Last night’s Hunts Junior Cup final should be kept as a template for all showpiece occasions.
There was drama, controversy, excitement and incident galore as Houghton & Wyton snatched county glory from the jaws of defeat at Jubilee Park.
Steve Jeffs’ men made their first-ever foray into this competition a winning one by hitting the most last-gasp of late equalisers in stoppage time to claw their way level at 2-2 before prevailing in the penalty shoot-out that followed.
They eventually edged it 5-3 from the spot after a decisive save from goalkeeper Jamie Chamberlain to keep out Alconbury’s fourth penalty from Alex Norman as the holders came up agonisingly short in their defence.
“We didn’t turn up in the first half and had a few choice words in the dressing room at half-time,” said winning H & W boss Steve Jeffs.
“The lads left themselves in a big hole, but dug themselves out.
“Obviously I did think we had run out of time, but we kept on going to the very end and got our reward.
“I was confident Jamie would make the difference in the shoot-out. He got us through in an earlier round against Hemingfords when saving three penalties and he came up with a big one again in the final.”
As Jeffs admitted, Houghton & Wyton had been pretty hopeless in the first half of a clash played in hurricane-like conditions on the outskirts of Huntingdon.
They fell behind when Alconbury frontman Ryan Palmer robbed defender Stephen Poore, powered into the box and coolly slotted into the corner in the 19th minute and lashed another effort inches wide moments later after a wind-assisted clearance from keeper Nathan Pond bounced into the box.
Goalscorer turned provider as Alconbury doubled their lead on the half-hour when captain Saleem Jabbar applied the final touch to Palmer’s corner. At that point they looked set to give outgoing boss Darrell Clark the final hurrah he craved before standing down at the end of the season.
But there was a warning shot on the stroke of half-time as H & W came within millimetres of halving their deficit. Marc Puckering saw his header loop against the crossbar, but he did eventually launch their comeback just after the hour.
Puckering coolly converted a spot-kick earned by captain Lloyd Howard, who saw his burst into the box was ended by a stray leg by one of the three Alconbury men converging on him.
They were denied an almost immediate leveller as the excellent Luke Ackerman became the second H & W man to denied by the crossbar after cutting inside from the left flank and unleashing a fine shot.
That sparked several minutes of frustration for wideman Ackerman in particular as he went on to see two efforts that did find the net ruled out little more than 60 seconds apart.
A raised flag cut short his celebrations on the first occasion before the shrill blast of referee Hallam Cutmore’s whistle did likewise moments later after Ackerman had outmuscled a defender and lobbed goalkeeper Nathan Pond. Quite where the official spotted a foul in that passage of play remain a mystery.
But he did and in the process he only helped to add to the drama as H & W laid siege on the Alconbury goal in the closing stages.
Substitute John Johnson saw a goalbound effort inadvertently kept out by the body of team-mate Stephen Hastings, but just as it looked as though they would fall short, they snatched a leveller.
Alconbury defenders put bodies on the line to block a series of shots in the mother of all goalmouth scrambles, but there was no stopping Osborne’s perfectly-placed blast which screwed into the top corner as the clock ticked into the 49th minute of the second period.
The penalty shoot-out that followed was relatively mundane in comparison until Chamberlain produced the vital contribution, leaving the way clear for Sean Cane to clinch victory.
The H & W man made no mistake to spark some wild celebrations as the Cambs League Division 2B title-chasers completed the first part of a potential honours double.
ALCONBURY: Nathan Pond, Matthew Pond, James Mackrell, Liam Johnson, Luke Massey, Saleem Jabbar, Terry Glynn, Matt Claxton, Paul Carey, Ryan Palmer, George Pearson, Damian King, Ben Lee Taylor, Tom Hasson, Alex Norman, Kristian Strickson-Head.
Houghton & Wyton: Jamie Chamberlain, Pep Pistilli, Charlie Smith, Stephen Hastings, Stephen Poore, Lloyd Howard, Luke Ackerman, John Morris, Bozo Saso, Marc Puckering, Simon Osborne, Ryan Withers, Sean Cane, John Johnson, Stephen Johnson, Liam Sancaster.
Referee: Hallam Cutmore.
Assistant referees: Callum Jones/Paul Dobbs.
Fourth official: Daniel White