This will be a slightly different blog entry because although I hadn't been to the Kassam before, it's not a non-league ground and only a small part of the stadium was actually open to spectators.
Both of the sides contesting the final have won the Cup before, Banbury on 5 occasions, North Leigh twice. Banbury last won it in 2007 whilst North Leigh were victorious just 3 years ago. After suffering a terrible league season, culminating in relegation, Banbury were looking for some salvation and maybe a confidence boost before planning for life in Division 1. North Leigh, after finishing 8th in the Southern League Division 1 South & West, were looking for the icing on top of a relatively successful campaign.
It was North Leigh who started the game stronger. In fact, Banbury looked rather lacklustre for the first 15-20 minutes of the game. Just 9 minutes into the game North Leigh made there better start count when a left-wing cross was met by an unmarked Jamie Cook who powered his header past Bedwell in the Banbury goal. Before the half-way mark of the first half was reached North Leigh had doubled there lead. On 21 minutes a quick break lead to the ball being squared across the Banbury box for Kieran Sanders to make it 2-0.
Finally, after going 2-0 down, Banbury seemed to wake from their slumber and began taking more control of the midfield area and forcing North Leigh back towards their goal. On 26 minutes Banbury were handed a chance to get back into the game. A ball into the North Leigh box was latched onto by Murombedzi who, in turn, was seen by the referee to have been tripped. From my viewpoint I thought that it was quite a harsh decision but, to be fair, I didn't have the best angle to see the challenge. Jacob Walcott slotted the penalty home and it was suddenly game on at 2-1. Nine minutes later came the equaliser and what a superb finish it was with Jack Westbrook lashing home an unstoppable volley from outside the box. I doubt very much if he has caught many as well as that. Bulman, in the North Leigh goal, had no chance at all.
That was the end of the scoring in the first half and the teams trudged off at 2-2 with Banbury probably feeling the better of the two after coming from two down. In fact, from the last 20 minutes of the first half, it was hard to see and other result than a Banbury win. The momentum was certainly with them and North Leigh had started to look somewhat deflated as soon as the first Banbury goal had gone in.
Having said that, North Leigh seemed to have more of a spring in their step as the second half began. They were still being driven on by Callum McNish in the centre of midfield and were certainly holding their own. However, on 61 minutes, Banbury got their noses in front for the first time. Substitute Tappin played a lovely, defence splitting, ball through the North Leigh backline and Leam Howards finished clinically.
I'll be honest. I thought that was game over. From 2-0 up to 3-2 down after a long, hard season I coudln't see North Leigh picking themselves up. Still, they kept battling on making sure they stayed in the game. Banbury were clearly on top at this point but couldn't get a killer fourth goal.
On 74 minutes North Leigh earned themselves a stroke of luck when a n attempted Banbury clearance struck McNish and sailed back over the keeper and into the net. 3-3 and it was looking like extra-time could be on the cards. The equaliser, however, had swung the game back in favour of North Leigh. The tired legs of a team behind were replaced by a renewed freshness and they began to push Banbury back again. This was turning into a titanic battle and very entertaining match. With less than 10 minutes remaining McNish decided to rival Westbrook for goal of the match, unleashing a stunning strike from 25 yards that flew into the net past Bedwell. 4-3 to the Millers. Maybe extra-time wasn't going to be needed.
It was certainly looking that way until the very last minute of normal time. Abdellah swung over a superb cross, probably the best one of the match, which was met by Tom Ryan to square it up once again. 4-4 with just injury time remaining. Even then there was still almost another twist in the tale. With literally seconds left Sanders tried his luck from way out only to see Bedwell produce an acrobat tip over the bar to keep it at 4-4.
Extra-time was called for but, to be fair to the players, it would have been more humane to go straight to penalties. Both sides had given it everything for 90 minutes and had provided ample entertainment for the 400 present. Neither side really had a lot left in the tank which showed during the 30 minutes of extra-time. There seemed to be an inevitability that this was going to go all the way to penalties, a so it proved.
North Leigh were first up but both team missed their first attempts. The next three from both teams were them scored. Bedwell then made himself a Banbury hero by saving Williams's fifth kick for the Millers. This left it to Joel Meade to smash home the Puritans fifth and winning kick.
So, it was a 6th Senior Cup triumph for Banbury which may, at least, ease relegation a little. Unlucky for North Leigh who battled away extremely well and certainly made a contribution to an exciting final.
North Leigh - @northleigh_fc
Banbury United - @banburyunitedfc
Oxfordshire FA - @oxfordshirefa