Delighted Hillfields win through to their first Minor Cup final
HILLFIELDS Park Baptist Church kept their composure and discipline brilliantly to win through to their first GFA Minor Cup final.
Rich Rycroft's team entered the contest at Ironmould Lane in Brislington knowing a difficult battle was in store for them against the in-form Bristol and District League Division Four pacesetters. But they demonstrated resilience and determination to absorb all that was thrown at them and prevailed at the expense of a South Bristol Central side who, by their own admission, turned in their most disappointing display of the campaign.
To compound their misery, the St Anne's Park outfit saw a penalty saved and had substitute Rich Duffy dismissed for a flash of ill-discipline soon after his early second-half arrival, leaving his team with a mountain to climb once Christy O'Sullivan had added to Josh Phillips' first-half strike with a superb second goal on the hour mark.
The visitors began brightly, a slick right-sided move inside the opening minute ending with Michak O'Connor steering the ball low into the box for O'Sullivan to slide in and send a shot narrowly wide of the near post.
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Moments later, South Bristol Central were responding purposefully, Craig Chapman missing the target with a header from a decent position in the middle of the box, courtesy of Liam Peart's cross.
Co-boss Richard Bream then attempted to finish off another patient Central attack by fizzing a 20-yard shot flat across the surface and wide of target, as his side tried to get a stranglehold on the tie in the face of well-organised Bristol Churches League opponents.
On 27 minutes, the home side fell behind in the sort of frustrating fashion that summed up their afternoon. The lively O'Connor was impeded as he tried to make inroads down the right channel and while O'Sullivan appeared to miscue the ensuing free-kick deep into the box, he was as surprised as everyone else to see Central goalkeeper Liam May misjudge the flight of the ball. He was only able to push it on to the crossbar and watch in dismay as Phillips gobbled up the rebound from close range.
Brislington's Western League marksman Peart, who is building up fitness and form with Central, showed flashes of his undoubted ability throughout, albeit to little effect on the day, and he was denied a quickfire equaliser when his flat left-foot drive was saved well by Tom Elliott, leaping to his left.
Just before half-time, Hillfields were offering their thanks once more as they somehow survived an almighty goalmouth scramble.
Central stepped up the pressure at the start of the second half and Peart saw his flicked header from a long downfield punt fall into the grateful hands of Elliott.
The hosts threw on Duffy for Matt Osborne, who had filled the left-back breach capably after luckless defender Mark Bream had suffered a recurrence of a groin injury in the pre-match warm-up.
Two minutes after his arrival, hard-working Hillfields forward O'Sullivan, deployed as part of a three-pronged strikeforce alongside O'Connor and Ruelle Kisson, received possession, cut inside his man and, with little appearing on, send a ferocious right-footed shot from some 25 yards dipping over the flailing May and inside the far corner of the net.
A few minutes later, Duffy was adjudged by excellent referee Andrew Sheppard to have used a hand to strike out at Hillfields centre-half Loz Dunne, which prompted a straight red card.
Central were left ruing a golden opportunity to pull a goal back after a throw-in had led to the ball shooting up against the arm of Hillfields right-back Dany Sharif inside the box. Chapman hit his spot-kick attempt hard and true, but it was too close to Elliott, who did well to beat the ball back out and then pounce to push it away from off the ground as Chapman raced in to try to score from the rebound. As Central tried desperately to set up a grandstand finale, midfielder Aaron Osborne fired the ball well over the top, while at the other end Joe Allen, who had a terrific game in the Hillfields engine room, snatched at his shot from a decent left-side position and was frustrated to see it swerve well wide of the near post.
It mattered not as Central had little left in the tank to stage a final assault and it was a thrilled Hillfields team who booked their place in the final, where they'll take on Old Cliftonians, who overcame Club Corinthians in a penalty shootout, at Oaklands Park, Almondsbury, on Tuesday, March 26 (7.30pm).
South Bristol Central: Liam May; Lee Phillips, Mark McNalty, Steve Kelly, Matt Osborne (Rich Duffy, 58); Jamie Caddick, Richard Bream, Aaron Osborne, Craig Fenlon; Liam Peart, Craig Chapman. Not used: Alex Brand, Justin Carter.
Hillfields Park Baptist: Tom Elliott; Dany Sharif, Loz Dunne, Josh Phillips, Alex Wignall; Ollie Fowler, Joe Allen, Uygar Bocu; Michak O'Connor, Ruelle Kissoon (Damiene Britton, 89), Christy O'Sullivan. Not used: Marcus Freethy, Dan Fell.
Referee: Andrew Sheppard