Holmes Park is the headquarters of the Leicestershire & Rutland FA and is also the home of Leicester City's development squad. As you would expect of the home of a county FA, the facilities are very well maintained, although parking is quite limited inside the ground. The clubhouse is very well sized, there are a total of four covered seating and standing areas and a very good, flat grass pitch.
The Leicestershire & Rutland Senior Cup competition dates back to the late 19th Century. The first winners, in the 1887-88 season, were Sheepshed who clocked up a thumping 8-0 victory over Mill Hill House, who were also runners-up in the second competition. Leicester City Reserves hold the record for the most number of titles with 23, although the latest of these came in the 1949-50 season.
This season's finalist are both from Step 6, Melton Town from the United Counties League, appearing in their first final, and Heather St John's from the Midland League. Heather have won the trophy twice before, beating Thurmaston Town 2-1 in 2009-10 and Thurnby Nivana 4-1 the following season. They were also beaten finalists lats season, going down 3-2, after extra-time, to NKF Burbage.
Heather's progress has been a lot more cut and dried. They received a bye in the first round, defeated Ashfordby Seniors 7-1, Birstall United 7-0 and then, in the Semi-Final, saw off Ashby Ivanhoe by 3-1.
Looking a the side's league records, points-wise they are very similar. However, Heather lead the Midland League Division One by 10 points from Atherstone Town (although The Adders have a game in hand). Their final game of the season is away at Atherstone, although it is possible that the title will be secured well before that date.
Melton sit third in the United Counties Division One, three points adrift of second-placed Anstey Nomads and a further point behind the leaders, Lutterworth Town. Following this Final, their next league encounter is away at Lutterworth, which could be a pivotal moment in the title race.
Melton were the first of the sides to settle into the game. They looked sharper and quicker to the ball than Heather in the opening encounters, winning the midfield battle and pushing their opponents onto the back foot in the first ten minutes or so. However, their early dominance did not translate into goals and Heather gradually began to get a foothold, or at least steady the ship a little.
On 20 minutes Heather did more than just steady the ship. A ball over the top of the Melton defence caused some confusion and miscommunication between the defenders and the advancing goalkeeper. Heather striker Chris Lloyd nipped in to take advantage of the hesitation, lofting the ball over the stranded Robert Peet and into the net. 0-1. A goal very much against the run of play but credit to Heather for taking full advantage of a rare opportunity.
The goal seemed to rock Melton for a while, unsurprisingly galvanising Heather who, eight minutes after taking the lead, came very close to doubling it when a Dean Rathbone effort beat the keeper but also narrowly missed the target.
This near miss shook Melton out of their stupor and they began to set about getting the equaliser but, try as they might for the remaining 15 minutes or so, they couldn't find the final ball.
HT Melton Town 0 Heather St John's 1. Melton played the more expansive game, stretching the Heather defence on a number of occasions but rarely causing great concern to Spink. Heather held firm at the back and made the most of the chance that they were handed.
As a neutral this was compelling viewing. Melton's brand of attacking football was a pleasure to watch and Heather's dogged defending was equally good viewing, as was their speed of attack when they did manage to break.
It took until the 76th minute but, finally, Melton's persistence paid off and they grabbed a deserved equaliser. Striker Michael Reeve twisted inside his marker and unleashed a vicious drive from the edge of the box. Spink manged to get a hand to it but couldn't keep it out. 1-1.
At this point, after all of the pressure and with the momentum behind them, it looked as if there was only going to be one winner. However, great credit to Heather. They really dug in for the final 15 minutes. The predicted Melton tidal wave and, what seemed inevitable, winner never arrived. In fact, in the very final minute, it was Heather who almost snatched the game with Josh Willis firing narrowly over the bar.
FT Melton Town 1 Heather St John's 1. A thoroughly entertaining 90 minutes of football and we headed straight to penalties much to the relief of many of the spectators as the temperature had dropped considerably and it was feeling exceedingly cold on the sidelines.
Melton take the first penalty.Nathan Arnold steps up and scores. 1-0
Heather then put their reply away. 1-1
Jordan Lever's spot-kick makes it 2-1 to Melton
Heather hit the bar through Ryan Pace. Still 2-1 and advantage Melton?
No. Callum Westwood also hits the bar with their next penalty. It remains 2-1
Heather goalscorer Chris Lloyd hits back to make it 2-2
Melton score their next spot kick. 3-2 through Josh Hill
Heather follow suit. 3-3
Heather's goalkeeper, Billy Spink, then makes a great save from Robbie Parsons. 3-3. Advantage Heather
Heather's Dean Rathbone scores to make it 4-3 and it is all over.
Heather St Johns are the Leicestershire & Rutland Senior Cup Winners for the third time, after finishing as runners-up last season.
Congratulations to all at Heather St Johns who, it could be said were not lucky at all, they just managed the game perfectly. They were under pressure for a good deal of the match, but took their opportunity when it was presented and then stayed cool under the pressure of penalties, despite being the first team to miss. That showed great character.
Commiserations to Melton Town who played really well all evening and were, in my opinion, very unlucky not to be lifting the trophy themselves. However, if that is the style of football they play every week, then they should be applauded for their efforts. As a neutral viewer, I would say that they are one of the most entertaining teams that I have seen all season.
Melton Town: Peet (c), Westwood, Levi Fray, Hibbitt, Wilson, Punter, Gilchrist, Hill, Reeve, Arnold, Lever. Subs: Leon Fray, Rigby, Price, Parsons, Reek
Heather St Johns: Spink, Lionga, Rowe, Weale (c), Douglas, Edwards, Cowley, Willis, Lloyd, Rathbone, Taylor. Subs: Williams, McNulty, Pace, Bloore, Taylor
Ground Number: 192