League Challenge Trophy holders Welwyn Garden City squeeze past 61 FC via spot-kick drama

PUBLISHED: 11:46 23 September 2016 | UPDATED: 12:35 23 September 2016

Olly Leslie clears for WGC. Picture: Mark Long

Olly Leslie clears for WGC. Picture: Mark Long


Welwyn Garden City goalkeeper Olly Leslie spared the Citizens major embarassment as the holders of the SSML League Challenge Trophy were taken to a penalty shoot-out in their first-round tie against Luton’s 61 FC.

Their visitors, halfway down the league’s Division Two, twice fought back from behind to take the tie to a dramatic shoot-out to decide who would visit another Division Two side Unite MK in the second round on November 9.

That was when keeper Leslie, sidelined throughout the summer with a groin injury, came into his own.

He made fine saves to stop 61 FC’s first two spot-kicks from Tom Vanderbergh and scorer Shaka Anderson, while their third effort from defender Arron Lewis was blazed over his crossbar.

In contrast, WGC kept their cool and all three of their penalties were confidently struck past 61 keeper Rob Bath by Josh Bronti, introduced as a sub two minutes from the end for the shoot-out, Joe Foley and returning striker Jack Read, to just about see WGC through.

Despite his side winning the trophy for the first time in their history last season, WGC manager Adam Fisher rang the changes for this one against a side 13th in Division Two.

He left Lewis Endacott and Ashley Kersey out of the squad all together and gave Bronti, Sam Doolan, Danny Payne and John McGrandles, places on the bench.

Yasin Boodhoo, Ben Long, Craig Arnott and Sean Brettell, playing his first full first-team game since breaking his leg in four places 14 months ago, came into the line-up, with Taishan Griffith switching to full-back.

It took the new-look WGC a full 15 minutes to fashion any sort of move, when good work down the left by Brettell and Jay Welsh played James Ewington in, but he shot wide of the target, although an assistant’s flag ruled he was offside anyway.

Just past the half-hour mark, Ewington found himself played in by Arnott’s ball. He hestitated, thinking he was offside again, but was given the benefit of the doubt and drove the opener confidently past Bath for 1-0.

One sensed some relief among the WGC players, who were making heavy weather of subduing their lower opponents and it took an outstanding save from Leslie five minutes from the break to keep the Citizens ahead at half-time, as he got down to turn away a Nathan Henry effort - 61 FC’s first of the match - in fine style.

WGC began the second half looking a lot more livelier and Brettell turned up the chance of goal on his return, finishing weakly after Arnott and Foley had set up the opening, while keeper Bath made a flying save from a Foley cross-shot.

Arnott was in the action midway through the half, hitting a rising effort over and striking the far post with another snap effort, before having to leave the field with his shoulder heavily strapped after a hefty collision with 61 FC full-back Cayne Hazell.

He was replaced by Jack Read and manager Fisher also introduced Danny Payne for Robins before WGC were shocked by a 61 FC equaliser with 19 minutes to go.

Conway’s lofted free-kick came back off the crossbar and with the home defence wrong-footed, the dangerous Henry forced home the equaliser for 1-1.

The Luton visitors scarcely had time to celebrate before WGC restored their lead, within two minutes. Foley got over a cross from the left, Long played it across goal and skipper Standen, up for a set piece, crashed the ball past Bath for a 2-1 lead.

Moments later Bath was extended again, tipping over a trademark Brettell free-kick from 20 yards as WGC threatened to seal it, but they were caught out on the break with six minutes remaining.

Boodhoo misplaced a pass and couldn’t get back when 6l FC’s Anderson was sent racing clear to slip the ball past the unprotected Leslie to tie the scores a second time and take the game to its dramatic penalty shoot-out.

WGC: Leslie, Griffith, Boodhoo, Standen, Welsh, Long, Arnott (Read 63), Brettell, Foley, Ewington, Robins (Payne 63, Bronti 88).

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