10:20am Tuesday 24th April 2012
Hornets' supporters team Watford Internet FC suffered the heartache of a penalty shoot-out defeat in the IFA London Cup Final against West Ham United's fans side.
Following a stirring comeback from two goals down by the Internet 'Orns, the lottery of penalties was the only way to separate the teams after a riveting final, played at a neutral venue in Harlow.
A crowd that numbered as many as seventy spectators lined the pitch and with both managers picking their strongest sides, the stage was set for a final that delivered on pre-match predictions of a competitive game between clubs who are great friends off the pitch.
In uncharacteristic fashion, West Ham started slowly. WIFC seemed to settle more quickly, having the lions’ share of early possession. It was a real cup final, where edginess, and nerves seemed to get the better over both teams' undoubted quality.
However, as both teams settled down, their collective touch improved and they stared to play the sort of football that got them to the final on the back of 100 per cent records in the group stages of the tournament.
Both teams were also looking dangerous on the break, but it was the East London side that struck first. The goal had been coming for a while when the deadlock was broken on the half hour. A free kick was floated into the back post and Luke Gray headed across the goal for Mark Blackburn to tap in from close range.
To WIFC's credit their reply was almost instant. In the next five minutes they surged forward, and were unfortunate not to win a penalty when Chris Dew went down in the box. But the rally was brief, and West Ham finished the half in the ascendancy when captain Will Bush despatched a penalty after a handball by Stuart Holdham to double their advantage.
After a tactical switch to 4-4-2 and some rousing words from joint manager Chris Davis and captain Chris Dundon, WIFC started the half well. Despite this, they could have been three down when another penalty appeal was turned down.
This proved to be the turning point and WIFC dominated the next 20 minutes. Having already seen a sighter crash off the crossbar minutes earlier, it was full back Leigh Harrington who halved the arrears when he sweetly curled a kick into the back of the net.
WIFC sensed blood. Using their height advantage Watford peppered the West Ham area with long throws, and one of these paid off when the ball was half cleared to Frank Smith, whose through ball resulted in Dave Soloway poking the ball home to bring the game level.
West Ham came back at WIFC as legs tired and both teams had a great chance each to win it. The Hammers had a goal disallowed when two players broke through and the first inexplicably passed the ball to his offside colleague rather than finish himself. Then Rob Sterry had a header superbly saved at point blank range by John Coates, when it seemed the pint sized forward was certain to score.
And so the tie went to penalties, as it is IFA Cup tradition to have no extra-time. With both teams lined up on the half way line, West Ham's Terry Hayes and WIFC's Maurice Clarke missed to take things to sudden death.
At 6 all, Graham Stafford's kick cannoned off the legs of WIFC goalkeeper Jeremy Hinds and into the back of the net. Paul Whittenbury of Watford then strode forward and his well struck kick thudded into the woodwork. There were tears of joy and sadness from both teams, while Whittenbury was consoled by West Ham and WIFC players alike, as well as his girlfriend and family.
After the presentation, West Ham manager Vinnie White was quick to praise the WIFC side. He said: "I'd like to congratulate WIFC on giving us one tough match.. We knew it would be that way and so it proved.
"I'm delighted to win the cup today, and equally delighted to see the reaction of both teams, as it proves the strength of the relationship we have. Even with a trophy on the line, everybody's attitude was first class. This may have been the first London Cup final, but I have a feeling it won't be the last time we meet in the final."
WIFC joint managers Dave Messenger and Davis echoed the sentiment.
"That was the best IFA game I've ever been involved in," said Messenger. "Our players can be so proud of their comeback".
Davis added: "We were a wonder save away from nicking it, and to take a side as good as West Ham that close does us immense credit. That said, if we had to lose, I can't think of a better group of lads to lose to. Their players were first class after the last penalty and we don't begrudge them their success for a second."
WIFC: Jeremy Hinds; Rob Stone, Chris Dundon (C), Stuart Nicholls, Leigh Harrington; Joel Moody, Stuart Holdham, Frank Smith, James Hannaford; Rob Sterry; Chris Dew. Subs Maurice Clarke, Paul Whittenbury, Dave Soloway, Andy Lewers. Not used Richard Walker, Aidy Spender, Jamie Parkins, Josh Freedman, Matt Ainsley, Phil McBride, Andy Myall
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