ST GEORGE’S FC’s wait to claim Manx football’s Grand Slam is over after they recorded a thrilling injury-time victory over Peel in the final of the BCS Hospital Cup at the Bowl on Sunday afternoon.
Having already won the Railway Cup, FA Cup and the Premier League, Chris Bass Sr’s men went into the contest as favourites to complete a memorable cleansweep and looked on course to do so after Calum Morrissey gave them a first-half lead.
However, a spirited Peel came out fighting in the second half and quickly grabbed an equaliser through Chris Cain’s header and then took the lead through a superb Lee Gale free-kick. And it looked set to stay that way as Rob Cottier’s charges frustrated the league champions.
However, three minutes into injury-time, Johnny Myers headed a dramatic late equaliser against his former club to set up a grand finale. Just when extra-time time was looming, they struck again with seconds left on the clock when Morrissey nodded past Peel keeper Stuart Morris to send St George’s into dreamland.
Having missed out on the Grand Slam in 2005 when Douglas Royal shocked them 3-2 in the Hospital Cup final, Geordies were intent on not letting history repeat itself as they flew out of the traps early on.
Indeed, the game’s first real chance fell to the Saints after just five minutes when Chris Bass Jr’s in-swinging corner caused confusion in the Peel ranks but Sam Caine poked wide from close range.
They should have been made to pay for that miss moments later when the westerners launched a quick counter and Danny Bell sent striker Andy Quirk racing through on goal with a pin-point pass. However, just when he looked likely to score, Myers launched himself in front of him and forced Quirk to shoot straight at goalkeeper Grant Dawson.
The latter’s opposite number Stuart Morris had to be alert at the other end of the pitch to deny golden boot winner Ciaran McNulty soon after. Morrissey neatly held up play following a long ball by Liam Cowin before playing in Frank Jones who in turn fed McNulty just inside the box but Morris was quick off his line to block the shot with his feet.
Just after the quarter-hour mark the breakthrough arrived and it went the way of Geordies. McNulty’s corner from the left was only half-cleared to the lurking Morrissey who managed to hook a shot goalwards and, despite Peel player-manager Rob Cottier getting a head to the ball, he could not prevent it from nestling in the back of the net to give the favourites the advantage.
Jones, Morrissey and McNulty then linked up again and very nearly doubled their advantage when Jones fed Morrissey who delivered a neat lobbed pass over the Peel defence to McNulty but his fierce half-volley smashed into the side netting.
As the half progressed the Saints continued to look dangerous going forward while Peel’s main threat stemmed from set-pieces as they struggled to find a way through a formidable looking Geordies backline.
Bass Jr went agonisingly close to putting his side 2-0 up shortly before the interval when he won possession in the Peel half and surged towards their defence before pulling the trigger. Unfortunately for the Geordies talisman, his effort skimmed off the surface and arrowed just wide of the right-hand post with Morris well beaten so the score remained 1-0 at the break.
Whatever Cottier said to his troops during the half-time team talk clearly had the desired effect as the westerners took the game to their opponents and, after Jones had gone close for Geordies, Peel were soon back on level terms.
Much like in the first half, the Sunset City side’s main threat had come from set-pieces and it finally reaped rewards when, in the 51st minute, veteran midfielder Chris Cain rose to meet Bell’s in-swinging corner to header the ball powerfully past Dawson.
Less than three minutes later Peel felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Bell’s free-kick was headed back across and was deflected off the line, apparently via an arm, but their appeals were waved away by referee John Lovelady.
The decision was soon forgotten, though, as with 21 minutes remaining the westerners took the lead through a superb strike. Having been awarded a free-kick in a central position 25 yards out, up stepped winger Gale who curled a brilliant shot over the wall and into the top left corner of the net, giving Dawson no chance.
Cottier’s men continued to frustrate their opponents and went close to increasing their lead when Bell was sent clear but his left-footed drive was tipped over the bar by Dawson, a saved which would prove crucial.
As the match entered injury-time, Jones poked an effort just wide before Myers went down in the box but nothing was given. However, just when Peel looked like they would hold on for a famous win, Myers met McNulty’s corner at the back post and managed to guide his header into the back of the net for a dramatic equaliser.
However, the drama was not finished there. With seconds remaining and extra-time looming, Julian Ringham launched a long ball downfield and, as the flag stayed down, Morrissey raced through and reached the ball just before the on-rushing Morris and managed to nod the ball over the keeper and into the net to kick-start the Grand Slam celebrations.
Peel: Stuart Morris, Chris Cain, Marc Kelly, Matty Woods, Matt McQuarrie, Rob Cottier, Lee Gale (Kevin Megson 84m), Danny Bell, Andy Quirk (Calum Galagher 77m), Kerron Christian, Daniel Lace (c). Subs not used: Dan Pickering, Liam Harrison, Neal Thomas
St George’s: Grant Dawson, Liam Cowin, Julian Ringham, Johnny Myers, Sean Quaye (c), Sam Caine, James McStay, Frank Jones, Calum Morrissey, Ciaran McNulty, Chris Bass Jr. Subs not used: Dave Cherry, Neil Brogan, Andy Bass, Robin Bates, Stuart Morris
Referee: John Lovelady. Assistants: Dave Murphy and Andy Lodge. Fourth official: Chris Taggart
Booked: Sam Caine (St George’s)
Man of the Match: Daniel Lace (Peel)
Match rating: HHHHI