Sunday, 5 May 2013

AFC Mansfield 0 v Clifton All Whites 1 - CMFL Baris League Challenge Cup Final

Sunday 5th May,
at the Impact Arena, North Street, Alfreton
Central Midlands League, League Cup Final
AFC Mansfield (0) 0
Clifton All Whites (0) 1
Connor Hardy 90+2
Admission £3, Programme £1, Attendance 265
Left click images for enlarged versions
With the games racking up thick and fast as clubs struggle to clear their fixture backlogs in the final leg of the season, there were some very tired legs and performances out on the North Street pitch this afternoon.
Both teams, showed a lack of composure and patience when it was most needed and all too often, simply resorted to going route one.
It was enough to give the 265 onlooking spectators an out break of stiff necks.
But to be fair, I guess it was just a case of horses for courses for those playing, who when all is said and done are only part time players, who can't be expected to be supremely athletic enough to run themselves into the ground three or four times per week.
It must've been especially strength sapping for AFC Mansfield who had to finish the game with just nine players, on a warm afternoon, because two of their number were red carded and sent off.
The first culprit, Joe Meehan, was out of the equation inside the first thirty minutes, while Dean Rick joined him in the dressing room for the last couple of minutes of this gruelling encounter, from where he will have missed seeing the only goal of the game.
Dave Wathall enjoys his afternoon nap in the sunshine.
Meehan was initially booked for a clumsy challenge, just after the 20 minute mark, so quite what went through his head as he went in heavily on Will Heath five minutes later, is anyone's guess.
Meehan gave the referee no option but to dismiss him, it was the easiest decision Tim Walker had to make all afternoon.
The remainder of the first half was a stalemate, with little in the way of clear cut chances being created.
Either both teams were playing a cat and mouse game, waiting for the other to make a slip to take advantage of, or the two of them were genuinely completely knackered and feeling the effects of playing too many games.
HT - 0-0
The second half was slightly better entertainment wise, but for the most part, both teams still seemed to be playing very deep, while firing 'hit and hope', long range clearances out of defence at every opportunity to their vastly outnumbered front-men.
It was starting to look as though one goal would be enough to claim this years CMFL League Cup, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to see where that goal might come from.
But then Clifton were gifted a goal opportunity when Joe Naylor conceded a penalty with a last ditch lunging challenge.
The ever reliable Rob Gill stepped forward and hit struck the ball sweetly and on target.
The delivery had goal written all over it.
But somehow the Bulls keeper Dale Sheppard got across and managed to flick the ball over the bar with his outstretched hand.
Even the noisy contingent in the stand from Clifton, who had previously contented themselves by winding up the opposition bench and the AFC Mansfield fans sat close to them, rose and generously applauded Sheppard's fine stop
With just two minutes of the 90 remaining, plus stoppage time, Dean Rick, already sitting perilously on a yellow card, had a rush of blood to his head when a decision went against him and as the ref pulled the game up, the Bulls striker unceremoniously hoofed the ball right out of the ground, before waving cheerio to to goading Clifton fans on his way to an early bath.
An already knackered looking Bulls side, now faced the prospect of playing an extra 30 minutes, two men light.
But Connor Hardy obviously didn't want to hang around and miss his tea this afternoon, because in the 92nd minute, he controlled the ball with his back to goal in the crowded AFC Mansfield penalty area, turned quickly, made himself a foot of space and shot the ball into the back of the net, through the arms of the despairing Bulls keeper Dale Sheppard, who was only a fraction away from pulling off another improbable save.
AFC Mansfield, who have already won two trophies this season, still had a few minutes of added time in which to try salvaging their treble hopes, but Clifton packed out their back line and were in no mood to surrender their advantage. 
And the one goal did prove to be enough to win the cup in the end.
FT - AFC Mansfield 0 v Clifton All Whites 1
In conclusion, a battle of two resilient defences, cancelling each other out, punctuated by a few moments of high drama. 
It was one game too many for the Bulls in the end as Clifton's supporters wildly celebrated their victory.
Click here On The Road 2012-2013 to see more reportage from this afternoon's CMFL League Cup final and video footage of Dale Sheppard's penalty save.