Brilliant BULWELL made sure their first season in the Central Midlands League has a silver lining when they basked in cup-final glory on Tuesday night.
With their bid for the South Division title slipping away, Bulwell faced a mighty task when taking on newly-crowned North Division champions AFC Mansfield.
But in a superb, no-holds-barred match that was a terrific advert for the league, they triumphed 2-1 to lift the Phoenix Trophies Floodlit Cup.
Moneybags Mansfield were warm favourites to retain the trophy they won last season -- especially after a prolific league campaign in which they plundered more than 130 goals and suffered only two defeats.
But they came across a Bulwell side determined to add to their Notts Senior League and cup doubles of the past two campaigns.
And after goals from Darren Garmston and Connor Croft had earned the spoils in a battle between two clubs nicknamed The Bulls, proud secretary Andy Radford paid tribuite to manager Terry Witts and his assistants, Steve Osborne and Ian Lowe, who have breathed remarkable new life into the locals.
“They must have strong magnets in their pockets because the silverware just keeps on returning, season after season,” Radford said.
Mansfield, who are captained by former Hucknall Town skipper Chris Timons, had beaten two other Dispatch district sides, Hucknall Rolls Leisure and Linby Colliery Welfare, in different cup competitions this term.
But they found Bulwell a tougher nut to crack and were two behind after only 26 minutes.
First, midfield maestro Darren Garmston found space to unleash a tremendous effort from 20 yards that flew into the top corner.
And nine minutes later, man-of-the-match Ryan Bowen showed his full-back a clean pair of heels before crossing for Connor Croft to net in style from 12 yards.
The match, watched by a big crowd that included a vociferous following from Bulwell, got more and more tense as it went on, with some heavy challenges and even a scuffle adding spice to the second half.
Indeed Mansfield’s Joe Naylor was lucky to stay on the pitch after a rash two-footed challenge on Bowen.
Controversy also surrounded the goal that Bulwell conceded midway through the half because Ben Moore appeared to have been fouled in the build-up. Play was waved on and when the defence failed to clear, Mark Carter was on hand to smash home from close range.
Locals’ skipper Dwayne Soar was the next player to escape a red card after a forearm smash across Dean Rick, swiftly followed by Mansfield’s Danny Naylor for swinging a punch at Jamie McKeever and Rick for a stamp.
Calm was just about restored for the last 20 minutes. But as Bulwell resisted Mansfield’s energy and enthusiasm, nerves continued to be frayed.
Despite the absence of injured first-choice ‘keeper James Wheat, Witts’s team held on and almost snatched a third goal when McKeever’s effort was saved by the legs of the advancing ‘keeper.
After one last chance for Mansfield, when Danny Tighe shot wide, the locals were happy to run the clock down.