MATCH REPORT: Ely win Cambs Invitation Cup
CAMBRIDGESHIRE INVITATION CUP: Ely City 2 Cambridge United Development 1
Twelve months ago there was heartbreak, but this time around Ely City were not to be denied at The Abbey Stadium as they got their hands on the Cambridgeshire Invitation Cup for the fifth time in the club's history on Monday night.
It was Cambridge City that got the better of Brady Stone’s Robins last season, and it seemed a similar outcome was on the cards when Tom Knowles put Cambridge United’s Development side in front midway through the second half.
However, Ely refused to accept their fate and rallied well, with late goals from Sam Reed and Deakan Napier sealing a famous come-from-behind victory.
But for Matthew Foy heading against the crossbar in just fourth minute, the opening exchanges belonged to Ely.
Jamie Thurlbourne’s usually trusty left foot let him down when shooting from 20 yards out in the seventh minute, while an off-balance Napier sent a half volley over the top moments later.
As the half wore on the Cambridge youngsters started to enjoy more possession, yet it was Ely that continued to force the issue in the attacking third.
They almost took the lead with 28 minutes on the clock in spectacular fashion as right-back Daniel Jeffrey strode forward and unleashed a shot from 30 yards out that just whistled above Finley Iron’s crossbar.
Chances were few and far between during the remainder of the half with Ely sticking to their task of not giving Cambridge time in possession.
It was a different story at the start of the second half, though, as the United youngsters started to move through the gears.
They should have gone in front in the 55th minute when Foy cut the ball back for Prince Mutswungama, but from six yards out the midfielder shot wide.
Five minutes later Foy worked himself enough space on the edge of the box with a smart turn to get away a shot, which he duly blazed wildly off target.
The pressure continued and it eventually told in the 67th minute via Knowles.
The winger, who has had loan stints with Cambridge City and St Ives Town this season, worked the ball on to his left foot 25 yards from goal.
His connection was not the cleanest, but it was always going away from Ely goalkeeper Harry Reynolds and ended up nestling in the bottom corner.
The young U’s had their tails up at this point, but the game’s next major chance went the way of Ely in the 70th minute.
The tireless Napier cut inside from the left, showing good strength to hold off Jordan Norville-Williams in the process.
His attempt from the edge of the box was blocked, yet it fell kindly for substitute Sam Goodge, who just had Iron to beat.
The midfielder had more time than he realised, though, and seemed to rush his shot which was dragged wide of the far post.
Nevertheless, Ely never gave up the ghost and that determination was rewarded 11 minutes from time in the form of an equalising goal.
Captain Jamie Alsop floated a free-kick towards the back post where it was knocked across goal for Sam Reed to apply the finishing touch just three minutes after entering the action as a substitute.
With parity restored, Ely grew in confidence and four minutes from time had two good opportunities within a matter of seconds to snatch victory.
First Sam Reed saw his smart flicked effort cleared off the line and then Ash Walter flashed a volley on the rebound up and over the crossbar.
Penalties by now looked inevitable, but in the first minute of stoppage time Ely's moment of glory arrived.
Another of Stone's replacements - Goodge - crossed the ball into the box from the left wing.
Sam Reed could have gone for goal himself, but he had the presence of mind to step over the ball and leave it for Napier.
The former Newmarket Town forward's strike was powerful and had too much sting in it for Iron, who got hands to it, but despite a desperate attempt he could not prevent the ball from crossing the line.
It sparked wild scenes among the Ely players, bench and supporters that had made the trip and after seeing out the three further minutes of added time that remained, they were able to celebrate a big night for the club.
* For reaction and pictures, see this week's Journal print edition.