‘FenClassico’ lives up to the billing as Ely hold their nerve to set up cup final

SHOOTOUT ECSTASY: Ely City players rush to celebrate with Alex Theobald (10) at the culmination of the penalties
SHOOTOUT ECSTASY: Ely City players rush to celebrate with Alex Theobald (10) at the culmination of the penalties



COMEBACK: Craig Gillies (9) converted to get Soham back in Tuesday's tie

COMEBACK: Craig Gillies (9) converted to get Soham back in Tuesday's tie

Soham Town Rangers 2

Ely City 2*

*Ely win 5-3 on penalties

Ely City are heading back to Cambridge United’s Abbey Stadium for unfinished business after holding their nerve better in a tense penalty shootout to overcome Soham on their own turf.

Twitter posts from both clubs had billed it as the FenClassico in the build-up to Tuesday’s tie and — although the football on a murky drizzly night in the east Fens left it far from the standard of Real Madrid and Barcelona going head-to-head — it proved to be great entertainment for the almost 200-strong crowd.

The Thurlow Nunn League Robins, who were runners-up in this competition last year (4-1 to Cambridge City) again defied their lower-league status by flying into a two-goal lead inside seven minutes, via Deakan Napier and Ashley Walters.

It took until almost the half-an-hour mark before Soham arrested fears of never getting a foothold back in the game, when Craig Gillies slid in on the line.

The Greens took control in the second half and eventually their pressure paid off 13 minutes from time when substitute Gary Cohen nudged the ball over the line to level the scores and sending the game straight to penalties — there is no extra time in the tournament.

Both sides had gone into the encounter having scored five goals each at the weekend, with Soham beating Hertford Town 5-0 in the Bostik League North Division at home on Saturday (Carden 15’, Russell 28’, Hall 37’, Gillies 61’, Russell 68’), while Ely bounced back from a 6-0 home defeat with a 5-1 win at Long Melford (Brown 3, L Reed, Theobald).

But while Soham boss Robbie Mason shuffled his pack with Alfie Connor, Dan Buddle and Dan Hobbs coming in for Jon Kaye, Jack Mochalski and Callum Russell, Ely manager Brady Stone only made an enforced change, with James Seymour coming in for Oliver Brookes.

It was the continuity of the visitors’ line-up which seemed to work best early on as Napier drifted off Will Gardner to volley home a fantastic diagonal cross from Lee Reed that Josh Pope nearly kept out in the game’s first chance in the fourth minute. The advantage was doubled just three minutes later as Walters met captain Jamie Alsop’s deep cross, following a corner, with a diving header.

The stunned Greens took a while to recover but eventually began to ask their own questions before Lewis Clayton’s sharp footwork in the 28th minute saw him cut in at the near post and get beyond ‘keeper Harry Reynolds, with Gillies’ making sure his effort went over the line.

Mason’s side were much improved in the second half and equalised in the 73rd minute when Cohen slid in Gillies’ effort from Carden’s low centre.

Shortly after, Soham came within a lick of winning it when Harry Norman thundered a volley back off the crossbar.

But despite a late dangerous Alex Theobald header being blocked at the other end, the tie went to penalties.

Ely began the shootout with Alsop firing in and it was Soham who blinked first with Kaye opting to close to the middle and seeing Pope reach it.

With the subsequent penalties all successful, it was left to Theobald to try to win it, which he duly did to begin the wild celebrations.

Soham: Pope, Norman, Gardner, Coonor (Kaye 46’), Chaffey (c), Buddle, Carden, Clayton, Gillies, Hall (Russell 67’), Hobbs (Cohen 56’). Unused subs: Mochalski, Mason.

Ely: Reynolds, Jeffrey, Alsop (c), Walters, Williams, Seymour, Napier (S Reed 78’), L Reed, A Brown, Theobald, Brown (Simpson 78’). Unused subs: J Brown, Sewell, Griffin.

Attendance: 196

Journal Man of the Match: Deakan Napier. Proved to be a real thorn in Soham’s side with his direct running.