GLEMSFORD & Cavendish overcame the odds at Portman Road to clinch the first part of an historic double - against a Leiston St Margarets side the equivalent of four leagues above them.
But celebrations of lifting the Suffolk FA Junior Cup last Wednesday were kept short and sweet, as the amalgamated village side focused on clinching the league title three days later - which they duly did at Eaton Socon A (1-0).
It caps a vintage year for Robbie Benson’s side, who won the biggest match of their lives showing tremendous character, after losing captain Scott Lawrence and 35-goal leading scorer Andrew Smith by half-time at Ipswich Town’s Portman Road.
But with the score at 1-1, following a stunning solo effort from Andy Gardiner pegged back by a penalty, G&C dug deep in the second half, scoring two classy goals, from Gavin Brightwell and Daniel Brind to etch their name on to the trophy.
A raucous 600-strong crowd turned out, with a large contingent from down the A1071 left chanting ‘campione, campione’ as their players did a group dive across the award-winning Championship pitch in celebration.
Benson hailed the effort of his players and applauded the fantastic support which helped see them to their first trophy at Portman Road and the first of a double, with the league, the BIS Cambridgeshire league Division 3A, wrapped up on Saturday.
“It has been fantastic support but this is all about those players,” Benson said. “First half hour I thought we were terrific. They got the penalty and came back into the game but the boys bounced back superbly.”
He added: “We lost our leading goalscorer and our skipper as well and they showed great character and were magnificent to a man and deserve everything they have got.”
Andy Gardiner, who led the line with aplomb, opened the scoring on 19 minutes with their first shot on goal, carrying off a step-over to take him into the box before dispatching with an angled drive that crashed in off the bar.
It looked as though G&C’s disciplined display at the back would be enough to get them to half-time with a slender lead against a side who have just won the Suffolk & Ipswich League Division One title.
But Leiston were handed a lifeline when Mick Franks pointed to the spot after Patrick Tatam was adjudged to have caught James Blades running out of the penalty box, the same player coolly converting the spot-kick to give Thomas Lockwood no chance.
After losing Lawrence to a nasty knee injury, requiring a motorised stretcher, and the dangeorus Smith, it looked a tall order for G&C to re-discover the momentum built up in the opening 30 minutes. But six minutes after the restart they regained the lead after Brightwell’s sublime left-foot rocket cannoned in off the bar from 22 yards.
With the game then on a knife-edge, G&C effectively wrapped up victory with 15 minutes left on the clock, when Brind, superb in a holding role in the second period, fired a low shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the area after Andy Gardiner had shown great strength chasing down a seemingly lost cause.
With 90 minutes on the clock, a gruesome studs-up slide from Leiston St Margaret’s player-manager Chris Wright, leaving Richard Fryer with blood pouring from a head wound, saw him receive his marching orders after his second yellow card.
But it was jubilation at the final whistle for G&C and their ardent fans, who will never forget their trip to Portman Road.
G&C: Lockwood, Dowding, Tatam, Reader, Burnham, Lawrence (c) (Fryer 44), Matthew Gardiner, Brind, Smith (Chaplin 45), Andy Gardiner (Wilson 87), Brightwell
Unused subs: Green, Williamson
Free Press man of the match: Andy Gardiner. Big man rose to the occasion, scoring one and setting up another with superb hold-up play and non-stop running for the cause.