The Ron Eaglen Challenge Cup Final provided the intriguing challenge of champions Ivy Tavern taking on the team that defeated them in the Lincolnshire County Football Association Sunday County Cup competition this season and in so doing denied them a shot at being the first Lincoln based team to appear in such a cup final since they, Ivy Tavern, did over 20 years ago.
Ruston Sports FC were their opponents tonight and they were intent on being the first team to score a goal against Ivy Tavern in this competition this season. Just to add a little more spice to the occasion this fixture was a repeat of the same final last year when Ivy ran out winners by 2-1 on that occasion, thereby aiming to retain the cup for a second successive season.
The game began with Ivy Tavern attacking the Stacey-West end of the ground in front of a decent looking crowd. The early pressure came from Ivy Tavern and they created a number of decent chances during the opening 20 minutes of the game with Craig Bridge and Callum Dye providing some quality crosses into the box from wide positions however the Ivy forwards were unable to hit the target despite them getting on the end of a number of them only to see their efforts fail to hit the mark.
As often happens in football it was the side who had dealt with the threat from the pressure who scored from their first really creative move in front of goal. Rustons advanced from midfield after good break up play saw the ball played down the right flank by Matthew Cass. He threaded a fine ball through to Adam Croft who went past his marker with ease before drilling the ball across to Alex Mackinder who made no mistake from inside the box with a clean crisp shot which gave Craig Rhodes no chance in the Ivy goal.
Despite the goal coming somewhat against the run of play Ivy Tavern continued playing their football and they continued putting in some tantalising crosses which saw Sean Wright, Sean Cann, and Steven Swinburn all go close with headers but none of them actually hit the target despite them getting free from their markers to make their headers.
Things got worse for the Ivy around the 33 minute mark when Rustons attacked with purpose once again after they had soaked up all that Ivy could throw at them. Firstly Adam Croft blasted a shot just wide of the target after a breakaway move and then within 30 seconds of the restart he was put through with a ball which was played over the top of the somewhat static Ivy defence which allowed him to outpace his marker before coolly slotting the ball past the helpless keeper Rhodes in the Ivy goal to put his side 2-0 up to the obvious delight of their supporters in the ground.
Rustons keeper Olly Sinclair showed a safe pair of hands in the 41st minute when he held on to a well struck shot from Sean Cann as the Ivy forwards prowled for any mistake but his handling was perfection and the chance evaporated.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first half in terms of Ivy being the more dominant team enjoying the lion’s share of possession. It would not be an understatement to say that for the first 35 minutes of the second half Ivy keeper Rhodes did not have a save to make and he rarely had to deal with anything from his own defence as Ivy camped entirely in Rustons half. However, as happened in the first half, history repeated itself in the 81st minute of the game. Firstly Ruston Sports’ Daniel Nicholson, on as a second half substitute, swung a delightful ball across from the left to pick out fellow substitute Scott Wilson who hit a first time shot at Rhodes. Almost identically to the first half within 30 seconds of this the ball was played through to Adam Croft who again outpaced his marker to slot the ball under the advancing Rhodes for his second, and his team’s third goal of the game.
At 3-0 this was now game over, or was it? Put together the fact that this was Ivy Tavern and the ground was Sincil Bank, the scene of many late comebacks this season, and you should know that anything can happen, and it nearly did.
In the 87th minute Ivy pulled a goal back when Sean Wright thundered the ball into the top corner from the edge of the box to give his side a glimmer of hope. That glimmer turned to real possibility within a minute when the ball fell to Sean Cann in the box following a free kick which had been played into the box and he rifled the ball into the net to the obvious delight of his team mates around him. With the score now at 3-2 the feeling in the ground was that Ivy had a real chance but despite late pressure the Rustons defence held firm and they saw the game over the line to avenge the defeat that they suffered in the same final of last year.
After the game there was an award by the League to Sills and Betteridge Solicitors for their support and sponsorship over the last 22 years as their term of League sponsorship has just come to an end.
A further award was made to referee Amy Barber who has been awarded the League’s referee merit award after her fine performances on the League during the season and then the Ron Eaglen Challenge Trophy was presented to Ruston Sports by Mr Andrew Durkan, Partner at Sills & Betteridge Solicitors, assisted by his son Max Durkan, to bring to an end the final game played in the 2016/2017 Lincoln & District Sunday League season.