THURLOW NUNN LEAGUE CHALLENGE CUP: Josh Pope was the penalty shootout hero as Mildenhall Town booked their place in the final of the League Challenge Cup at the expense of Godmanchester Rovers on Tuesday night.
The goalkeeper saved two spot-kicks to help his side claw their way back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits, before going on to hammer home the winning penalty himself to send his side through to May’s showpiece encounter.
Prior to Pope’s moment in the spotlight, the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division’s two in-form sides had played out a goalless, yet entertaining 90 minutes.
Up against a side that had won their previous 10 games on the bounce, the Pope would probably have expected to be busier during the opening 45 minutes.
Instead, it was hosting Mildenhall that carved out the better of the chances, although they were unable to make any impression on the scoreline.
There were eight minutes on the clock when Luke Butcher headed over Gareth Simpson’s corner and the same player went even closer in the 23rd minute as he glanced a header off the crossbar.
As the half drew to a close Chris Bacon nodded Dan Brown’s cross off target, while up the other end Austen Diaper’s effort from 25 yards out was tipped wide by Pope.
The Mildenhall custodian was called into action again just after the hour mark as a goalmouth scramble sent the ball hurtling towards the top corner, but Pope showed good athleticism to palm clear.
He then turned away Mike Hyem’s well driven free kick, before Mildenhall had the best opportunity of the tie seven minutes from time.
A Simpson header sent Dan Brown scampering clear, yet the Mildenhall frontman got his right footed shot all wrong and the ball squirmed well wide.
It was a miss that sent the encounter into a shootout and the home side were immediately on the back foot after Joe Asensi and Bacon saw their efforts saved by Niall Conroy in the Godmanchester goal.
However, Pope guessed correctly to deny Lewis MacDonald and after another Godmanchester shot went wide, Mildenhall’s David Cooper forced proceedings into sudden death.
Mildenhall duo David Lampshire and Rob Ruddy then kept their cool to square things up at five penalties apiece, before Pope stood firm to thwart Diaper.
The match-clinching responsibilty from 12 yards then fell to Mildenhall’s number one and he made no mistake with a strike that flew into the roof of Conroy’s net, much to the delight of most of those inside Recreation Way.
The Hall will now face either league leaders Norwich United or Kirkley & Pakefield at Diss Town’s Brewers Green Lane ground on Monday, May 2 (3pm).
Those two sides are due to clash at Plantation Park on April 5.