Penalty heartbreak for Chatteris Town in dramatic cup semi-final
Cliff Bullen Challenge Cup Semi-Final: Chatteris Town 3 Hardwick 3 AET (Hardwick win 6-5 on penalties)
HEARTBROKEN Chatteris Town crashed out of the Cliff Bullen Challenge Cup after losing on penalties to Hardwick in a dramatic semi-final at West Street.
The Lilies were seconds away from their first cup final in years when ten-man Hardwick netted a controversial equaliser to level the game at 3-3 and force extra time.
Chatteris had twice gone behind but goals from Richie Allen, Tom Moden and a bizarre own goal left them with one foot in the final.
But it was not to be for the Liles and, after an extra-time stalemate, teenager Aidan Hollis was the unlucky player to miss his penalty and consign his side to defeat.
Manager Jimmy Unwin said: “I’m just devastated. I can’t put into words how I feel. We had it sewn up - we had it won.
“We were the better team. Sometimes the better team doesn’t win and that’s what happened today. It’s a total injustice in my opinion.
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“We’re leading and we’re in complete control with 30 seconds of normal time left. Then Jack Saunders gets fouled and it’s not given. They go up the other end, the lad’s offside by a good yard or so and yet suddenly we’re three each and they’re back in the game.
“We played well in spells and then we’ve been crucified by some bad decisions - not just by the officials but by ourselves as well.”
Things started badly for Chatteris against their Kershaw Premier League rivals when Hardwick took the lead with less than 10 minutes played.
A vicious long throw caused chaos in the Lilies’ penalty area and goalkeeper Ben Collett was left stranded as the ball was nodded home.
But a fired-up Chatteris hit back immediately through Richie Allen. Jack Saunders - whose inspired form has been a major factor in the Lilies’ cup run - found space on the left and his cross found its way to Allen who smashed home the equaliser.
As both defences struggled to settle, Chatteris were handed another warning from the sort of long throw which gave them trouble all afternoon.
The Hardwick left-back arrowed his throw into the danger area and although Steven Reid won his defensive header, he turned to see it rebounding off his own crossbar.
As the first half progressed chances begin to dry up and the game became increasingly bad-tempered.
The referee went to his pocket for the first time after half an hour when he booked Jon Brierley and a Hardwick player for their parts in an off-the-ball incident. Jut minutes later Brierley was warned again for a robust challenge in the air.
Although Richie Allen had two chances - including a tempting free header - the Lilies were unable to capitalise on their domination and went in at the break level at 1-1.
Brierley’s indiscipline led to Unwin replacing him at full-back with youngster Hollis at the start of the second half.
And it was Chatteris who manoeuvred the first opportunity after the interval. Quick feet on the edge of the Harwick box saw the ball break to Ashley Spendelow but he could only blast his effort over the bar.
Moments later the visitors grabbed a shock second against the run of play. Chatteris defenders failed to deal with a long and hopeful ball forward and Collett rushed off his line, only to be perfectly lobbed by the onrushing Hardwick striker.
The goal rocked Chatteris who showed signs of losing their rhythm. Only a last-ditch challenge from captain Stuart Porter prevented them from going further behind.
But the topsy-turvy cup tie took another twist when tireless midfielder Reid surged into the Hardwick box only to be scythed down by a combination of two defenders.
Tom Moden stepped up for the spot-kick and, although his initial effort was parried by the keeper, the striker was on hand to slot home the rebound and level the scores.
With the West Street crowd getting more vociferous by the minute, Chatteris were soon ahead for the first time.
But the Lilies had the Hardwick full-back to thank after he smashed his attempted clearance past his own ‘keeper into the corner of the net for what, ironically, was the best finish of the day.
Hardwick’s frustration soon boiled over as Jack Saunders was clattered with a late and ugly challenge that saw one of the visitors dismissed with a straight red card as tempers flared across the pitch.
Dave Turnbull and Aaron Bailey both missed chances to extend Chatteris’ lead as tension began to set in at West Street.
And in the dying seconds Hardwick made the Lilies pay. To the dismay of Unwin, the visitors’ striker was judged onside from a hopeful long ball and he raced through to beat Collett and prompt the extra time that looked so unlikely.
Neither side was able to carve out a meaningful chance in a scrappy extra half hour. Collett was forced into one save and Tony Brown headed a free-kick straight at the ‘keeper but penalties soon seemed inevitable.
Chatteris’ first five takers all held their nerve with Bailey, Moden, Porter, Reid and substitute James Harness all finding the net.
But Hardwick’s players also kept their composure from the spot - converting all five of their penalties to force sudden death.
The Lilies’ heartbreak was complete when Hollis - who had been excellent in the second half - skewed his penalty wide to leave Chatteris, and Unwin, dejected.
“I can’t get my head around it,” said Unwin. “It’s trying to get their heads back up now because that was the last cup final we could get in. It’s not the end of our season, we will try to finish as high as we can in the league.
“We do need to look at ourselves and say we were playing against 10 men for about an hour and we’ve not done enough.”
Chatteris, who sit mid-table in the Kershaw Premier, return to action next Saturday against bottom-of-the-league Hundon.
Chatteris: Collett, Brierley (Hollis, 45), Collins, Porter, Brown, Spendelow (Turnbull, 63), Reid, Bailey, Allen (Harness, 105), Moden, Saunders.
Man of the match: Steven Reid - The energetic midfielder kept Chatteris ticking throughout and kept his head when others on the pitch were losing theirs. It was his midfield burst that won the Lilies’ penalty and he dispatched a pressure penalty with ease.