DISTRAUGHT Hucknall Rolls Leisure were beaten in a cliffhanging penalty-shootout that decided their big cup-final last night (Thursday May 20).
In the very last match of the football season in the Dispatch district, Rolls took on Caribbean Cavaliers in the final of the Notts Senior League's (NSL) Senior Cup.
It finished 1-1 at the end of normal time and 2-2 at the end of extra-time. But as the shootout went into sudden death, the Hucknall side lost it 4-3 after agonising misses for Richard Harrison, skipper Jonathan 'Toddy' Wass and Jonathan Dakers.
The tie, which brought together teams who had finished sixth (Rolls) and tenth in the NSL's Senior Division, was held at Arnold Town's new Eagle Valley Stadium and attracted a sizeable crowd of more than 200.
With both outfits operating 4-5-1 formations, much of the game was stifled stalemate and yielded precious few chances.
In the first period, top scorer Andy Start was lively for Rolls and fetched two accomplished saves from goalkeeper David Martt, while Cavaliers' threat came from the speed of Jayford Henry and Ryan Martt down the flanks and the probing of Wes Burke in midfield.
Cavaliers just about shaded the half but when their breakthrough goal came in the 39th minute, it was caked with good fortune. Tom Simpson's free-kick from 22 yards was hardly hit with any venom or purpose but it took two wicked deflections, first off Harrison in the Rolls wall and then off the bottom of the inside of a post before rolling into the net.
Persisting with just Start up top and lacking any semblance of guile or creativity in central midfield, Rolls's response was limited -- until they sent on a second striker in giant teenager Harry Allen.
They were also energised by the introduction of fellow substitutes Anthony Wallis and John Greeley. And at last, in the final 15 minutes, they began to ask serious questions of the Cavaliers backline.
The equaliser arrived in the 79th minute when a hooked volley to the back post from Start saw Wass stretching for a shot that came back off the angle of post and bar and fell for Allen, who swivelled adroitly to smash home.
Allen performed wonders again when engineering room for a left-wing cross that almost brought a last-gasp winner for Greeley, who flashed a header inches wide. And as the tie went into extra-time, Rolls looked favourites to go on and win the trophy.
However they were rocked by another slice of bad luck in the 97th minute that restored Cavaliers' lead. The ball squirted out of a challenge on Wallis to leave Cavaliers substitute Ryan Perkins free for a run on goal. After sidestepping 'keeper Neil Waters, Perkins appeared to have been taken too wide by covering defenders but he cut back inside brilliantly for a fine finish.
Rolls replied by leaving three at the back and pushing centre-back Harrison into a more advanced role. And Harrison came within an ace of an equaliser when his fierce header was somehow kept out by a superb reflex save from Martt.
Cavaliers then missed a sitter at the other end when Winston Brown blazed over with the goal at his mercy. And Rolls made them pay three minutes from time with a second leveller.
Again Allen was the hero as he fastened on to a long ball from nowhere that caught the Cavaliers' defence hopelessly square and he showed maturity beyond his years to coolly clip his shot over the advancing 'keeper.
It was the last act of a cameo peformance from Allen that suggests we will be hearing a lot more about him in the years to come -- and was enough to earn him the man-of-the-match award from the league.
It also begged the question as to why he didn't start the match -- or even take one of the shootout spot-kicks.
Indeed it was perturbing to hear, after the game, that very few Rolls players fancied one of the decisive penalties.
Harrison, their regular taker, missed the first one, which struck the outside of a post. But although Dan Smith converted the opener for Cavaliers, Rolls were in charge at 3-1 after convincing hits for Lee Soar, Ashley Marshall and Andy Start and bad misses for Rohan Hines and Ryan Martt.
Although Brown then converted for Cavaliers, the locals would have lifted the cup if skipper Wass had scored with the next kick. Instead a tame effort was saved in a moment that revived memories of John Terry's miss in a similar situation when leading Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League final against Manchester United.
Perkins brought the scores level with the next penalty and when Dakers saw his effort saved, up stepped Richard Bolton to finish the job and win Cavaliers the cup for the third time in four seasons.
LINE-UP (PLUS RICHARD SILVERWOOD'S MATCHMARKS - 10= Excellent, 9=Very Good, 8=Good, 7=Fair, 6-Below Par, 5=Weak, 4=Poor) --
ROLLS (4-5-1): Neil Waters 7/ Duncan Paterson 7, Lee Soar 8, Richard Harrison 8, Ashley Marshall 8/ Gary Denwood 4, Charlie Niblett 4, Jonathan Wass 5, Ian Paterson 6, Jonathan Dakers 7/ Andy Start 8. Subs: Harry Allen 8 (for Niblett 62), Anthony Wallis 7 (for Denwood 62), John Greeley 7 (for Ian Paterson 75), Greg Conn (not used), GK Mark Rollason (not used).
CAVALIERS (4-5-1): 1David Martt 8/ 2Andy Danlylszyn 7, 4Dan Smith 8, 5Rob Faulkner 7, 3Richard Scott 8/ 7Jayford Henry 8, 8Winston Brown 6, 10Wes Burke 8, 6Tom Simpson 6, 11Ryan Martt 7/ 9Richard Bolton 6. Subs: 12Rohan Hines 5 (for Simpson 70), 15Ryan Perkins 8 (for Burke 72), Kev Shaw (not used), Chris O'Connor (not used), Chris Joseph (not used).
REFEREE: Colin White 8.