Crusader's cup hopes Over And out
Lions edge dramatic shootout to knock Crusaders out of Open Cup
Despite the evening kick off on a cold and windy midweek night, Crusaders took a big squad for their tough first round fixture at the home of the Andover Lions.
They found a pitch in perfect condition for good, passing football and this made for an excellent start to the game, with both sides moving the ball around and robing for weaknesses in the opposition. Lions were playing with a confidence commensurate with their lofty league position, whilst Crusaders were showing that they still had the ability to raise their game despite an under-par start to the season.
Lions were creating the more dangerous positions, but with the tried and tested combination of Mark Vallance, Guy Bewick and Wayne Barlow reunited at the back and ably supported by the tireless Mike Mustoe and Tim Grabham at wing back, few significant chances were created. Indeed, most of the danger was from Andover's long throws and corners which had a tendency to get lost in the floodlights.
Crusaders were also creating opportunities at the other end where the pace and work rate of Lee Hudson and Jack Barlow was worrying the Lion's backline. Just after the half hour, Gareth Taylor flicked on a clearance for Jack Barlow to race onto and delightfully clip over the advancing keeper from the edge of the box to put Crusaders into the lead. This stunned Andover and they pushed with greater urgency for an immediate response, but Crusaders held firm through to half time.
The beginning of the second half saw more of the same, with Andover pushing for the equaliser and Crusaders seeking to hit back on the counter. With the midfield trio of Andrew Gregory, Gareth Taylor and Andy Chainey working hard to disrupt the Lions passing game, clear chances remained few and far between. The unusual luxury of fresh legs on the bench enabled this to continue, with Sam Carr and Andrew Sanders both coming on a fitting straight into the strong Crusaders showing.
Just as Crusaders were within touching distance of the second round, a Lions corner saw their big centre half rise above the defence and get enough contact to see the ball just creep over the line for an equaliser. This set up a frantic last 10 minutes, with both sides seeking a winner and half chances coming and going at either end.
As the whistle blew to signal the end of the 90 minutes, the game headed straight to the dreaded penalties. Crusaders had plenty of volunteers and after an early miss from the Lions, successful kicks from Wayne Barlow, Guy Bewick, Andrew Sanders and Andrew Gregory set up a winning opportunity, but the chance was missed and despite further success from Gareth Taylor, a further miss signalled the end of Crusader's Open Cup hopes.
A great performance all round in a really enjoyable game played in the right spirit. Roll on the next league game.