Grantham Town youngsters reach national final after penalty shoot-out win
After a 3-3 draw forced their cup semi-final into a penalty shoot-out, Grantham Town under 12s held their nerve to progress to the final of a national cup competition.
Grantham made the long journey north to Liverpool, to face the unbeaten River Juniors in the semi-final of the Junior Premier League National Cup.
The game began with a bang. After just two minutes, Juniors attacked down the right and a ball across the box fell to the unmarked forward who coolly slotted home.
Town responded within a minute. Ned Dangerfield whipped in an inswinging ball from the right for Charlie Loureiro-Brooks to sweep in first time on the volley to level the scores.
River Juniors immediately reapplied the pressure. A low shot from a tight angle saw Gingerbread keeper Harrison Bexon save with his feet and then shortly after, save brilliantly to his right when the Juniors forward looked to have the goal at his mercy.
Bexon had to make another smart save with his feet before the pressure from Juniors finally paid off. The ball was picked up midway inside the Town half and struck from distance into the roof of the net for the home side to lead 2-1.
Town had a chance to level just before the break, when another ball from the right was headed towards goal by Carl Herrera, only to see the ball bounce back off the bar.
Five minutes into the second half, the young Gingerbreads got the equaliser. A long ball over the top saw Henry Thomas run clear and his lobbed shot clipped the inside of the post and nestled in the corner for 2-2.
The goal sparked new life into Grantham and Layton Smart strode forward to hit a thunderous shot just the wrong side of the post.
River Juniors replied shortly after with a shot that hit the angle of post and bar, before Town’s Arthur Dobson had a shot turned away by the Juniors keeper.
Henry Thomas had a good chance to put Grantham into the lead when the ball fell to his feet at the back post, but his first time effort missed the target.
Smart hit another great effort that looked to have the Juniors keeper beaten, but again his effort whistled just wide. However, with five minutes to go Town grabbed the lead. A ricochet in the box kindly ran into the path of Carl Herrera, who calmly slotted home to make it 3-2 to Grantham.
Town tightened things up and it looked like they would get over the line, but two minutes into injury time a freekick was awarded to River Juniors on the edge of the box. With the last kick of the game, the ball was smashed into the net to level the score and take the game to a penalty shoot-out.
The first four penalties were converted from both sides. Town missed their fifth, leaving Juniors with one kick to stake their place in the final.
However, man of the match Harrison Bexon saved to his right to take it into sudden death. Town converted again, then with his second penalty save, Bexon palmed the ball away to send Grantham into the JPL National Cup Final and spark joyous celebrations on and off the pitch.
The final will be played at Middlesex FA tomorrow (Saturday).
Town’s under-19s also face a big game, as they host West Ham under-19s at The Meres on Wednesday in a 2pm kick-off. As winners of the SCL Midlands Division, the young Gingerbreads face the young Hammers, who won the Eastern Division, in a Champion of Champions fixture. It is free entry for anyone wishing to show their support.