Sunday 15th May 2022 brought the curtain down on the 2021/2022 League Season with a cracker of game at LNER Stadium. Hykeham Town TRFC and Rustons United went head to head in the League’s prestigious Cup Final. To add a little extra spice this match saw the current holders of the trophy (Hykeham Town TRFC) up against last Season’s Champions, in an encounter that always produces much to admire in the way in which both Clubs are run, and the skill levels possessed within both ranks.
Hykeham got the game under way attacking the Stacey-West end of the ground. Despite having the kick off the ball went straight out of play and the Rustons response resulted in a crisp shot being fired at James Cooper in the Hykeham goal by Jordan Southwell with just 53 seconds showing on the clock.
Rustons came close to opening the scoring on 3 minutes when a thunderous shot by Josh Raby cannoned off the outside of the post with keeper Cooper beaten.
The game had to wait another 2 minutes before the opening goal arrived and it did so from free kick specialist Jordan Southwell to put Rustons ahead. The free kick was awarded a couple of yards or so outside the box on the attacking left, just inside the 18 yard line. James Cooper, in the Hykeham goal, set up the defensive wall and when Referee Woolley blew for the kick to be taken Southwell curled a brilliant free kick over the wall to give the keeper no chance with the ball nestling in the top corner. A free kick of real quality it must be said.
Hykeham had a great opportunity to level on 16 minutes when a glorious low cross from Jayden Driver needed only a touch from 6 yards out, but with their forwards converging in on goal, the ball evaded them all by inches and the chance went begging.
The game saw the first caution of the match on 23 minutes when Mackenzie Flannery pulled back his opponent on the half way line only to see the yellow card produced by Referee Woolley. This was to prove a costly decision later in the match.
Rustons doubled their lead in the 25th minute when Josh Waby headed home smartly when he was unchallenged, Town keeper Cooper managing to get a hand to the ball as it passed him and found its way into the net.
3 minutes later and it was 3-0 to Rustons who, at this stage, looked to be running away with the contest. It was Josh Raby again, for the second time in the match, who found the net, this time with a brilliant finish over the head of the keeper after he had brought the ball under control with a great first touch.
3-0 and all over? Certainly not, this was Hykeham Town TRFC remember!
They pulled a goal back on 38 minutes when Callum Murphy placed a good header over the head of Rustons keeper Ben Tonks to bring the Hykeham side back into the game. That is how it stayed for the remainder of the half and it was Rustons who went into the break with a 2 goal advantage but you just got the feeling that Hykeham were edging back into the game as the end of the half approached and there were many at half time who thought that “the next goal” would be so so important.
Half time: Hykeham Town TRFC 1-3 Rustons United.
The second half began with Hykeham Town in the ascendancy. Could they get that all important early second goal? Of course they could! It took just 5 minutes of the second half to arrive and it came courtesy of that man Callum Murphy again who coolly slotted home after a slip by a Rustons defender. 3-2 now and definitely game on.
The game had a decisive moment in the 58th minute when Mackenzie Flannery received a second yellow card for a mistimed tackle, the result being the rare appearance of a red card in the League’s finals and despite his obvious frustrations he had to begin the walk down the tunnel, hoping that the 10 men of Rustons could cope without his services.
9 minutes later, in the 59th minute, Hykeham’s brilliant comeback was complete when Jayden Driver placed an absolute peach of a header across the keeper and into the net to level the tie at 3-3. In a game that had seen plenty of quality scoring, this header was up there, much to the delight of his team and all of the Hykeham Town supporters looking on.
Where was this game heading now? It really was anybody’s and the short term answer to that question was “extra time”! Before extra time beckoned both keepers were called upon to make excellent saves with both teams continuing to create chances in an entertaining contest.
The game moved into the 30 minute extra time period with everything to play for. Within the first period of extra time Jayden Driver blazed a shot over the bar after he was played through, and then his team mate Ben Long, with brother Sam Long of Lincoln City watching on from the stands, headed just wide when arguably he should have scored.
At this stage the game had become very open with chances being created at both ends. Jordan Southwell had a shot well saved by James Cooper in the 3rd minute of extra time, this was followed by a close call at the other end after 13 minutes of extra time when Michael Sullivan, on as a second half substitute for Hykeham, must have wished that he was one inch taller as the ball just evaded him when he was unmarked in front of the Rustons goal. In the very last minute of the first period of extra time Scott Nicholson of Rustons fizzed a volley towards the Hykeham goal, but the ball went wide when a great chance fell at his feet.
First period of extra time completed – game still locked at three apiece.
With fatigue creeping into some of the play much of the last period of the game saw controlled possession football from both teams without either really threatenening their opponents goal UNTIL, with just 3 minutes remaining of extra time, Lee Skepper was slipped through and he beat James Cooper to put Rustons 4-3 ahead with just 3 minutes remaining with a well placed shot along the ground. As would be imagined there were joyous scenes around the Rustons team and dug-out, with Hykeham now needing something special to get the all important goal that would have potentially seen the game being decided by penalties. Alas for Hykeham, it was not to be, and after a couple of additional minutes being added on by Referee Woolley, the final whistle sounded to bring to an end an excellent game which aptly brought the curtain down on the 2021/2022 Season for the League.
The League offers its congratulations to both teams for providing us all with an excellent final and one which will have been enjoyed by all watching.
The player momentos and the Ron Eaglen Challenge Trophy itself were presented by Mr Liam Scully, the CEO of Lincoln City and guest of the League, ably assisted by the safest pair of hands in the ground, namely the excellent Lincoln City FC Goalkeeper Sam Long.
The League will now dust itself down and prepare for the new Season which will commence again on Sunday 4th September 2022.
Thank you to all who attended today, and to all who follow our League. Enjoy the Summer break and we hope to see you all again somewhere around the grounds next Season.