Hereford U18s came from behind twice before Luke Firkin grabbed a winner in extra-time against Stourport Swifts on Thursday evening to lift the Herefordshire FA Giantkillers Cup.
After falling a goal behind inside five minutes at Edgar Street, Hereford managed to equalise before half time as Luke Firkin found the bottom corner of the net. A goalless second half meant the game went into extra time, with two quick goals seeing Connor Davies-Austin cancel out a strike two minutes earlier from Stourport. Luke Firkin netted his second of the game ten minutes from time to see Hereford lift the cup after last season's final heartache.
After a slow start to the game for Hereford, Head Coach Dan Chance changed the shape at half time and it paid off.
He said: “We changed the shape, played a 3-5-2 and the two lads up front started causing them more and more problems. We were pretty confident we were going to get back into the game at some point. We feel we were the better side and the quality would come through, thankfully it did. The massive thing for us was when we went behind we got that corner two minutes later and I said ‘if this goes in, this is massive’ because their dugout was rightly celebrating and they were going wild that they’d just gone 2-1 up. We got the second early on and it meant we looked like going to get the third. To be honest we were confident we would get the third and go on to win the game.”
Attacking the Meadow End terrace in the first half, Stourport looked the brighter of the two sides in the opening exchanges and took an early lead. Hereford gave away a cheap free kick half-way into their own area, which Stourport didn’t waste. They curled the free kick into the box from the right, and the advancing Alex Price connected well with firmly head past Brandon Powell in goal for the young Bulls.
Hereford immediately pushed to draw themselves back level, but Rob Whitlock was denied by a fine double save from the keeper. Ben Hopkins did well to cut the ball back from the byline into the path of Whitlock, but the keeper’s quick reaction denied him an equaliser.
Stouport’s five-man defence proved hard for the White to breakdown and struggled to retain possession as they broke forward.
For Stourport, a quick break down the left in the 28th minute put Hereford under pressure. Ethan Vine’s played a powerful cross into the box, but Alex Price couldn’t net his second as he blazed the shot over the bar.
Two minutes later Stourport were on the attack again. Charlie Howard was given too much time on the ball as he found Ethan Vine in the box, but he couldn’t find the target with his effort. Hereford gave away a free kick in almost the same position as when Swifts took the lead. Ethan Vine took the set-piece short to Charlie Howard on the right, but William Thomas was able to cut out the cross that was threaded into the box.
With five minutes to go until the break, Hereford equalised against the run of play. A good cross from Bisensio Kamilo picked out Luke Firkin on the far side of the box, calmly turning and driving the ball into the far corner of the net.
Half time: Hereford 1 - Stourport Swifts 1
The goal at the end of the first half did liven Hereford up, and the second half started lively. A handful of free kick decisions went the Bulls’ way early on in the half but they weren’t able to capitalise on the chances. The first from near the corner flag was whipped into the box by Rob Whitlock, but the danger was cleared by Stourport after the ball was flicked on into the box. Matt McCleod then had a chance to put his side ahead from another free kick routine, being teed up by Eliot Peters-Vanstone on the edge of the area. But McCleod’s shot curled wide of the upright with the ‘keeper not troubled.
Another chance for McCleod came before the hour mark, but his powerful shot took a deflection off a defender for a fruitless corner.
At the other end of the park, Ethan Vine intercepted the ball as William Thomas tried to head the ball back to his goalkeeper Brandon Powell. Thankfully for the Bulls, Vine’s low shot skimmed wide of the upright to keep the score level. The game quietened down until the last ten minutes came. There was two chances for Connor Austin-Davies, the first was well-held by Stourport’s keeper Ryan Smith before moments later seeing an effort rest on the rood of the net with Smith frantically back-pedalling.
Both teams were making use of the rolling substitutes allowed with the threat of extra-time and penalties looming, but it was Hereford who had the best chance to grab a late winner. A low cross from Luke Morgan from the right flashed across the face of goal but nobody could connect with it. Callum McCleod did get onto the end of it eventually, but his weak effort was easily collected by the keeper.
Full time: Hereford 1 - Stourport Swifts 1
Stourport started the first period of extra time strongly, being awarded a corner within the first two minutes as a powerful strike from Terrel Jeffers was deflected wide by Matt McCleod. The resulting corner was headed back across goal and in at the far post. Hereford weren’t behind for long as they equalised in a similar manner. As a corner was swung in from the left, it was half-cleared by Swifts. The Bulls were able to recycle the flag kick and Connor Davies-Austin’s strike was too far out of reach for the keeper to equalise within two minutes. Despite a coupe of chances for Stourport courtesy of Terrel Jeffers who drilled two shots wide of the target, Hereford grabbed the winning goal before the break. As a threatening cross came into the box from the wing, the ‘keeper couldn’t hold onto Ollie Purdy's header and Luke Firkin reacted quickest to stab the ball across the line at the second time of asking.
Into the second period and Hereford dominated for large parts as they looked to hold onto their slender one goal lead. There was late drama as Stourport agonisingly had a goal ruled out for offside. A ball was sent over the top of Hereford’s defence and headed home by Terrel Jeffers, but the linesman’s flag went up.
Full time (AET): Hereford 3 - Stourport Swifts 2
Hereford: Powell, Hopkins, Kamilo, Peeters-Vanstone, Davies-Austin, Thomas, Purdy, Whitlock, Firkin, McLeod, Yalland.
Subs: Morgan, Wood, Hilton, Pemberton, Goodfellow
Stourport Swifts: Smith, Patrick, S. Howard, Drew (c), Ondo, Hanson, Espley, C. Howard, Price, Vine, Lees.
Subs: Caddick, Jeffers, Priest, Bulmer.