Wood tasted narrow defeat for the second season running in the County Cup Final. Their victors, Hitchin Town had just enjoyed their highest ever finish in their history and capped off a fine season just edging this close fought and sometimes controversial game.
The game will stick in the memory for a number of reasons. The sight of Josh Hill in a two man attack, the quality of Billy Clifford’s goal for Wood, plus unfortunately the ungentlemanly behaviour of Town’s Callum Donnelly, whose actions served to sway referee Lee Marshallsay’s decision to change the colour of the card issued to David Stephens, a saved penalty plus a goal ruled out for Wood controversially for offside in stoppage time.
Many say you cannot win anything with loan players in football. This evening was living proof you cannot win anything without them. With all but Jack Connors recalled by their respective parent clubs, Luke Garrard was down to bare bones, with just one striker to call upon in the entire squad and it had a big impact on the result.
Reflecting upon the defeat an obviously disappointed Garrard stated; ” Our performance tonight has given me a good insight into the strength and depth of the squad we have at our disposal. Losing all our but one of our six loan players back to their parent clubs and the injury to Danny Woodards, Ben Nunn being cup tied and Joe Devera being unavailable left us with what I thought was a side capable of winning a game against Hitchin Town. It proved conclusively not to be the case and congratulations to Hitchin Town. They were hungrier than us, they wanted it more than we did and in football that is sometimes enough to achieve your goals.”
Town had problems of their own, with two of their original starting eleven arriving late due to motorway congestion making only a place on the bench.
It took the Canaries just 3 minutes to take the lead. A poor clearance from James Russell was picked up by Josh Bickerstaff who played a fine ball into the path of centre forward Brett Donnelly. His square ball was perfect for Liam Brooks who justified his late promotion from the bench to strike home low beyond a red faced Russell.
With Junior Morias the only forward available in the fifteen man squad, it was a setback that Garrard could have well done without and Town went in search of more goals. However a piece of individual skill from Billy Clifford levelled things up after fifteen minutes. Callum Reynolds drove forward down the right wing finding Luke Howell inside who flicked a pass into the path of Clifford. The ex Chelsea youth player who had made just ten starts in the League all season did not even allow himself the time to look up and swept his curling lobbed effort perfectly into the top left hand corner of the net.
Morias then tried an audacious overhead effort that he failed to keep down, with most of Wood’s attacking intentions coming through the channel of Reynolds, Howell and Ricky Shakes. Morias saw a further effort comfortably held by Charlie Horlock, before Town threatened at the other end, Lewis Rolfe hitting a rising drive from a half cleared corner that was inches high.
Conor Clifford’s margin of error was even less after thirty nine minutes, when his thirty yard free kick took the slightest of deflections off the wall before crashing against the crossbar.
Wood started the second half on the front foot, but fell foul of the referee after fifty five minutes. From a right sided corner the Wood defence cleared but Mr Marshallsay had picked out a push in the box and pointed to the spot. Russell’s spot kick record in this competition is second to none, after his sudden death heroics two seasons ago in the Final and he got it right again, diving low to his right to cleanly gather Rolfe’s effort.
Hill, a central defender on loan at Havant and Waterlooville for most of the season was then called into action by Garrard, as a second striker at the expense of the influential Conor Clifford. He used his height to great effect, but Wood had bigger concerns with the runs of emerging star Kane Smith. The teenage right back for the Canaries grew into the game and Russell made a low smart save from a fine solo effort.
Town took the lead after sixty three minutes when Callum Donnelly’s free kick from the half way line was perfect for Dan Webb who rose to head high into the net, an effort that Russell may well rue not getting a fingertip to.
Then came the controversy surrounding Stephens. His two footed challenge in the middle of the park on Bickerstaff was immediately punished by a yellow card. What followed was a poor advert for the game . Brett Donnelly took it upon himself to deal out his own punishment, running in to confront anybody in a white shirt. Referee Marshallsay’s reaction post event was disappointing, a mere yellow for Donnelly and another yellow for Stephens who had somehow been singled out for further retrospective punishment.
Wood never looked like a side with a man missing thereafter. Hill stabbed an effort wide, before Charlie Hunter replaced Matt Whichelow. Five minutes of additional time continued Wood’s search for an equaliser and they thought it came in the second of those five. Billy Clifford produced a fine cross from the left which sailed over the box finding the late late run of Scott Doe who headed home, only for the assistant referee to raise his flag. The decision was met by total disbelief, but it proved to be the last action of a hard fought game, leaving Town to lift the cup they last won nineteen years earlier, against Boreham Wood!
Team: Russell, Reynolds, Connors, Stephens, Doe, C Clifford ( Hill 57), Shakes, B Clifford, Morias, Howell, Whichelow ( Hunter 79).
Subs not used: Garrard, P White, Beattie.
Goals: Hitchin Town: Brooks 3, Webb 63.
Boreham Wood: B Clifford 15.