Senior Cup semi final:
Johnston 0–0 Merlins Bridge
(Merlins Bridge win 7-6 on penalties)
MERLINS Bridge will face Tenby in the Senior Cup final after the Wizards held their nerve to beat Johnston in a dramatic penalty shoot-out at the Conygar Bridge Meadow Stadium last night (Thursday).
With the shoot-out locked at 6-6 after seven penalties each, Bridge defender Paul Thomas buried his spot kick before Carl Woodhouse saved Andrew John’s effort – ensuring the Wizards will return to the final they last contested in 2010.
There had been nothing to separate the two sides over the 120 minutes, but a game of few chances still made for enthralling viewing as both teams maintained frenetic levels of energy and commitment.
It was the Wizards who had the first sight of goal when Steve McNabney let fly from outside the area early on, but his effort was wide of the top corner.
Steve Dockerty then went close for the Tigers when his cross evaded everyone and bounced off the crossbar – but the cup holders were soon dealt a major blow when skipper Chris Ormond limped off with a hamstring injury and was replaced by Ben Phillips.
McNabney then drove into the area but dragged a left foot shot wide, before Luke Hayward curled a 20-yard shot over for Johnston.
Bridge keeper Woodhouse would then have been relieved to see the danger cleared after he spilt a cross under pressure from Adam Hawkins.
Tackles had flown in during the opening 45 minutes, but referee Sean O’Connor, perhaps understanding the magnitude of the game, officiated sensibly and did not issue a yellow card until the 43rd minute when Bridge midfielder Jonny Sable brought down Hawkins. Steve Mills curled the resultant free kick on target but it was beaten away by Woodhouse.
But on the brink of half time, the Tigers had their best opening when Nicky Woodrow played in Hawkins, but the striker was unable to control his effort.
McNabney put a free kick over early in the second half for the Wizards and at the other end, Woodhouse made a hash of a clearance and was left stranded out of his goal, but Hawkins was unable to get a shot away after picking up the loose ball.
But clear openings remained few and far between as both sides continued to cancel each other out – with Sion Price and Peter Thomas in particular outstanding in the heart of their respective defences.
It was Price who did just enough to put off McNabney after he sped into the area, before a Lee Hudgell free kick found the head of Nathan Greene - but he headed wide for the Wizards.
As both sets of players tired, gaps appeared in the final 10 minutes and James Skudder was played in by Woodrow – but the midfielder opted to cross from a tight angle instead of shooting and the Bridge defence cleared.
At the other end, a Paul Thomas clearance found McNabney, who skipped round the outside of Price but saw his shot roll past Johnston keeper Martin Langdon and agonisingly across the goal.
Defences remained on top during extra time, although the Wizards called for a penalty when substitute Daniel Bryce went down under a Price challenge – but O'Connor rightly waved away the claims before booking Bryce for simulation.
Right at the end of the half a Simon Thomas corner found Paul Thomas but he was unable to keep his header down – and both teams entered the second period knowing one goal would surely send them through.
To their credit, both sides tried to press and Woodrow nearly found substitute Joe John with a low cross, before McNabney was on target with another free kick that Langdon tipped over.
Then right at the death, Woodrow drove a low shot from 20 yards that Woodhouse did well to get down and gather.
In the shootout both sides converted their first three kicks before Bryce saw his effort superbly tipped over by Langdon. Hawkins and Hudgell then both converted successfully but when Mills had the chance to win it for Johnston – he blasted over the bar.
Both sides scored their first two in sudden death, but after Thomas made no mistake, Woodhouse sprung to his left to palm away John’s effort to spark celebrations amongst Bridge players and supporters.
Johnston: Martin Langdon, Chris Ormond (Ben Phillips 15), Andrew John, Steve Mills, Sion Price, James Skudder, Steven Dockerty (Joe John 11), Luke Hayward, Nicky Woodrow, Adam Hawkins, Mark Jones. Sub not used: Ben Skudder.
Merlins Bridge: Carl Woodhouse, Nathan Thomas (Jordan Raymond 69), Lee Hudgell, Peter Thomas, Paul Thomas, Jonny Sable (Daniel Bryce 93), Matthew D’Ivry, David Davies, Steve McNabney, Nathan Greene, Simon Thomas. Sub not used: Dai Rees.
Referee: Sean O’Connor
Assistants: James Olyott and Tudor Walters.