NEEDHAM Market suffered a ‘gut-wrenching’ defeat in a National Cup Final on Saturday.
The club’s Under-15 Junior Premier League (JPL) side were within four seconds of winning the JPL National Cup competition when Henley Lions FC Blues equalised from a penalty.
That made the score 3-3 and their opponents won the subsequent penalty shoot-out 5-4 to shatter Needham’s dreams of success.
Needham had led 2-0, before being pegged back to 2-2 at half-time in the final at Gloucester City FC, but the cup looked to be heading back to Suffolk when they scored with four minutes of normal time remaining.
Jason Curtis, Needham Market FC JPL Under-15 Manager, said: “Despite all the pre-match nerves the boys came out of the traps like I have never seen before.
“We were 2-0 up through Aidan Jolly and Ben Batho inside 20 minutes, and it could have been four or five.
“They then took their foot off the pedal and conceded two sloppy goals from set-pieces to make it 2-2 at half-time.
“We recovered quite well and enjoyed good possession throughout the second-half without being such a threat in front of goal, but we scored through Dylan Sadler with four minutes left.
“Then with four seconds remaining we conceded a penalty for handball from which they equalised and as soon as we kicked-off again the final whistle blew.
“Two of our penalty-takers were off injured so I needed someone to take the fifth penalty and Ben Batho put his hand up. Both teams scored four well-taken penalties, but their keeper then saved Ben’s penalty.
“It was a gut-wrenching feeling to lose the final in that way, especially as they boys had played so well and we thought we deserved to win the game, and their manager and coaches said the same.
“However, there is an overall feeling of pride. It has been a wonderful journey for me personally and to see the way the boys have taken on the challenge as they have done.
“They conducted themselves superbly both on and off the pitch over the weekend and the experience will have done them the world of good and stand them in good stead for next season.”
Needham Market FC Academy Director Robert Peace added: “I am gutted for the players who have done the club, their parents and the county immensely proud, which we told them before the kick-off.
“At 2-0 up an element of game-management was required, but we conceded against the run of play and then they scored again immediately after, so it has been a learning curve for the players.
“They will know now what it feels like to suffer heartbreak in a sporting context after coming so close to winning, and they couldn’t have been any closer to winning the cup than they were.
“They gave it their all, but it wasn’t to be on the day. The players will move up to be our under-16 side next season, when they will have the opportunity to try to go one better and win it.”
The Needham Market squad are pictured above prior to Saturday's final at Gloucester City FC.
Needham flying flag for Suffolk in final
Needham preparing for cup semi-final