Beaten but proud. That was LINBY COLLIERY WELFARE after a captivating Notts FA Intermediate County Cup final against Bilsthorpe.
Linby ended up on the wrong side of a 3-2 scoreline at Sutton Town’s Hosiery Mills sports ground. But they played their part in an entertaining duel that poured credit on the Central Midlands League, where both sides play.
Bilsthorpe, packed with experienced players who have figured at a higher non-league level, are poised to win the league’s North Division. So Linby who, by contrast, fielded six youngsters aged 19 or under, went into the tie as definite underdogs.
However, you would never have guessed it as they traded blows, snatching the lead and fighting back from 2-1 down before finally succumbing to a winning goal nine minutes from time.
“It was a brilliant final, contested by two teams intent on playing attacking, passing football, and one that could have gone either way,” said Linby secretary Ady Ward. “Surely Notts FA must see sense and have both sides in the Senior Cup next season.
“In the end, Bilsthorpe’s know-how helped them see the game out and lift the cup. But for us, this Intermediate Cup run has been a journey well worth taking. The experience gained will stand our young side in good stead for the future.”
Linby had lost three cup finals since taking this same trophy 20 years ago. But despite the absence of prolific marksman Matt Murphy and highly-rated, quicksilver youngster Dale Chapman, they were soon into their stride, with Ruban Mitchell volleying just over from a cross by Joe Butler.
Backed by enthusiastic support in the 311 crowd, Dave Marlow’s boys then broke the deadlock on the half-hour when Kaylum Mitchell capitalised on sloppy defensive play to pop the ball into the bottom corner at the second attempt.
Ten minutes later, Mitchell almost struck again when he broke in a one-on-one, only to put his shot inches wide. Instead, Bilsthorpe levelled moments before the break as Matt Day’s searching cross to the far post was headed in by dangerous striker Liam Black.
It turned into a double whammy for Linby because just after the break, they conceded again. This time Black let rip with an unstoppable drive from 25 yards that went in off the bar, giving ‘keeper Luca Rocco no chance.
Rocco recovered to make a couple of quality saves to deny Black and Keenan Leeds. And as Bilsthorpe -- just two defeats all season -- looked to turn the screw, lesser opponents might have buckled.
However, Linby bounced back to equalise in the 66th minute when a free-kick was swung into the area, where Tom Coupe was brought down for a penalty that Ruban Mitchell calmly fired home for his 18th goal of ths season from midfield.
The goal set up a rousing finale that brought chances and saves at both ends.
A superb run by lanky hitman Butler ended with a shot from 20 yards that flew narrowly wide. And in the dying minutes, Butler went close again when his header, from a cross by substitute Damian Mann, almost dropped in.
Sadly, in between those two opportunites, Bilsthorpe found their matchwinner. A free-kick was nudged to one side for Triston Burrell, whose wicked piledriver from 25 yards came back off a post and struck Gav King on the knee to rebound past the unlucky Rocco.
By the final whistle, Linby’s hearts had been broken. But their reputation had soared.
LINBY LINE-UP (4-4-2) -- Luca Rocco/ Mason Frizelle, Callum Loydall, Terry Henshaw, Tom Coupe/ Ruban Mitchell, Rian Charles, Aaron Ryan, Kyle McDermott/ Kaylum Mitchell, Joe Butler.
SUBS: Ash Winfield (for Ryan 56), Damian Mann (for McDermott 75), Luke Price (for Loydall 84).
LINBY STARMAN: Rian Charles.
BILSTHORPE LINE-UP (4-4-2) -- Dale Sheppard/ Matt Day, Cliff Clarke, Jobe Shaw, Ricky Starbuck/ Triston Burrell, Glenn Tolley, Keenan Leeds, Mark Carter/ Liam Black, Gavin King.
SUBS: Ryan Meehan (for Leeds 71), Youhander Depass 9for Burrell 79), Lewis English (for King 86).
BILSTHORPE STARMAN: Liam Black,
REFEREE: Edward Cook.