Shootout success puts holders Highridge into the semi-finals
HOLDERS Highridge United squeezed through to the semi-finals of the GFA Senior Amateur Cup after a compelling encounter with AEK Boco.
The South Bristol hosts, determined to reclaim County League status over the next few years, competed well against Hanham-based Boco, who lie second in the Bristol Premier Combination top-flight. Highridge are going well a section beneath their opponents in Division One.
it was a tight and absorbing affair from first whistle to last and, after Boco had equalised Highridge's first-half opener, it was Jon Berry's men who edged a clinical penalty shootout contest to claim their place in the last four.
An end-to-end encounter was epitomised in the opening exchanges when Boco left-back Jacob Morris fizzed a fierce left-footed strike just wide of the far post following a strong spell of pressure by his team, while at the other end busy midfielder Ben Rickwood saw his 30-yard free-kick tipped over by visiting keeper Joe Pople from a fairly stationary stance.
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From the resulting corner, Daniel Elson's powerful glancing header from Rickwood's accurate delivery looked to be flying into the Highridge net until it cannoned off a defender and flew behind.
And as the brisk action, played out on a heavy pitch amid bitter temperatures, continued unabated, Boco's Darren Werrett was dismayed to see his flicked header from Luke Westwood's swerving free-kick drift past the target.
It was Highridge who made the breakthrough on 25 minutes. Lewis Dunn was scythed to the ground just inside the penalty area by Boco centre-back Rich Sperring and Rickwood drilled the subsequent spot-kick hard and low into the bottom left corner.
The home side quickly sought a second goal and 32-year-old former Bristol Rovers and Bath City defender Mike Trought, an influential and effective presence now in the five-man Highridge midfield, cleverly teed up Rickwood for a crisply-hit long-range volley, which drifted wide of the far upright.
Boco were on the retreat in the minutes leading up to the interval and, after lively right-winger Elson had broken away from his marker before powerfully cracking a low angled drive narrowly off target, right-back Harry Hocking was disappointed to see his fine curling attempt clawed behind by Pople at full stretch, leaping to his left.
Boco were forced into a change late in the first half when midfielder Jack Withey withdrew with a groin strain and was replaced by Mark Thomas.
It looked like it would get worse for the visitors at the start of the second half when Elson was upended inside the area.
Referee Richard Bush, who enjoyed a good game, pointed to the spot for a second time in Highridge's favour. Rickwood again struck his penalty hard and true, but this time Pople dived to keep it out before recovering quickly enough to brilliantly block Elson's close-range follow-up.
In a frantic start to the second half, Werrett cracked a left-footed strike for Boco against a cluster of home bodies, before the away side grabbed a 55th-minute equaliser. An almighty scramble ensued as Luke Westwood's corner caused confusion inside the six-yard area and, after Highridge had appeared to have somehow kept out a series of swipes at their goal, Boco's impressive centre-back Andy Lear managed to force the ball over the line.
Boco almost snatched the lead moments later when substitute Martin Randall sent Luke Westwood away with a defence-splitting pass, but the winger could only steer his attempted finish low past advancing Richard Jenkins and wide of the back post.
Both sides turned up the heat as the half wore on and Elson could hardly believe it as he swivelled and struck a sweet shot from outside the box high towards the net, only for Lear to pop up to head the ball off his goalline.
Pople produced another wonder save to deny a close-range volley from Highridge substitute Adam Winstone.
As the home side laid siege to their opponents' goal, Elson missed a great chance at the death to win it inside 90 minutes as he cut inside to make space for himself before dragging a left-footed shot wide of the far post.
In the shootout, after ten perfect spot-kicks, the tie was poised still at 5-5. Jenkins then pulled off a great save to beat away Sperring's attempt and it was left to defender Ben Goddard to confidently win it for Highridge by sending Pople the wrong way from 12 yards.
Highridge Utd: Richard Jenkins; Harry Hocking, Ed Cockle, Ben Goddard, Dave Garrod; Daniel Elson, Grant Farrell, Ben Rickwood, Mike Trought, Lewis Dunn; Richard Griffiths (Adam Winstone, 71). Other sub: Jon Berry
AEK Boco: Joe Pople; Austin Shopland, Andy Lear, Rich Sperring, Jacob Morris (Jenson Manning, 90); Luke Westwood, Jack Withey (Mark Thomas, 43), Mark Westwood, Darren Werrett (Martin Randell, 59); Mark Pocock, Jenson Manning (George Brimble, 81). Other sub: Craig Sperring