THE thickness of the bar proved Battyeford’s downfall on more than one occasion as Lepton Highlanders claimed a place in the Under 14 Cup final.
With one eye firmly fixed on the League title, Lepton looked hesitant as this long-delayed semi-final got under way and were forced into long periods of defending as Battyeford midfielders Yusuf Muhajid and James Sweeney took control.
By half time the Highlanders could consider themselves lucky to be still on level terms but, despite both Will Denham and Jack Leonard shots shaving the top of the bar, Battyeford were unable to make the breakthrough.
The two sides shared the points in their only previous league encounter this season and, as the second half got under way, there was nothing to suggest that this game would be any different.
Lepton were now enjoying a more equal share of possession and Battyeford defenders Josh Rawcliffe and Miles Hynd had to stay alert as Lepton’s Adam Holt and Will Lord mounted a series of dangerous moves to keep the Mirfield side pinned in their own half. Highlanders went close when Tom Halton headed over the bar from six yards, then when a far post cross found Ryan Evans, but his header rebounded to safety from an upright.
At the other end, a right-wing cross found James Sweeney in a good position but the striker’s volley curled just the wrong side of the left upright.
With the minutes ticking away fast, Lepton almost settled the issue when Halton broke through on the left, but keeper Joe Manning was quick off his line and pulled off the save of the game to keep Battyeford’s hopes alive.
Battyeford almost grabbed the winner with the last kick of the game when Josh Rawcliffe powered a 35-yard free-kick over the defence and keeper Kerby McKenna could only watch as the ball flew towards the top corner but, much to the relief of the Lepton faithful, the ball bounced safely off the top of the bar.
Nerves, a heavy pitch and tired legs all played a part as both sides pressed hard but, with just five minutes remaining in extra time and the light fading fast, thoughts of a penalty shoot-out were beginning to enter supporters minds.
Then, a determined Ben Robinson found himself 10 yards from goal and, with just the keeper to beat, the Lepton striker kept a cool head to place a shot just beyond Manning’s fingertips into the roof of the net. Lepton, who have yet to win a major trophy, remain on course for a league and cup double.
They now face a May 4 cup final meeting with seasoned cup campaigners Howden Clough, who are making their fifth final appearance, having lifted the cup on four previous occasions at Under 10, 11, 12 and 13.
Battyeford, meanwhile, will be wondering what might have been if Rawcliffe’s free-kick had been just 12 inches lower.