Heroic Holwell Sports keep cool to win semi-final shoot-out

Recalled to the side after missing Saturday's league match, Brad Smith put Holwell ahead within a minute in the cup EMN-170504-102524002
Recalled to the side after missing Saturday's league match, Brad Smith put Holwell ahead within a minute in the cup EMN-170504-102524002

Steel, grit and plenty of determination saw Holwell outgun more fancied Heather St Johns in a compelling Senior Cup semi-final at Aylestone on Tuesday evening.

Holwell got off to a flyer when Brad Smith scored after only 42 seconds, capitalising on a lethargic defence to give the Melton side an ideal start and allowing them to settle quickly.

Holwell will assess the fitness of striker Graham Wells who has been since the start of the month  EMN-170504-102807002

Holwell will assess the fitness of striker Graham Wells who has been since the start of the month EMN-170504-102807002

The Midlands League side then laid siege to the Holwell goal, but to a man the Welby Road team worked their socks off, staving off one attack after another while trying to get the breakaway to relieve the pressure.

Stout defence and misfiring forwards saw two good chances come and go as goalkeeper Jamie Witham preserved the lead.

Holwell’s chances were limited, but up front Graham Wells and Mark Tinsley were keeping the Heather defence busy with good running.

Tinsley had a half-chance when he hooked the ball over his head, but keeper Ben Allison saved.

John Webster’s side had a narrow escape on the half-hour mark when Nesbitt’s corner went right across the Holwell goal with no takers.

Holwell were hanging on but almost doubled their lead when Wells won a corner and then touched the set piece goalbound, but it was cleared off the line.

Nesbitt then tested Witham from 30 yards as Sports grew edgy and struggled to get a foot on the ball.

But Michael Stevenson provided the calmness they needed, controlling the ball midway in his own half and holding off Sidibe before setting Wells away.

He outstripped Rudd down the left before slamming a strong shot past keeper Allsopp to double Holwell’s lead eight minutes before the break.

Heather were stung into action once more and raised their game. But their goal when it came, a minute before half-time, owed much to luck when a wicked deflection inside the six-yard box off a defender’s leg trickled into the net.

The second half started as it finished with Heather on top, but Sports were resolute with Ridout, Bitmead and Woodcock immense in the middle of defence, while Brad Smith and Liam Chapman were forced back to counter the threat of their opposing wingers.

Midfield was being run by Heather’s Luke Pinnocy with some style, but the final ball into the forwards didn’t seem to worry Holwell’s defence.

Tinsley had a chance on 55 minutes, but again the keeper was well placed to save, and having lost Wells to injury, Holwell’s attacking threat was weakened.

Heather again went close when Nesbitt’s free-kick came back off the wall to Pinnocy whose rebound forced Witham to save.

But the respite was short-lived as Foster conceded a corner on the right and Daniel Chapman levelled with a near-post header.

Yet Holwell were still in the tie and with no substitutes, the Heather players started to feel the pain of their greater efforts to get back in the game.

Sports kept themselves in the match with steely determination, playing for each other with Hazeldine busily hustling and disrupting play out of defence, Hibbitt and Stevenson fighting in midfield, and Foster and Chapman combining to stop dangerous crosses from Sidibe.

By full-time the Heather players were dropping with cramp and hamstring problems, and both teams contained each other in extra time with no real chances so it was on to penalties.

Holwell’s players looked more up for this last fight, and Kieran Foster was first to go. With Saturday’s miss still fresh in mind, it was a brave call, but he blasted his side in front.

Nesbitt’s spot kick came back off the left-hand post to give Holwell the early advantage which Aaron Ridout extended with a great penalty.

Jake Healy pulled one back for Heather, but David Hazeldine had no problems in making it 3-1.

Heather’s man-of-the-match Pinnocy stepped up, but was denied by Witham’s great save, allowing Stevenson to convert Holwell’s fourth penalty and put them into their first county cup final for a generation.