Long Melford - Maher proud of his players after cup final heartbreak

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SUFFOLK SENIOR CUP FINAL: Long Melford 1 Whitton United 2

LONG Melford manager Jason Maher hailed his players’ mammoth effort as a heartbreaking 89th-minute winner ended their hopes of lifting the Suffolk Senior Cup in cruel fashion.

The Villagers, who finished 28 points worse off than their opponents in the Ridgeons League First Division table, started off as firm underdogs but soon showed they were not prepared to roll over under the bright lights of Portman Road.

In lashing rain, Melford weathered an early storm to take the lead through Jamie Williams’ fine early second-half strike before Chris Williams earned parity for the Greens.

But despite valiant defending, Melford’s luck ran out with a minute of normal time to play when substitute Alan Mills’ speculative drive flew along the greasy surface and squirmed under Paul Wood’s dive.

Speaking on the pitch afterwards, an emotional Maher said: “I am obviously disappointed we have lost to a last-minute goal, but I am proud of the players.

“We took them all the way and they knew they were in a hell of a game and I don’t think our guys could have given any more and I am immensely proud of them.”

And the Melford manager refused to blame former Tottenham Hotspur trainnee Wood for the decisive goal, which crept in at his near post.

“To be fair I had it down as a goalkeeping mistake but a couple of the boys said it took a deflection,” he said. “We will not attach any blame to Woodsy, he has been a great keeper.”

With Melford matching Whitton’s 4-3-3 formation, Maher’s side were happy to soak up pressure and break on the counter, and ended the opening period having seen far less of the ball but having had the better chances.

Danny Shipton’s long-range strike from their first attack was deflected over for a corner from which Craig Wilson hooked wide and Dan Cann’s rising angled shot at the near post, from Craig Wilson’s clever chip, was even closer.

The Greens, whose chairman is Norwich City legend Ruel Fox, took until 26 minutes in to register their first shot at goal, former Ipswich Town youth player Kevin Ingles firing wide from long-range.

Chris Williams and Marcus Josiah both went close with headers but it was Melford who were celebrating taking the lead three minutes into the second half.

Wilson’s throughball out to the left wing was beautifully controlled by Williams with the outside of his right foot before he produced a finish to match into the far corner with his left.

Whitton responded by piling on the pressure with the surging runs of full-back Ollie Brown causing plenty of concern.

And it was a fortunate bounce, with several calls for handball, that finally breached the backline with Chris Williams’ finishing Gavin Crane’s pass in the area to take them level after 64 minutes.

Luke Simpson cleared off the line for Melford as they hung on under heavy pressure, but it finally told when Mills’ shot slid under Woods’ dive from 20 yards on the left, with extra time having been within touching distance.

Maher added: “I would love to see their equaliser because our players were convinced it was handball, but to be fair to the referee I thought he had a really good game.

“So as much as I am disappointed I am immensely proud of the players and it is the crowning experience of my life to come here with this group of players to come here and lead this club.”