The curtain has come down on the 2016/17 SportsReach Football League season and in a fitting finale, the final game of the campaign saw the league’s top two sides – champions Great Eccleston and runners-up Lancaster – meet in the Champions Cup Final.
Having already secured the All Day Tournament and League titles, Great Eccleston were looking to achieve a remarkable treble; something that Lancaster themselves accomplished the previous season.
The scene was set at the Brian Addison Stadium, home of Squires Gate FC, on a glorious spring evening in front of an expectant travelling crowd.
Great Ecc lined-up at full strength with their Greenhalgh-Parkinson defensive axis – Simon/Oliver Greenhalgh and Ollie/Dan Parkinson across the back. Their title-winning midfield were all in place and up front, they could rely on the attacking prowess of 56-goal partnership Dan Ball and Jack Sharples.
Lancaster were unfortunately missing talismanic forward Jonny Sudell whose long-term knee injury had hindered the side in recent months. Striker Michael White was also unavailable – leaving top scorer Tom Luxton with the responsibility of leading the line by himself. Lancaster still boasted wealth of experience and ability; many of which had won the treble last season including captain Martin Lewis, Dan Sudell, Ryan Francis, Tom Schad, Matt Parker, Phil Connerton, Warren Goodley and James Heron.
In a tight and tense start, both sides took time to adjust into the game with little time in midfield to get the ball down and play. Midway through the first half, however, the first goal arrived – and it came from an unlikely source. Great Eccleston had scored over 100 goals in the league and cup this season but Ollie Parkinson had never been on the scoresheet until now; the overlapping right-back found himself in the Lancaster box and when the ball broke to him, he finished excellently off the left-hand upright.
Lancaster did have a number of half-chances as they attempted to level the score before half-time but they couldn’t convert and Great Ecc went into the interval 1-0 to the good.
Into the second half and in a similar fashion to the first, a tight and tense opening was succeeded by a Great Eccleston goal; this time Jack Sharples got in behind the Lancaster defence and coolly slotted the ball past Stephen Sargent to put clear daylight between Eccy and their opponents.
Lancaster showed the sort of spirit and determination they’ve been renowned for in recent years and increased the pressure in an attempt to get back into the game. Eccy ‘keeper Jamie Greenall made an exceptional save from Tom Luxton when the Lancaster forward had broken into the box on the right side. Lancaster were knocking on the door but couldn’t find a way past Greenall. Even captain Martin Lewis – a regular goalscorer from centre-back – was unable to finish from close range with the goal at his mercy after Greenall had parried an initial shot.
A number of Great Ecc players went down with cramp as the intensity of the game was laid bare in the final 20 minutes. They had defended stoutly – throwing bodies on the line – and were determined to hang onto their clean sheet and see out victory.
And that they did. A competitive, hard-fought match saw the champions Great Eccleston score just at the right times and complete the Treble – congratulations to manager Rob Tomkins and his players.
As with the League Trophy Final held two days earlier, huge thanks must go to Squires Gate FC for hosting such a great occasion with wonderful facilities and a lovely playing surface. Thank you to the officials and ball boys for doing an excellent job. Credit to both teams for playing in such good spirit and being a great witness to the watching crowd.
Great Eccleston 2-0 Lancaster
Ollie Parkinson 22, Jack Sharples 56
Bookings: Ollie Parkinson (Great Ecc), Dan Sudell (Lancaster)
Man of the Match: Ollie Parkinson (Great Ecc)