Open Cup drama as Andover Town lose shoot out once again

Lewis Benson's stunning solo goal was not enough as Town lost on penalties

Lewis Benson's stunning solo goal was not enough as Town lost on penalties

First published in Sport
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Andover Town 3 Otterbourne 3.
aet Otterbourne won 6-5 pens.
Andover League Open Cup Final.
Jamie Nash slotted Otterbourne’s winning penalty in a dramatic shoot out to take the Andover Open Cup at the end of one of the most dramatic finals seen in the town in many a year.
In truth there was a certain justice in the result as Town seemed to get out of jail with a Claudio Herbert equaliser nine minutes into injury time which took the teams into the extra period.
With both having had men sent off midway through the second half the game became a war of attrition sprinkled with bookings, spot-kicks, sendings off and stunning goals, none more so than Lewis Benson’s solo third in the first half of extra-time which should have put the Hampshire Premier Leaguers away.
It didn’t and when Tom Sands thrashed home a half volley with seconds left of extra-time Otterbourne were looking at a shoot-out.
Despite Town keeper Michael Weatherall’s heroics, it was not to be and Town were forced to accept their second runners-up spot in their first season.
Town boss Neil Benson’s plans almost went west before the game as Ike Robertson, Michael Dixon and Ope Aromona were all having trouble finding Foxcotte Park and with  a number of others carrying knocks and Lloyd Foot having played for AFC Wimbledon in the afternoon it was a surprisingly patched up squad which took the field.
Robertson all but gave his side the lead on six minutes after fine work from Claudio Herbert but was denied by a point blank save from Marc Cole then Tom Sands shot over as the Hants Premier Leaguers showed they were not there to make up the numbers. Foot stroked a free-kick inches wide but on 20 minutes Otterbourne took the lead as a free-kick of their own was not cleared and Liam Davies volleyed home. It could easily have been two as Tom Richards hit yet another free-kick but somehow Weatherall tipped it onto the bar and over.
Dave Reading was cautioned for a crude challenge near the half way line then just before the break Herbert, Alex Dockree and Toby McCauley linked for a fine move only for Sam Dixon’s last gasp tackle to save the day.
Predictably two games in a few hours proved too much for Foot who limped off at half-time to be replaced by Lewis Alderman and after Robertson had missed the first chance of the half he made amends with a nice first touch and close range volley to equalise.
Town should have gone on to dominate and put the game to bed but Otterbourne are made of strong stuff and on the hour Richards hit Weatherall’s bar with a half volley.
Benson replaced McCauley with Aromona and moments later it seemed as though Otterbourne had gifted the cup to Andover as Reading launched himself at Herbert and referee Derek Pratt had little option but to send him off. Town briefly went for the jugular with Robertson and Herbert both going close but there was little in the way of flowing football on the poor surface and with the strike force struggling with fitness Otterbourne were always in with a shout.
As with the Hythe and Dibden game Town could not take advantage of being a player up and ten minutes later they failed to clear a corner and in the ,melee Danny Field handled on the ,line and joined Reading in the showers as Zak Pickett knocked in the penalty to make it 2-1.
Herbert and Dockree again went close but a combination of injury time and extra for time wasting meant there was nine minutes added and when Lewis Benson, who seemed to be doing the work of three men, threw in a free-kick, Herbert ghosted in and crashed home a volley with the last kick of the 90 minutes to send most of the crowd wild and the Otterbourne manager into orbit as he was dismissed for a volley of abuse to referee Pratt.
Extra-time saw Tom Riddell shoot over but the best was to come as Benson picked the ball up in his own half and his pace and control took him past half a dozen challenges before a magnificent curling shot from 25 yards flew past Cole for what is without question to goal of this season and possibly a few others.
It should have destroyed Otterbourne and won the game for Town but somehow they kept going and with seconds left and the Town defence all over the place and out on their feet Sands crashed in a stunning 25 yarder of his own and it was penalties.
The drama continued as both Cole and Weatherall pulled off saves but in the end substitute Jamie Nash hit the winner and Otterbourne took the Open Cup for the second time in four years.

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