LINTHWAITE Under 17s rounded off their time in junior football together by defeating Bradford United 3-1 in the RCD Cup final.
Goals from Sam Bates, Iwan Hanley Heeley and Mark McSherry did the job after Bradford held an early lead, and it was a fitting success for the club.
“That’s their last game together,” said Linthwaite manager Chris Hanley after the victory.
“Most of them have been together since they were 10, but this will be their last season in junior football.”
With only one defeat before Christmas, Linthwaite’s season started with a great deal of promise but, with many of the team also forming the bulk of the Huddersfield Minor FA team which reached the semi-finals of the County Minor Cup, the side’s league title hopes began to fade.
And even the possibility of winning the cup seemed unlikely as they were up against a Bradford United side who had previously gained a win and a draw over Linthwaite in their league meetings.
Bradford started the stronger and should have taken the lead early in the game, but Ashley Brown’s snapshot flew over the bar.
United, who are part of the Bradford Park Avenue set up, continued to dominate play and took the lead after 10 minutes.
Far from being down and out at this blow to their chances of silverware, Linthwaite dug in their heels and, with some solid defending from Josh Langfield, Jack Garretty and Jack Hargreaves the first half ended with no further score.
The second half was different story as Linthwaite’s Lee Johnson and Josh Shields began to control midfield and the Colne Valley side were soon back in the game when Bates fired in the equaliser.
Both sides have had a long hard season – many of the United players have also played for the Bradford Minor FA – and it was inevitable that, in the biggest game of the season, several players were suffering cramp from tired legs.
A switch of position for Ashley Crowther finally made the difference and gave Linthwaite the vital edge as Johnson continually fed passes down the right wing, where the powerful Crowther found space to deliver dangerous crosses.
With Bradford attempting to cut out his new threat, Iwan Hanley-Heeley and Shields were able to exploit the extra space in the middle and when the former found himself with time and space in front of goal, the lethal striker drilled an unstoppable shot into the corner to give Linthwaite the lead for the first time in the game. With just 15 minutes remaining, Linthwaite were now favourites as, although Bradford were still seeing plenty of the ball, they never looked like increasing their goal tally.
A third goal from McSherry, five minutes from time, finally sealed the game and manager Hanley was more than happy to take the cup back to Linthwaite before the players finally hang up their Huddersfield Junior League boots.