ROYSTON CROW LEAGUE CUP SEMI FINAL
ASHWELL ACADEMICALS 3-4 ROYSTON EAGLES (after extra time, 3-3 after 70 minutes)
SPORT CAN BE CRUEL, but it’s also simple: hard work generally brings reward.
And the Eagles thoroughly earned a place in the League Cup Final, an achievement which their overall season deserves despite its ups and downs.
A home defeat by the same score to the same opponents had cost Royston any hope of challenging for the league title.
But they are now just one game from lifting a trophy after a gutsy display against a well-organised, passing team made formidable by arguably the best centre forward in the league and one of the best centre halves.
This being the Eagles, of course, it was far from straightforward. And much more stressful than it had promised to be when they took a two-goal lead.
After just over 20 minutes in which there were few clear-cut chances and the two sides cancelled each other out, Royston struck.
Archie MacLeod has spent the whole season swinging in corners that just beg for someone in white to apply the finishing touch.
The invitation is usually turned down but this time he was in luck as the Ashwell goalkeeper was uncertain – not for the last time – and the ball hit one of his own players and rolled into the net.
Ethan Karpuk had to make a crucial intervention, heading the ball off the line, before Anthony Georgiou made it two.
Eagles seemed to have wasted a good opportunity just before the break, but Georgiou tried his luck from the edge of the box and the home ‘keeper reacted too slowly to stop it.
There was still time for the home side to agonisingly close, though, and it was a taste of things to come in the second half.
Jacob Schroeder had been outstanding in keeping the centre forward quiet in the first period but he escaped down the Ashwell left within three minutes of the break to pull one back.
A few minutes later, Eagles complained about a corner which should never have been given but had no excuses for leaving a player unmarked to head the equaliser from the set-piece.
When the centre forward made it 3-2 to the home team, some of the loyal contingent of Eagles fans on the touchline admitted to having feared the worst.
But while much of the team had been asleep for 20 minutes, Coner Caughtry was very much awake.
And after calming things down in the middle of the park, he grabbed the equaliser. Georgiou helped on Kian Harness’ quick throw and Caughtry was there to sweep the ball into the net.
Just as they had done in the County Cup quarter final against Stotfold, Eagles came good again in extra time.
Jacob McGlynn made what turned out to be a very important save in goalmouth scramble before Logan Downie grabbed the winning goal.
Playing in an unfamiliar centre forward role, Downie had used his pace to keep the Ashwell defence honest throughout the game, but had never been able to get a clear run on goal ahead of the home side’s outstanding No 6.
Until the crucial moment in the first of the two extra 10-minute periods.
Harness’ long throw is always a threat, but this time it was deadly as he took it quickly while the Ashwell defence was still tracking back.
The No 6 found himself on the wrong side of Downie, who charged towards the goal and tucked the ball past the helpless goalkeeper.
There was the odd nervous moment, but although Ashwell kept fighting they did not look like scoring.
Harness almost settled nerves late on with a fine effort which dropped just wide. Moments later, though, the final whistle brought relief and joy to the Eagles.
Runaway league leaders Hormead Hares await in May’s final.
But Royston know they can beat them, having come out on top in another epic 4-3 match, in the County Cup. And Hormead know it, too.
Team: Jacob McGlynn, Sam Fage, Jacob Schroeder, Ethan Karpuk, George Palmer, Will Hamblin, Sean Blois, Archie MacLeod, Anthony Georgiou, Kian Harness, Logan Downie, Owen Maslen, Coner Caughtry.