ALEX Walden stepped off the bench to win the Suffolk Senior Reserve Cup for Walsham-le-Willows Reserves.
He netted the only goal of the game after 82 minutes as Walsham defeated fellow Thurlow Nunn Reserve League side Stowmarket Town Reserves 1-0 in the final at Bury Town FC.
The 18-year-old showed good control as he took down a long throw from the tight, before turning and scoring with a low cross-shot into the bottom far corner of the net to settle Saturday’s final.
Walden’s strike secured a second success in the competition in the last four seasons for Walsham and their third overall, after also defeating Stowmarket 3-0 at the same venue in the 2018-19 final.
For Stowmarket it was their third defeat in their last five finals, after previously winning the cup for the only time back in 2016-17.
Stowmarket were left to rue a succession of missed chances, particularly in the first period, when they were on top.
Walsham went close twice early on, skipper Ryan Twinn forcing Will Sarchet to save down by his left-hand post and then Callum Dove sent a shot just wide.
A Stowmarket effort was cleared off the line following a corner before Walsham broke quickly with four against two, but Alex Clarke chose the wrong option and the chance went begging.
Alex Walden (far right, red & yellow striped shirt) scores the only goal of the game in the 82nd minute. Main Photograph: Walsham-le-Willows Reserves celebrate after being presented with the trophy. Photographs: Paul Voller
Stowmarket went within a whisker of taking the lead in the 26th minute, striker Jack Wharton-Richardson cutting in from the left and sending a curling shot against the face of the crossbar.
Five minutes later Reon Huckvale saw his shot cleared off the line following a corner and then Walsham keeper Oliver Geary did superbly to tip a misdirected header by defender Jack Stone against his own crossbar.
Walsham made a triple substitution at the break and came more into the game, although the best chance up to that point came in the 75th minute when Dan Knight volleyed wide after Clarke had lifted the ball over the defence.
Sarchet then held a curling effort from Joe Grennslade-Cross just under his crossbar in the 75the minute but was powerless to prevent Walden opening the scoring seven minutes later.
Walsham centre back Joe Hogg sent a header just off target after 86 minutes before Stowmarket almost equalised in the 92nd minute to send the tie to a penalty shoot-out.
Stowmarket’s Liam Knights found space on the right wing and crossed low to the far post where fellow substitute Ellis Smith looked certain to score, but Geary got across to block his close-range effort.
Walsham-le-Willows Reserves’ assistant manager Mark Cook, who was in charge in the absence of manager Chay Budd, was delighted with his young side.
Cookie, as he is known, said: “It was always going to be a tight game – we had beaten them and they had beaten us once in the league – and that is the best we have defended from set pieces this season.
“We set up in the first half to counteract their threat as we expected them to be all over us, and then we changed formation as we knew they would tire towards the end of the game.”
Walsham-le-Willows Reserves goalkeeper Oliver Geary gets his body in the way to block an injury-time effort from Stowmarket Town Reserves substitute Ellis Smith. Photograph: Paul Voller
Cookie praised goalkeeper 19-year-old goalkeeper Geary, whose injury-time save prevented a penalty shoot-out and also for coping with Stowmarket’s vocal support behind his goal.
“They were pushing for an equaliser towards the end and he has pulled off a great save, managing to turn the ball around the post, rather than back across the penalty box.
“He did well as they had their fans stood behind the goal and I think it spurred him on as he reacted well to what was happening behind him,” said Cookie.
Match-winner Walden admitted afterwards that he was disappointed not to start, but Cookie said: “We have got a big squad with several of the lads playing for our under-18s and so we have tried to manage their game time, with some of them also called up to play for the first team.”
Stowmarket Town Reserves: Will Sarchet, Sam Goddard, Dan Knight, Aidan Phair, Harvey Talbot, Tom Goddard, Alex Clarke, James Graham, Reon Huckvale, Jack Wharton-Richardson, Frederico Dende. Used subs: Liam Knights, Ellis Smith, Joel Simmons. Unused subs: Jesse Wyatt, Charlie Bushell.
Walsham-le-Willows Reserves: Oliver Geary, Joe Collet, Jordan Asker, Jack Stone, Joe Hogg, Will Stobbart, Joe Greenslade-Cross, Harry McKeown, Ryan Twinn, Callum Dove, Charlie Glover. Used subs: Alex Walden, Marley Browne, Jack Spampanato, Jude Keylock, Liam Britton.
Referee: Derren Haynes.