back on numerous occasions but his crosses failed to find Nathan Southern in the middle. The first clear cut chance of the match came for Yorkshire when Nathan Smith danced past a couple of tackles but could only drag his shot wide as a gap opened up in front of him. Cheshire continued to utilise the pace of Morris to good effect and it was the winger who almost gave Cheshire the lead when he was slid through by Ed Burthem. Morris set himself but fired fired wide as the angle tightened. Having gone so close to taking the lead Cheshire found themselves behind two minutes later when Tasker got to the byline before pulling the ball back for the waiting Surtees who couldn’t miss. Cheshire’s frustration was made manifest when the tireless Danny Clarke was booked for one foul too many as the half came to a close with Yorkshire a goal to the good. Nick Dunn’s men came out with renewed vigour in the second half and took the game to their opponents and their endeavour was rewarded when Nail Dawson was feled in the penalty box after a period of sustained pressure. The ever reliable Southern stepped up and slammed the ball into the top right corner to level the scores. There was controversy on the 70th minute when Yorkshire claimed the ball had crossed the line after a goal-mouth scramble but the linesman waved away the appeals and the scores remained level. It wasn’t all good news for Cheshire though. They were dealt a double blow when first Morris and then Southern limped off with injuries. The latter’s replacement Chris Quirk came close to winning for Cheshire late on when he got himself on the end of a deep cross but his header went the wrong side of the post. Moments later the Eagle man was involved again when he cut the ball back for Ellis Houghton who couldn’t get enough on the ball the guide it home. At the other end Rinor Ctupi’s powerful drive left the goal-frame shaking as Yorkshire reminded their opponents they were still up for a fight. With nothing to separate the sides after 90 minutes the game went to extra-time and it was Yorkshire who went closest to winning it when Burgess bundled the ball goalwards only to be denied by Ward with a brilliant instinctive save. The final moments epitomised the spirit that Dunn has instilled in his squad with Stening, Clarke and Luke Jones all putting in important challenges to thwart Yorkshire. Penalties loomed and as the referee blew the final whistle skipper Stening was already preparing himself for a spot-kick. He stepped up first for Cheshire but not before Nick Ward denied his opposite number Jordan Wright who took first for Yorkshire. Stening scored and Yorkshire levelled through Joe Firth before Dawson made it 2-1 with a penalty which belied the pressure of the situation. Jose Diaz, who came on the extra-time, scored to make it 2-2 before Jones had his effort saved; Wright getting a strong hand to the ball the keep it out. Tasker was next up for Yorkshire but Ward, diving full-length to his left, pawed the ball away. Danny Clarke was next up and he capped a brilliant performance with a coolly taken kit to make it 3-2. Burgess, who had been a handful when he came on, scored to level it up at 3-3 before Liam Houghton slammed the ball home to win it for Cheshire sparking predictably wild celebrations among the players. Victory for the Cheshire Football League sets up a quarter final tie with county rivals West Cheshire and Nick Dunn and his players will be hoping to avenge their Cooper-Smith Trophy final defeat.