Only a highly contentious 83rd minute penalty denied Broadbridge Heath after a gutsy performance in the RUR Charity Cup final against Division One East Preston tonight (Tuesday).
Despite going into their first ever senior cup final as huge underdogs, Division Two Heath were more than a match for their higher league opponents throughout but went down 1-0 to captain Joe Shelley’s late penalty.
It was cruel on Steve Painter’s side, and particularly on Bears defender Martyn Flack, who was enjoying an outstanding game before being adjudged to have barged Shelley inside the box with extra-time looming.
Heath - despite missing a number of key players and being a whole division below their high-flying opponents - had a couple of good chances at causing a real upset, especially in a lively second half.
Still they can be rightly proud of ending a highly impressive first season back in Division Two by running one of the best County League sides in Sussex so close in their final match of the year.
The first half was an even affair with few clear-cut chances, and just as EP looked to be getting on top Heath finished the half strongly, the pace of Jamal Sultan causing left back Niall O’Hagan no end of problems before he left the field injured before half time.
The second half began far livelier and Heath keeper James Fisher was forced into a fine save to tip a header from his own defender Flack onto the crossbar as he tried to clear a free kick.
The closest Heath came to scoring was in the 69th minute when midfielder Tim Martin hit a fizzing low shot from 20 yards which looked destined for the bottom corner only for EP stopper Ben Rose to get down and make a diving save.
Shelley headed a corner against a Heath defender close to his own goal line, but as it became a slightly more open contest the excellent Martin lead a lightning break which saw him burn past a player on the left touchline, cut inside and appear to be clearly fouled as he went to shoot only for the referee to blow for a goal kick.
Man in the middle Duncan Brooker had already come under fire from both camps for some of his decisions when he infuriated the Heath bench by awarding the favourites a penalty with seven minutes of normal time remaining.
Shelley ran onto a ball arrowed in to the left of the box but wasn’t in a position to threaten when centre back Flack did appear to make contact. Still Mr Brooker took his time to signal a penalty, and when the furore died down Shelley confidently stroked home from 12 yards to put EP ahead.
Broadbridge Heath did pose a late threat with a free kick and a spate of injury-time corners, but East Preston hung on to be crowned 2012/13 SCFA RUR Charity Cup champions.
BBH (4-4-1-1: Fisher; Swaine, Chester, Waddingham, Flack; Sultan, Wood, Bolaji, Miller; Martin; Holmes (Moore 90).
EP (4-4-1-1): Rose; Duncan, O’Hagan (Boddy 40), Pullen, Fogden; Axell, Shelley, Clark, Barnard; Foreman; Grantham (O’Brien 63).