A DRAMATIC last-gasp winner from defender James Bell on Thursday of last week saw Sportsmans FC retain the Frank Bainbridge Cup in a thrilling final against old rivals Northallerton Police.
Division One leaders Police had looked on course to snatch the trophy after strikes from Liam Darville and Jason Newall saw them overturn a first-half own goal from Gary Shardha. But Sportsmans captain Sam Grainger equalised with six minutes to go before Bell’s dramatic last kick.
In Aintree week, it was surprisingly referee Mark Ullyott who was first to fall. Suffering with kidney stones, the official had to be replaced by assistant David Homes after just 16 minutes. But it was first blood to holders Sportsmans in this clash of the Hambleton League heavyweights.
Colin Anderson had already hit the post midway through the first half when the unfortunate Police defender Shardha turned a 27th-minute cross from the Sporties dangerman past his own goalkeeper with Scott McNichol waiting to pounce.
But the lead lasted barely four minutes. A long ball out of defence by Newall fell to Liam Darville in the penalty area and he neatly clipped it past goalkeeper Jed Clarkson from eight yards to make it 1-1 at the break.
The Police came out strongly at the start of the second period and they deservedly took the lead six minutes after the restart. A corner from the left by Chris Walker found the head of Newall, and although his connection was not as clean as he would have liked, the ball somehow found its way into the net.
The Police were now rampant and they came close to sealing the cup when first Sam Vernalls and then Ashley McInerney spurned chances to double their advantage.
But it was the holders who dragged themselves level with just six minutes left.
A corner from McNichol was only half cleared and Grainger dived in bravely to send a header into the bottom lefthand corner of Adam Cunningham’s net.
There is usually very little to choose between these sides and it now looked as though extra time would once again be required. But deep into stoppage time, the Sporties won it.
Again it was the set-piece delivery of McNichol that created confusion in the Police penalty area and left back Bell arrived to fire a right-footed shot past Cunningham from ten yards. There was barely time for the game to restart when referee Holmes blew the final whistle and Sporties’ celebrations could begin.