Herald Cup Semi: Stoke Penalty Woe Means it’s Bucks v Watcombe Again!

Stoke Gabriel Reserves Buckland Athletic Reserves Herald Cup semi-final 2014

Herald Cup Semi: Stoke Penalty Woe Means it’s Bucks v Watcombe Again!



It’s a shame that Stoke Gabriel Reserves will remember this match for the disappointing penalty shoot-out that sent them out because the Railwaymen matched Buckland Athletic Reserves all the way in this tie.

The game started brightly for both sides, who moved the ball around well, although the game was punctuated by numerous free-kicks, Aaron Cowell limping off momentarily after Lee Fenner’s crunching challenge, and Neil Last and Matt Beer also taking knocks. A foul led to the first decent chance of the match, Ryan Harrison-White putting the ball over the bar after Darren Vicary’s free-kick found him in the box. Matthew Whitehouse and Jack Pollard tried in vain to breach a resilient Bucks defence while, at the other end, Cowell miscued after a promising attack.

Stoke finished the half the stronger, Neil Last blasting wide from the left-hand side, and Matthew White’s shot tipped over by Ryan Walton. Karl Green was also lucky to get away with a foul on Last in what would have been a dangerous free-kick position.

Both teams raced out of the blocks after the break, but as Luke Horrell and White threatened at one end, Buckland broke free on the left and sent a cross into the box, Jamie Clifford meeting it with an athletic header which evaded Adam Simpson for the opener just one minute in.

Stoke responded magnificently and, after being denied moments earlier, Last received the ball from the left and fired it home via the post, sending the South Hams contingent into a Poznan celebration. Only five minutes had been played and the score stood at one apiece. The rest of the half swung one way and then the other, White drawing a save out of Ryan Walton before Buckland turned up the heat, Beer coming closest in a five minute spell of dominance. Then Stoke took hold of the game again, White’s deflected shot once more gathered by Walton, and Last wide again as he chased a second.

Next Darren Vicary was away on the break, shooting over the bar; Clifford had two shots blocked and Beer received Cowell’s square ball in the box before seeing his attempt deflected to safety. As both sides sensed normal time ebbing away, challenges became more desperate, an apologetic Cowell catching Joseph Thompson near the corner flag and the outstanding Benjamin Robinson grounded by Horrell. He recovered in time to combine dangerously with Vicary in the box, Simpson punching away as Buckland closed in for the kill.

Then Stoke had a golden chance to win the match with six minutes left, Whitehouse’s shot headed back in but wide by Iain Davidson. Robinson then hit a free-kick over the bar at the other end before Stoke saw their last chance in normal time go wide of the mark with three minutes left. More excellent defending by the Stoke rearguard kept out Jamie Clifford as the ninety minutes came to a close.

Buckland started extra-time on the front foot, but Stoke then took the game to the Yellows, Whitehouse unable to meet a pacey cross-shot into the box, Daniel Easton firing wide after desperate defending and Fenner blasting over. Easton was looking more dangerous all the time, but the well-drilled Bucks defence restricted him to long shots, Walton tipping one of them over ten minutes in. Pollard’s header was saved and Davidson and Whitehouse searched for an opening but Bucks’ rearguard stood firm.

Buckland were more of an attacking threat in the second period of extra-time. Simpson was quick to clear with Ben Smith through on goal, but the Stoke Number One was breathing a sigh of relief two minutes later when his unconvincing punch from Cowell’s corner was headed just wide of the far post by Harrison-White. Stoke missed their best chance of the final 15, shooting narrowly wide before substitute Ryan Frayne made a vital interception to deny Fenner. Smith’s header over the bar, with one minute remaining, was the last chance to avoid penalties.

The narrow margins in this match was summed up with the first spot kick, Matthew White pinging the left-hand upright to hand Buckland the advantage. But Matthew Beer spurned the opportunity, blazing his shot high and wide.

Next, Joseph Thompson opted for a low, centrally-placed shot, but Walton was down quickly to smother it. Darren Vicary stood up for Bucks and hit a sweet shot into the top-right corner to put his side in front.

When Iain Davidson’s shot cleared the bar, the Railwaymen must have known they were heading out, especially when Jamie Clifford scored with a low shot to Adam Simpson’s left.

Lee Fenner kept Stoke’s fading hopes alive with a fine spot-kick high into the right-hand corner, but it was left to the experienced Benjamin Robinson to see Bucks over the line, his penalty nestling into the top left corner.

Buckland will meet holders Watcombe Wanderers on Friday May 16th at Coach Road. It is the third successive final between the sides, with Bucks winning 3-2 after extra-time in 2012 and Watcombe with a 4-0 victory last year.

Buckland: R Walton, B Robinson, G Denbow, D Vicary, K Green, R Harrison-White, S Holmes, J Clifford, B Smith, M Beer, A Cowell (Subs: S Parry, R Frayne, L Boyle, A Whitemore, S Dungey)

Stoke: A Simpson, L Horrell, L O’Callaghan, M Whitehouse, S Gagg, J Thompson, D Easton, M White, L Fenner, N Last, J Pollard (Subs: K Hassall, I Davidson, J Moore, S Crook, D Walker)

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