Joel Richards Memorial Cup, Semi-finals
Rushall Olympic 5
Stratford Town Youth 3
Report by Bryan Hale
IT was semi-final heartbreak for Stratford Town Youth at a wet and windy Dales Lane on Tuesday evening, as Rushall Olympic progressed into the final of the Joel Richards Memorial Cup after coming out on top in an eight-goal thriller.
Nick Ballinger’s side typically gave it everything, but a series of fine saves from Rushall goalkeeper Alex Graham and some clinical finishing from their strikers ultimately proved decisive.
Yet, on Rushall’s 3G pitch, it was Town who took an early lead when Michael Boyd hit a beautifully placed curling effort beyond the helpless Graham in only the second minute.
The Pics looked for an immediate response with their wide players giving the Town defence plenty to think about with their pace down both flanks while Boyd, Jack Ballinger and Rob Sone were equally dangerous for Town as the play switched from end to end with neither side really on top.
But Rushall grabbed a fortuitous equaliser with a free-kick which was floated into the penalty area and deceived everyone as it then bounced into the net, and that gave them the momentum to push forward.
Town keeper Callum Monaghan pulled off a smart save down to his left to keep the scores level followed by Town creating a chance of their own at the other end, with Rob Singer latching onto a pin-point throughball from Ballinger only to be denied by a combination of Graham and one of his defenders.
But four minutes before half-time Rushall edged ahead with a close-range finish and another ten minutes into the second half doubled their advantage.
Town now had no option but to push forward, but Graham kept Rushall’s lead intact with quality saves from Ballinger, Boyd and Sone before Ballinger’s pull back in the 73rd minute set up an opening for Sone, who left Graham standing with an unstoppable right-footed finish into the top corner.
Sensing an equaliser Town piled on the pressure with Boyd hitting the post, Graham again denying Ballinger and Sone and then pulling off a fine double save from Ballinger’s original shot and Boyd’s effort from the follow-up.
But having survived that onslaught Rushall broke way in the final minute of normal time to make it 4-2 yet, Town were still not finished.
A precision pass from Joe Waterfield set up Ballinger to fire in Town’s third in the fourth minute of added time, but as they pressed for the equaliser another breakaway from Rushall saw them make it 5-3 with the last kick of the game.
In what was scheduled to be hectic week Town Youth were also due to face Hereford last night, Thursday, in the quarter-finals of the MFYL League Cup, but that match was another to be called off due to the impact of Storm Dennis.