MIKE Gibson hailed a match “worthy of a cup final itself” as his Ashbourne Aztecs Under-18s side won a thrilling semi-final derby 3-1 in extra-time against Mayfield Panthers on Sunday.
There was certainly a lot of bragging rights to play for, with the local rivals currently sitting first and second in the league table, while the Aztecs lost in last season’s final – their only defeat of the 2012-13 season.
And the players certainly showed plenty of passion – possible too much, with both sides seeing a player sent off in a topsy-turvy match.
Although the game did not reach a penalty shoot-out, there were four spot-kicks during the match, two of which were missed.
Coach Gibson said: “Effectively a local derby, it promised to be a pulsating encounter – and it definitely lived up to its billing.
“Mayfield made us work hard for this victory.
“Both teams brought big support and didn’t disappoint their fans.
“This was worthy of a cup final itself – with both teams giving a wonderful account of themselves and providing the fans with some nerve tingling moments.”
It turned out to be a game of four halves, with Aztecs taking an early lead after four minutes through Steve Ebbrell, who curled a fine shot into the top corner.
The Ashbourne side pressed forward on both flanks with James Ingram causing problems with his electric pace, and resulting in Mayfield conceding a penalty, which Jake Smith fired wide, giving the opponents a reprieve.
The second half saw Mayfield press forward, but when they breached the Aztecs defence they found goalkeeper Charlie Mansfield in tremendous form.
Kristian Brightmore, Josh Dales and Ebbrell fought tirelessly in midfield for Aztecs against Mayfield’s Matt Slater, Sam Handley, Liam Bailey and Sam Lyon.
Ingram’s pace forced another defensive error and a second penalty, which Mayfield’s impressive goalkeeper James Bennett saved.
Mayfield’s Joe Redfern and Aztec central defender Harrison Avery had fought a full-blooded battle throughout and Avery was judged to have tripped the forward in the box, for which he was dismissed.
Redfern showed the Aztecs how it was done, converting the penalty to put Mayfield back in the game.
Aztecs reformed and extra time awaited two tired sides.
Numerically Mayfield had the advantage and Aztecs had to dig deep, but their defence were in fine form with Jordan Walton-Gibson, Louis Anthony, Charlie Wibberly and Avery putting in superb performances.
Mayfield’s defence also gave a good account of themselves with Mayfield’s Will Duke, Tim Summers, Callum Rowland and Charlie Robson limiting Aztecs’ opportunities.
In the first half of extra time, Aztecs pressured Mayfield further when Conor Richins beat Bennett to the ball, and the keeper was sent off for bringing Richins down.
Richins stepped up and hammered home the penalty past the replacement keeper to make it 2-1.
Mayfield lost Redfern through injury and Jordy Wibberley, Jack Slater and Louis Pickering tried hard to get back on level terms but found Aztecs difficult to break down – with Brightmore and Anthony solid at the heart of the defence.
As Mayfield pressed forward they left gaps at the back, which Dales exploited to set Smith through to fire in the third and ultimately end Mayfield’s comeback.
Aztecs will meet Doveridge Red in the cup final at the Pirelli Stadium, on a date to be confirmed.