Full Match Report: Sheen Lions stage sensational come-back from 4-0 down but lose 5-4 to a Sutton goal in the dying seconds of injury time.
This was not only a greatly anticipated football match by all at Sheen Lions FC but also the first County Cup final appearance by a Sheen team since the then U14 Lions won the Middlesex County Cup back in 1998.
The U15 Lions’ road to the final couldn’t have been any better: Five wins, 18 goals for and nil against. Perfect. And good reason for quiet optimism. This Sheen team have been knocking on the door for a while. Last year they lost the SYL League Cup final to AFC Wimbledon (the undefeated English U14 champions and also Surrey County Cup winners).
For those spectators brave enough to battle the atrocious weather the reward was a spectacular nine-goal thriller decided in the end by a scrambled Sutton goal in the 5th minute of added injury time.
But let’s take a deep breath here: Sutton’s front men demonstrated pace and close control in abundance and ruthlessly exploited Sheen’s early defensive wobbles. On balance, given the number of high-quality chances and attempts, Sutton probably shaded it on the day. But only by the thinnest of margins. So many congratulations to Sutton United for winning the U15 County Cup!
No less congratulations to our Sheen boys for representing us so well and demonstrating massive character and verve in clawing their way back into the game after finding themselves in an abyss after 34 minutes when Sutton had put their fourth unanswered goal on the scoreboard. Above all Sheen played a beautiful passing game from start to finish. Impressive stuff.
Sheen Lions formation: (4-4-2 when attacking; 4-5-1 when defending)
Due to an earlier U14 County Cup final going to extra time our game was pushed back half an hour. Thankfully the Chipstead FC club house provided cosy shelter from the elements. This reporter took the opportunity to sample the football grub on offer and I have to agree with the girl behind the counter that the Chipstead burger is “pretty good” indeed. (Which reminds me that the worst ‘football burger’ I have ever sampled was at Loftus Road a couple of years ago. I trust that our recent affiliation to QPR has not been based on their culinary offering…). Anyway, let’s thank Chipstead FC for their hospitality as well as everyone else staging this event.
The late start turned out to be a blessing as the rain had virtually stopped when the referee, Steve Worsley, opened proceedings at 12.59 with Sheen kicking off into a gusty wind blowing along the pitch. Steve and his fellow match officials put in a good performance on the day.
Straight out of the gate Sutton started in a higher gear with their wingers probing the Sheen defence. On 5 minutes, with the Sheen back four trying to hold their line high up the pitch, Sutton floated a ball in behind the Sheen defence in the right channel for one of Sutton’s speed merchants to latch onto. He duly placed the ball in the bottom right corner leaving George no chance. One nil, Sutton.
Sutton continued to press and on 7 minutes Sheen failed to clear the ball properly. It landed at the feet of an unmarked Sutton midfielder who let rip from just outside the area pumping the ball, boosted by the wind, into the top right corner. Again George had no chance and one sensed that he was not overly happy with his defence. Two nil, Sutton.
Definitely not the start we all had hoped for but Sheen kept their cool and started to gain more possession, passing the ball on the deck. After a quarter of an hour Sheen started to create more and on 18 minutes Sheen fed the ball down the outside right channel. The ensuing low cross eluded the Sutton defence as did it the two Sheen players sprinting into the box. A great opportunity to get on the board. But the boys were starting to show creativity and testing the Sutton defence. Promising.
Sheen continued to work hard and on 27 minutes Charlie had a long range pop from outside the area but the ball blasted over the bar. The Sutton keeper was not the tallest player on the pitch and one would think that Sheen had the intention of testing his ability to deal with high balls as part of the tactical plan. But Sutton hadn’t allowed Sheen much room to maneuver in the final third up to this point. Hitherto the Sheen formation had been 4-5-1 with Ben H as the lone striker as a result of the Sutton dominance.
With half an hour gone and Sheen looking good in possession and quick to close down Sutton’s midfielders the Sheen defence, under no particular pressure, gave away another ball on the edge. A Sutton player gladly took possession and resolutely sent the ball sailing in under the crossbar. Again leaving George no chance. Full credit to Sutton for taking their chances with poise. Three nil, Sutton.
Arguably proceedings so far had not materialised according to the script but as a Sheen supporter you have to give full credit to our U15s for not getting ‘verbal’ with each other let alone dropping their heads. In truth one or two Sheen supporter heads in the main stand had started to drop around where I was sitting (in the ‘away directors’ seats…very posh). But the boys? No!
On 34 minutes the first corner of the match was awarded to Sutton. The ball landed on the edge of the six-yard box and following an almighty scramble with the ball pinballing around a Sutton player managed to knock it over the line. Four nil, Sutton.
At three nil down you are on the edge of the abyss. At four nil down you are IN the abyss. Truth be told, at that moment this reporter could see no realistic prospect of a recovery. None whatsoever. I mean, the Liverpool v Milan miracle in Istanbul in 2005 surely can only happen once in a lifetime? But that’s because I didn’t know much about the resolve of Ben H, the team captain and leader of the line. One minute later I were to learn!
Within a minute of the restart, on 35 minutes, Max made an over-weighted pass down the right for Ben H to chase diagonally into the channel. The moment the pass was made it looked like a lost cause to everyone. In a split second Ben H managed to grimace slightly at Max but carried on pursuing the ball at full throttle regardless. Simultaneously the Sutton keeper came galloping out of the box to his left to intervene. The Sutton defender, who initially had two yards on Ben H, relaxed (big mistake) as the Sutton keeper was shielding the ball to let it run out for a goal kick. But our captain was having none of that. He kept going and powerfully dispossessed the keeper literally on the byline, turned the keeper, dribbled around three Sutton players and whipped in a perfect low cross which Luke H first-timed into the open net from six yards even though he was sandwiched between two Sutton defenders. A fantastic move and goal. And a fantastic captain’s effort. Four one, Sutton. Could there be hope?
The goal had clearly released any remaining nervous energy and Sheen were now playing higher up the pitch. On 38 minutes Ben H drove the ball into the Sutton box but was tackled by an opposition player who brought down our number 9. Murmurings calling for a penalty were heard.
Sutton were not sitting back enjoying their big lead and on 40 minutes another attack down the Sutton right, involving their excellent and dangerous number 10, resulted in a cross to the far post but to Sheen’s relief the Sutton forward headed the ball into the side netting. Half time.
Half time score: Sutton 4 – 1 Sheen.
You are down 4-1 at half time and have all of two attempts to show for your efforts over forty minutes (believe me, I can count all the way up to two). Although one such did result in a beautiful goal. Anyway, what do you do? Deliver the team talk of the century, of course. So that’s what everyone in the stand hoped Michael would do.
In the ‘away director seats’ all Sheen supporters (including our own UEFA qualified coach and Fulham manager in waiting, Trevor) spent the fourteen minute break going into game analysis overdrive. The conclusion was unanimous: We have to close down Sutton’s number 10. Plain and simple.
Michael and Mark kept the boys in the dugout on the far side during the break whereas Sutton took to the changing room. The brain wave from the spectator stand must have registered on the management radar because Michael switched Max from right midfield to left back to mark the Sutton number 10. Also, during the break Sean and Ethan were coming off and Aodan and Jay coming on. If nothing else, Michael’s half time adjustments briefly gave rise to a few self congratulatory remarks and made everyone in the ‘away director seats’ feel like, err, directors.
At 13.55 Sutton kicked off the second half and immediately hit the groove: On 44 minutes Sutton had a shot off target; on 46 minutes a low Sutton cross from deep left was deflected by Sheen over their own bar; on 48 minutes a Sutton free kick floated into the area with a Sutton forward first to the ball but heading over the bar. In short, Sutton were on top for the first ten minutes of the half. But Sheen didn’t look shaky or rattled at all.
On 50 minutes a Sheen midfielder delivered a cute pass splitting the Sutton central defence and Luke H managed to outpace the defenders chasing the ball but the Sutton keeper was quick to come out and grab the ball at his feet.
On 53 minutes a Sutton cross from the left deep in the Sheen final third flew over George attempting a leap to catch the ball but the Sheen defense cleared the ball. The ball dropped to a Sutton player but his shot went wide.
The next ten minutes offered little in the way of great excitement at either end but on 63 minutes a Sutton free kick from deep right sent the ball into the Sheen box where, yet again, a Sutton player is first to head it. But this time into the arms of George. So far so good in terms of composure but Michael’s half time pep talk had yet to boost the Sheen attacking play. Exactly sixty seconds later that all changed.
With 64 minutes on the clock and Sheen trailing by three goals Michael’s half time tonic finally reached the parts other team talks could not reach. Sheen were awarded a free kick on the left touchline deep in the Sutton half. Our number 9, Ben H, went out to take the kick with plenty of Sheen players lining up in the goal area. Ben H made the perfect curler which (with a tinsy winsy bit of help from the wind) floated beautifully into the top right corner. Goal! Everybody anticipated a ball for our tall guys to try to latch onto. But Ben H instead decided to test the Sutton keeper. And he came up short. Literally. Perfect. Four two, Sutton.
During the next ten-minute spell Sheen were flying as if on broomsticks in a Quidditch match. On 66 minutes Sheen’s first and only corner of the match was headed wide. Immediately following that Ben H was almost through but got tackled cleanly in the Sutton penalty box.
Sheen kept the pedal to the metal and on 67 minutes, with Sutton under pressure deep in their own half, a clearance by Sutton resulted in the ball landing at the feet of of Harry on the edge of the 18-yard box (in pretty much the same fashion as the Sheen clearance leading to Sutton’s second goal on 7 minutes). Without hesitation Harry unleashed a dipping shot escaping the Sutton keeper who at full stretch couldn’t prevent the ball bulging the Sutton net just inside the right hand post. Jubilation. Four three, Sutton.
At this point you could probably have heard the Sheen crowd on the M25. Our dear Club Sec was now jumping up and down whilst cheering loudly. In the stand no one was sitting down. The rain had completely ceased and Sheen were all buzzing like a swarm of navy hooped wasps.
A few moments later, on 69 minutes, with Sutton still under siege Sheen stung again. Luke H picked up the ball in the outside left channel and jetted down the wing leaving the Sutton fullback in his wake. Simultaneously Charlie (Sheen’s uncompromising number 4 holding midfielder, think Makelele) made a rare dash into the Sutton box. Instead of sending the ball over the top Luke H exocet’ed the ball low toward the near post where Charlie popped up with perfect timing to jam in the ball, leaving the Sutton keeper no chance. Textbook stuff elevated to poetry. Goooooaaaaaaal! Four four, Sutton AND Sheen.
The Sheen crowd was in a frenzy and could now be heard all the way to Dover. Are we watching Istanbul in 2005 all over again, but just better?
During the following minutes Sheen continued to probe but Sutton were defending deep with everyone except a lone forward hanging up front. Gradually Sutton started to shake off the shock of what had been a Sheen onslaught. On 72 minutes Claas came on for Luke H who had scored Sheen’s important first goal and created the all-important equaliser. A huge performance.
On 77 minutes Sutton were awarded a corner but the ball was kicked behind the byline. Immediately after, on 78 minutes, Claas fired off a 30-yarder but unfortunately straight at the Sutton keeper.
At the end of regulation, on 80 minutes, Sutton managed to build an attack down their right (though we hadn’t seen many of those in the second half) resulting in a Sutton player wriggling his way through traffic into the box and firing off a hard shot straight at the top right corner. George was equal to the task and at full stretch managed to palm the ball to a corner. A close shave. Sheen cleared the corner. Harry went down injured/with cramp and was substituted for Ben M. Having delivered a splendid performance Harry was clapped off the pitch by everyone in the stand.
Not knowing how many minutes of added time the referee had decided upon, both teams were competing ceaselessly for every ball. Sutton were throwing everyone forward in an attempt to clinch the Cup in normal time whereas Sheen, who had to soak up the pressure, were holding on for the match to go to extra time.
On 80+4 minutes with Sutton attacking Alex attempted to tackle the ball carrier in the Sutton left channel but was a touch late and a free kick was awarded to Sutton. Unfortunately Alex was cautioned for the foul.
While the referee was booking Alex the Sutton players were flooding the Sheen box for what could be the last chance to score in regulation. On 80+5 minutes the ball was duly floated into the box and with a dozen players competing for the ball it was somehow scrambled over the line. This reporter couldn’t see how the ball crossed the line but a good goal was given to Sutton. After the final whistle it was claimed by some who were watching from a position on the sideline closer to the goal line that (dare we whisper it) a Sutton handball went undetected by the referee. Heartbreak. Five four, Sutton. Game over.
A few seconds after the restart the referee blew for the final whistle. Sheen heads dropped and their dejection was palpable. Clear proof, if any was needed, that they are great competitors.
Final score: Sutton 5 – 4 Sheen.
Let’s leave the ifs and buts and could’ve and should’ve discussions for another occasion and just round off by concluding that no matter which team you supported in this Cup final, this encounter was epic, extremely entertaining and sensational value at £3 entry. Again, congratulations to both Sutton United and Sheen Lions.
Looking to the future one would hope that these U15 Lions can stick together and continue on their upward trajectory. Geoff has always said that winning the Premier Elite division title is a very big ask, so the dream is to win one of the big cups. Having watched Geoff build this team into the Club’s most consistent contenders during the last eight seasons I’d say there’s every chance that we are going to see these boys lift a major cup one day soon. And with Geoff present. I for one will be looking forward to it.
(photographs courtesy of Gordon)
Lots More Photos
|Sheen Lions team sheet:
Sheen MOMs: George, Max.
|Sutton goals, mins.: 5, 7, 30, 34, 80+5
Sheen goals, mins. (scorer/assist):
Sutton attempts, on target: 10
Sutton attempts, off target: 7
Sutton fouls committed: 17
Sutton corners gained: 4
Sutton offside against: 1
Sutton bookings: Nil