Rushers unite but Lions go down in penalty shoot out

Andover Lions 2 Clanfield 2.

(Clanfield win 6-5 on penalties).

Andover Lions’ excellent run of nine successive victories came to an end on Saturday in the cruellest of manners when they were knocked out of the Hampshire Intermediate Cup in a penalty shoot out by Hampshire Senior Division frontrunners Clanfield.

It was a case of what might have been as they more than matched their higher ranked opponents and had the chances to have claimed the tie. But perhaps more galling was that several key decisions went against them and what looked like two clear cut penalties were denied in a storming second half.

The Lions went into the match with their strongest squad of the season and manager Ray Cozze had 19 to choose from on the day with Tom Adams returning from injury to take the place of an injured Gary Lane and both Casson Spencer and Jamie Pollard returned to the midfield after being unavailable for last week’s win at Four Marks.

The Lions started the brighter and just four minutes in Pollard set Dan Reynolds free with a fine pass but the in-form striker’s effort was tipped behind by Wiseman in the Clanfield goal.

A neat free-kick by Danny Lewis sent Spencer into space and his shot on the turn was again turned behind then a 30 yard Vinnie Rusher free-kick was then spilled by Wiseman but the ball was scrambled behind before Lewis could pounce. The pressure however paid off on 23 minutes when Lewis and Rusher combined with a classy interchange on the left hand side. Rusher drove into the box and his shot was beaten away by the busy Wiseman, Brad Craney followed up and hit the loose ball against the post but Reynolds was on hand to force the ball home for a deserved lead.

The lead was only to last six minutes as Clanfield began to settle. The Lions failed to defend a throw in on their left and came off second best in two challenges in the box before Michael Prew found space and smashed the ball past a despairing Andy Burt. Rusher volleyed over then combined only to see the ball come back off the post.

The Lions almost grabbed an early goal in the second half when Spencer shot over from ten yards and Rusher then went close after a good move involving Pollard and Lewis but his shot dragged just wide of the right hand post. The Lions were dominating possession but on hour they went behind against the run of play in controversial circumstances. Craney was upended on the edge of the Clanfield box but the game was waved on and Clanfield broke quickly. Harry Potter weaved some magic down the Clanfield left and put over a cross to the unmarked Page to tap in past a stranded Burt.

Clanfield sensed victory and concentrated on getting men behind the ball, relying on counter attacks and on 75 minutes Pollard appeared to be brought down in the box but again the referee failed to blow. Minutes later it appeared to be even more clear cut as Firbank appeared to stop a goal bound shot with two arms raised above his head but the referee waved play on. The Lions perseverance finally paid off in bizarre circumstances in the third minute of injury time when Reynolds burst clear and went straight for goal, Wiseman came out to meet him and appeared to make a great save but ball fell to Spencer who drove the ball home just as the referee blew for a penalty.

The Lions’ protests were waved aside and it was left to Rusher to take the last minute penalty which he duly despatched past Wiseman.

Extra time was an end to end affair and Cozze introduced young Reece Rusher to play alongside his father in midfield but no one could find a winner and penalties were called in what was almost complete darkness.

Clanfield converted their sixth penalty and so, by the narrowest of margins, The Lions’ winning run was over and they were out of the cup.

Manager Cozze was disappointed after the game but could not fault his team’s effort and application: “We were very unlucky today, and overall I think we shaded it. Clanfield were a very good team, probably the best we have played so far this season but we more than matched them. On another day we could have beaten them, but it wasn’t to be. It was a tough way to go out and the boys were gutted afterwards but we have to put it behind us straight away as we have an equally difficult game coming up next week.”

That match is the quarter-final of the Hants Premier League Cup when they host Colden Common at Charlton, kick off 1.45pm on Saturday.


Report and pictures in Friday's Advertiser.


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