MIKE Huckett’s first-half goal took holders East Preston Football Club into the final of the Sussex RUR Cup with a 1-0 win over Broadbridge Heath on Wednesday evening.
The County League champions beat division-lower Heath, who they also beat 1-0 in last season’s final, in the last four at Lancing’s Culver Road ground.
EP were boosted by the return from injury of midfielders Kevin Keehan and Huckett, while skipper Joe Shelley had only returned from a chipped shin bone at the weekend.
Shelley could have given his side the lead after only two minutes but blazed over from eight yards after a neat lay-off by Shaheen Sadough.
In an entertaining first half, Broadbridge Heath’s Piers McDermott and Tiago Andrade linked well, before the latter fired wide from the edge of the penalty area on 12 minutes, before EP’s Charlie Oatway had a well-hit shot saved by James Fisher on 17 minutes.
Heath, already promoted from County League Division 2 and on a 14-game unbeaten run, went close on 20 minutes when Jake Holmes’ cross from the left hit the bar and went out for a goal kick.
East Preston went ahead on 28 minutes. Sadough chased down the ball from 25 yards away to win a throw-in in the left-hand corner, from which Rob Boddy was fouled and EP were awarded a free kick. Huckett’s inswinging delivery flew into the far top corner for his eighth goal of the season.
The Bears almost equalised within a minute as Holmes cut in from the left but his curling effort from 20 yards came back off the bar.
Huckett fired over at the other end on 32 minutes, before Shelley could have doubled EP’s lead six minutes later but his shot from Sadough’s pass was well stopped by Fisher.
Broadbridge Heath started the second half strongly and Holmes shot over on 46 minutes, before Martyn Flack fired just the wrong side of the post from McDermott’s corner on 52 minutes.
Shelley headed a inswinging Huckett free kick over at the other end, as chances were few and far between throughout the half.
Broadbridge Heath pushed men forward to try to get the equaliser but EP defended superbly and, just as it looked as though Holmes would get through, veteran EP defender Marc Pullan denied him with an excellent tackle on 89 minutes.
EP could have added a second in the final minute of injury-time when sub Tom Levitt got through but Fisher was quick off his line to block the shot.
East Preston will meet Horsham YMCA in the final and their manager Dominic Di Paola said: “We had to play on Monday and they hadn’t played since Saturday and I think that showed in the second half.
“In the first half, I thought we played some really nice football but we were out on our feet in the second half and had to grind out the result.
“That’s what semi-finals are all about anyway, you don’t remember them for long and it’s good to get to the final.
“It’s our cup that we’re trying to retain. Horsham YMCA are a good side and they’ll be right up for it, it’s their season in a game, so it’s going to be another tough one.”
EAST PRESTON: Harding; O’Hagan, Pullan, Farmer, Axell; Oatway, Huckett, Shelley, Keehan, Boswell; Sadough. Subs: Boddy (Boswell 13), Gainsford (O’Hagan 59), Levitt (Sadough 88), Fogden, Duncan.
BROADBRIDGE HEATH: Fisher; S.Chester, Flack, Howard, Attwater; Sultan, Moore, Waddingham, McDermott, Holmes; Andrade. Subs: Wood (Chester 45), Purkis (McDermott 85), Alfieri, Thomas, M.Chester.