UNION Mills won the GH Corlett Woods Cup for only the second time in the club’s history with victory over a resilient Douglas Royal in the final at the Bowl on Thursday evening.
The Millers were pushed hard by Royal and were forced to come from behind before two late goals sealed a 3-1 win to claim the trophy and warm up nicely for today (Monday’s) Cu-Plas FA Cup showdown with Grand Slam-chasers St George’s at the same venue.
Derek Cowley’s charges from Garey Mooar went into the contest as favourites but it was Nicky Gerrard’s Royal – having dumped out Division Two leaders Marown in the semi-finals – who fashioned the game’s first chance.
The early minutes of the contest seemed to be about both sides sizing each other up but the game burst into life in the seventh minute when Royal winger Gavin Gawne set off on a barnstorming run from his own half and surged into the Mills’ area, only to be halted by a timely intervention from Stephen Halsall. The ball made its way back to Gawne on the left side of the area who lifted a cross into the area towards Paul Whitley but the striker’s header sailed off target.
A minute later Mills’ speedster Matty Cain set off down the left wing before cutting the ball into the area to Steven Quine whose effort was superbly blocked before leading goalscorer AJ Suckling’s follow-up was deflected wide.
Just when it looked like the Millers were beginning to find their passing rhythm, the Ballafletcher outfit struck to open the scoring in the 15th minute. A long ball forward was only half headed clear by Mills right-back James Cannell straight to the lurking Andrew Lancaster who worked a yard of space before firing a low, left-footed effort which fizzed passed Mills goalkeeper Christian Cellamare before crashing in off the right post to put Royal 1-0 up.
However, their lead lasted only four minutes as Union Mills responded in the best possible way. As had been the case for much of the opening throes of the game, the play developed down the left where Mills full-back Dan Woznica persevered to great affect, sending over a deep cross to Suckling who towered above the Royal defence to power a header down past shot-stopper Tom Varney to level the scores.
Suckling very nearly made it two goals in three minutes when he rose to meet a corner from Quine but his deflected header was hacked off the line by Royal right-back Paddy Dempsey.
And the same player was on hand to rescue the Ballafletcher side again just minutes later when Suckling surged down the right and sent in a low cross to Michael Nash but, just when a goal looked likely, Dempsey produced a superb last-ditch tackle to deny him.
With 10 minutes remaining in the first half Mills seized on a poor clearance but midfielder Gareth Logan was unable get a shot away inside the box, instead squaring the ball to Nash who blasted his shot wide so the sides went in level at the break.
The match continued in a similar vein after the interval with Mills seeing most of the ball as they searched for a way through the resilient Royal rearguard.
With 12 minutes gone since the restart, they very nearly did take the lead. Suckling, once again proving a real handful for the opposing defenders, won a free-kick right on the edge of the box and up-stepped Cain to try his luck but, just when it seemed his superb left-footed effort was destined to find the back of the net, the woodwork came to Royal’s rescue. Quine latched onto the rebound inside the box and, as he tried to create an opening, appeared to be brought down by Royal centre-back Kevin Ballard but referee Chris Taggart waved play on.
As the game progressed Mills continued to control proceedings and had yet more joy down the left, with Woznica growing more influential by the minute. Shortly after the hour mark the full-back sent in another deep cross to the back post where Chris Kelly was lurking but, from an angle, he sent the ball into the side netting. Minutes later another superb cross by Woznica was met by the head of Suckling but his header sailed just off target.
The pressure eventually bore fruit with 16 minutes remaining following some more good work down the left which saw Kelly work his way into the box before being hauled down, resulting in Taggart pointing straight to the spot. Up stepped Quine who coolly slotted the ball past Varney and into the bottom right corner to give the Millers the lead for the first time in the game. Less than 60 seconds later they almost doubled their advantage when Kelly played a pin-point through ball for Suckling to latch onto but Varney rushed off his line quickly and was able to blocked excellently.
Royal’s cup hopes were dealt a severe blow with five minutes remaining when skipper Craig Dolman was given his marching orders for a foul on Suckling near the touchline.
And the Millers sealed the victory a minute from time when Suckling escaped down the left before squaring the ball to substitute Kenny Magee. His shot was saved, the rebound then fell to Nash who hammered a shot against the woodwork but he was on hand to half-volley the rebound through a crowd of players to make it 3-1 and kick-start the celebrations a few minutes early.
Credit must go to Royal who worked hard and performed admirably but it was to be Union Mills’ day and it was left to captain Karl Dobbin to triumphantly lift the Woods Cup trophy after the final whistle and send the Millers into the FA Cup final full of confidence.
Douglas Royal: Tom Varney, Paddy Dempsey, Stuart Foley (Joey Bond 91m) , Greg Hoskisson, Kevin Ballard, Gavin Gawne, Rob Brown (Dan Beattie 45m) , Aaron Quinn, Paul Whitley, Craig Dolman ©, Andrew Lancaster. Sub not used: James Halliday
Union Mills: Christian Cellamare, James Cannell, Dan Woznica, Chris Kelly (Paul Blair 90m) , Stephen Halsall, Karl Dobbin ©, Michael Nash, Gareth Logan, AJ Suckling (Craig Ennett 90m) , Steven Quine (Kenny Magee 82m), Matty Cain. Subs not used: Danny Christian and Will Miller
Bookings: Dempsey and Ballard (Royal)
Sent off: Dolman (Royal)
Referee: Chris Taggart. Assistants: Peter Halpin and Billy Blair. Fourth official: Gerry Thomson
Man of the Match: Woznica (Union Mills) - the left-back had a superb game both defensively and going forward, setting up the all-important and timely equaliser. Was closely followed by AJ Suckling
Match rating: HHHII