City of Liverpool win the Macron Challenge Cup
Tue 16th May 2017 | Challenge Cup | By Ian Templeman
City of Liverpool are the new holders of the Macron Challenge Cup after a victory over Barnoldswick Town in a penalty shoot out in the final at Fleetwood Town's Highbury Stadium.
After Matty Williams put City of Liverpool ahead with an early penalty, Barnoldswick's Aaron Hollindrake scored a late equaliser to tie at 1-1 and take the game into extra time.
There was no further scoring in the 30 minutes that followed, and City of Liverpool’s John Connolly struck what proved to be the winning penalty in the shoot out to clinch the trophy for the Purples.
It has been what can only be described as a stellar inaugural season for Simon Burton and his players, who have bounced back from the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion in the final week of the season.
Now, in a remarkable and frantic two weeks of season-ending drama, they have picked up the Reusch First Division Cup, won promotion via the play off final, and rounded off an impressive hat trick by having their name etched on the impressive Challenge Cup trophy.
For a team that only joined the Hallmark Security League last summer, they have had plenty of practice in lifting the League's major trophies during the month of May, and already there are plenty of celebratory pictures ready and waiting to be filed in the club archives.
Barnoldswick entered the game with understandable optimism that their status as a Premier Division side who had been slowly building up to the final, would give them an edge over First Division opponents had been toiling and sweating their way through two cup finals and a play off final.
However, before the game Purples boss Simon Burton spoke of the momentum that his side had built up over the past two weeks, and how he felt it could give his side the advantage.
There was certainly little sign of weary legs among his team over the course of the night, who were reduced to ten men when Matty Williams was shown a straight red card five minutes before half time, and played with nine men for the last five minutes of extra time after Kevin McEllin was shown a second yellow card.
Highbury Stadium was bathed in evening sunshine as the game got underway, and in the opening minutes both sides settled quickly and had their fair share of possession as the ball moved from end to end.
But it was City of Liverpool who struck the first blow in the 13th minute, when they took the lead from the penalty spot. Joseph Camozzi jinked into the penalty area and was tripped by Barnoldswick centre half Jonathan Hodgkinson, and the referee had no hesitation in awarding a penalty.
Matty Williams stepped up and made a fine job of the spot kick, sending keeper Jordan Gidley the wrong way to put City of Liverpool ahead.
Barnoldswick struggled to get a foothold in the game for the next ten minutes, but had a great chance to draw level as the game reached the midway point of the half.
Striker Mark Threlfall pounced on slackness in the City of Liverpool defence to advance in on goal, but was denied by a fine save from keeper Stephen Longrigg who stood tall and then stuck out a foot to deflect Threlfall’s well placed shot for a corner kick.
Threlfall was in the action again on the half hour mark, when he just failed to connect with a curling cross from Liam Blades, after the full back had made a surging run down the right flank.
But five minutes to the break Barnoldswick were handed an advantage when City of Liverpool were reduced to ten men, scorer Matty Williams being shown a straight red card after a confrontation on the left wing with Barnoldswick’s Harry Thompson.
Barlick almost capitalised as, from the resulting free kick, Jonathan Hodgkinson sent a glancing header just wide of the post from a neatly placed Zack Dale cross.
Dale came close again for Barlick as the half drew to a close, with a chip towards to top corner but flew just wide, and the half time whistle sounded with the ten men of City of Liverpool ahead, and they were given a typically rapturous reception by the large travelling support, who had once again turned up in large numbers to support their team.
The opening stages after the break were played largely in the City of Liverpool half, although their defence held firm, and aside of a Ben Gorman corner being volleyed over by Jake Lloyd, Barlick failed to threaten Longrigg in the opposing goal.
On the hour mark Barlick made a change with Andrew Hill replacing Ben Gorman, and moments later Kenny Taylor set up a shooting chance for Harry Thompson, but his well struck shot sailed over from the edge of the box.
As the half wore on Barlick had the bulk of the territory and possession, but City of Liverpool worked hard to make up for their one man disadvantage by closing down space and getting men behind the ball to protect their one goal lead.
The best Barlick could manage was a long range volley from Shaun Airey off a corner kick that was well struck although straight at the keeper, but when the game entered the last ten minutes, they finally made the breakthrough.
After a corner was returned to out to the left wing, a mazy run along the bye line from Dale set up a shooting chance for Aaron Hollindrake, and the substitute sidefooted home from close range to pull his side level.
A few flurries at either end then ensued but there was no further scoring, and the game moved into extra time.
The pace dropped noticeably after the restart, although City of Liverpool had a great chance to take the lead once more ten minutes in to the first half of extra time, when John Connolly timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap, and then unselfishly played in Daley Woods whose shot was blocked by the legs of Jordan Gidley in the Barlick goal.
The second period of extra time was largely bereft of chances, although City of Liverpool’s John Connolly set up Kevin McEllin for a shooting chance that whizzed over the bar, and the last action of the game saw Barlick’s Liam Blades heave a long cross towards the far post that Jonathan Hodgkinson got a touch on but was easily smothered by keeper Longrigg.
In between, City of Liverpool were reduced to nine men when McEllin was shown a second yellow card for a foul on the half way line.
With the sides tied, a penalty shoot out had to decide the game, and Elliot Nevitt, Daley Woods and John Connolly struck the vital spot kicks to clinch victory for City of Liverpool.
City of Liverpool captain Chris Lester is pictured receiving the trophy from League Chairman Paul Lawler. Picture courtesy of Steve McLellan.