After two hugely entertaining and successful Cup Finals, it was the turn of Hykeham Town TRFC and Pals North FC to provide the entertainment in the League’s Ron Eaglen Challenge Cup Final, a Competition often referred to by the League Management Committee as the League’s “FA Cup Final”, as it is the largest of our Cup Competitions, as all Clubs must enter one team, and that team must be the Club’s highest ranked team within our League.

Referee Mr Andy Park led the two teams out on an overcast morning, but with an improving forecast, and most importantly with no breeze, the conditions looked favourable for an intriguing contest between the two teams who sat top of their respective divisions.

Hykeham Town TRFC have enjoyed an excellent Season in the Premier Division of the League, which has proved stronger than recent Seasons, and they have the title within their grasp and importantly for them, within their own hands.

Facing them were a team competing for the first time in the League this Season as a new Club, but a team packed with quality and experience, many of which had played at the highest level within our League previously. Pals North currently top Division One, but whether they remain there, is largely out of their hands as they have played more games than their nearest challengers.

Hykeham Town TRFC lined up playing a 4-3-3 formation and attacking the South Park end of the ground. They lined up in front of the experienced James Cooper, a true Hykeham Town legend, still playing in goal at the age of 43.

Hykeham showed their intentions right from the start with skipper James Slater raiding down the right flank before firing a menacing looking cross which Pals keeper Daniel Barnes was happy to push out for the first corner of the match. The same two players were involved from the resulting corner which was floated across by Slater, but this was well taken by Barnes.

The first goal of the contest came in the 7th minute and it went the way of Hykeham Town TRFC. The ball found its way to the trusty boot of Andy Anderson, and he unleashed a tremendous half volley from the edge of the box that gave Barnes no chance in the Pals goal. 1-0 to the team from Hykeham.

It would be fair to say that Hykeham enjoyed the early stages of the match. In the 12th minute Steven Mehta slipped a great ball through to the dangerous Anderson, but this time Anderson’s effort was thwarted by a save of high quality from Barnes.

Daniel Barnes produced more quality work 6 minutes later when Jayden Driver set up Callum Murphy, but Murphy’s effort was splendidly saved by the diving keeper who was at full stretch to keep the effort out.

A minute later Steven Mehta attempted a cheeky chip over the keeper, his effort from around 22 yards out, just cleared the bar and landed on the top of the net.

Pals then had some moments of their own as they threatened Hykeham’s slender lead.

In the 20th minute a dangerous corner from Pals’ Liam Bentley caused some panic in the box before Hykeham cleared the danger, and then a free kick by the same player, from a well-placed position approximately 30 yards out, troubled the top of the stand behind the goal rather than the goal itself.

Dec Murphy tried his luck for Pals on 28 minutes from fully 30 yards out, but keeper Cooper only had to retrieve the ball and place it for a goal kick as the shot was well over his bar.

Controversy arose in the 33rd minute and it was good to see the problem resolved “in the old-fashioned way”, without the assistance and delays that we see in the professional game with VAR. Karl Horry, the Pals number 18, was shown a straight red card by Referee Andy Park after a Hykeham forward was tripped whilst bearing down on goal from the right-wing position. Mr Park adjudged that Horry was the last defender, and that his actions had denied his opponent an obvious goal scoring opportunity, and consequently dismissed Mr Horry in accordance with law.

In so doing, Mr Park had not spotted the eagle-eyed Steven Fisher, the Assistant Referee, who had raised his flag as the Hykeham attacking player had been in an offside position when the ball had been played through to him. A brief consultation between Referee and Assistant Referee then followed, and without fuss and delay the Referee reversed his decision and Karl Horry’s red card was withdrawn. This was officiating at its best, simple communication between officials, and ensuring that the fair and correct outcome was achieved, was pleasing to see.

Pals had a fantastic opportunity to level the tie in the 40th minute when Jordan Waplington had what looked to be an open goal when he got on the end of a cross from the left, but somehow James Cooper, in the Hykeham goal, pulled off an amazing save with his legs whilst at full stretch, to the dismay of most of the Pals team who thought that it was a certain goal. Not on Mr Coopers watch it wasn’t!

The half time whistle was greeted by generous applause from the crowd who had seen an excellent game of football and which was still very much up for grabs.

The second half of the game started quietly with both teams taking time to settle into their rhythms. Pals began with some good crisp passing, but the combative midfield of Hykeham kept the Pals forwards threats somewhat restricted during this passage of play.

Karl Horry’s earlier reprieve saw him complete 51 minutes before he became the first substituted player in the match when he was replaced by Jake Mann.

Pals were working up a good spell of pressure and Ben Sharpe came close to getting the equaliser in the 55th minute when he was well placed. His effort was just flicked over the bar when perhaps a hard and low shot may have had a better outcome for his team.

The name of Liam Bentley found its way onto the wrong side of the Referee’s note book when he received the game’s first yellow card in the 59th minute of the game. The card followed a late tackle that had sent Hykeham’s James Slater to the deck.

Hykeham missed out on a glorious opportunity to double their lead on 61 minutes when Steven Mehta headed wide when unmarked and with the Pals keeper well beaten.

Another glorious chance went begging on 62 minutes when a sweet ball from Joshua Thomas was sent in from the right, but the unmarked Callum Murphy, at full stretch, was unable to get any connection on it.

Murphy was not to be denied for long though as, in the very next Hykeham move, he fairly hammered the ball home in the 63rd minute following excellent work down the left by the industrious Jayden Driver. Driver’s ball across was top drawer, and Murphy’s finish, his 24th goal of the campaign, was truly stunning. 2-0 to Hykeham and a goal that really looked to have hurt their hard-working opponents.

With players unsurprisingly tiring, the game saw a passage of substitutions being made. Over a 15 minute period, Pals replaced Greg Brown with Chris Nuttall, Matthew Jamieson was replaced by Craig Bentley, and Liam Uzzell was replaced by Josh Swinn.

Over the same period Hykeham Town TRFC replaced Andy Anderson with Robin Newman, Callum Murphy was replaced by Grant Foster, and skipper James Slater made way for Robert Burley.

Pals produced a move of high quality in the 81st minute when Chris Nuttell exchanged passes with Jordan Waplington, who then played in Liam Bentley. As Bentley lined up to shoot ,Ben Russell made a superb tackle to thwart the dangerous Bentley from reducing the arrears for his team.

Hykeham were to make 2 further substitutions in the match, with Joshua Thomas and Steven Hill, giving way to Michael Sullivan and Callum Coates respectively.

With the clock ticking down, Hykeham put the game to bed in the 85th minute when a sumptuous looking cross from Jayden Driver down the left, found Steven Mehta at the back post and Mehta did the rest by producing a superb downward header, giving keeper Barnes no chance, to wrap up the game 3-0. A stat of note here must be that this was Driver’s 47th assist of the Season.

So, Hykeham Town TRFC ran out comfortable winners in the end, and Pals North FC gave a really good account of themselves on the day.

Final score: Hykeham Town TRFC 3-0 Pals North FC.

Callum Murphy was named the Man of the Match by the League Management Committee.

The Trophy was presented by former Lincoln City players, and “Imps Legends”, Mr Gavin Gordon and Mr Terry Cooper, and the League is grateful that such true legends of Lincoln City Football Club should support our League’s Cup Final, particularly appreciating that both would remain to “do the honours” again for the remaining Cup Final which would bring down the curtain on our domestic Cup Finals for the current Season during the afternoon.

The League is grateful to all who attended and supported the event, their attendance contributed greatly to the atmosphere of a match that will hold special memories for a very long time for those lucky enough to have been involved.

Ian Stephenson (League Secretary and Press Officer for the League).