The JW Hunt Cup has been running since 1926 after being set up by West Midland businessman John William Hunt to raise funds for the local blind. One thing that caught my eye when researching it was the Wiki entry that shows that the committee presented a cheque for £10,000 to the Beacon Centre for the Blind in 2018. Having grown up in the area, I know the centre and, back in youth the centre was the venue for my debut on stage in a band back in 1991 (I think). The only thing I remember abut the gig is that the headline band were call The Road Cones. Good times. Anyway, back to the football.
Darlaston have played their home games at what is now known as The Paycare Stadium since their reformation in 2014. The ground is just off Junction 10 of the M6, wedged between the River Tame and the notorious Black Country Route, a link road that was originally planned in the 60s but not completed until the mid 90s. The ground has a good sized car park and an overflow area, all managed by stewards who are happy to point cars and supporters in the right direction. All of the facilities are on the near side of the ground as you enter, there is a fairly large clubhouse which has a smaller building attached containing the players and officials changing areas.
Neither Darlaston Town nor Dudley Town have ever won the JM Hunt Cup. However, Darlaston did get to the final in 2007 before losing 3-0 to Wryley Rangers. The sides have spent a number of years playing in the same divisions over the years, going back as far as the mid 40s when both were in the Birmingham League structure. Dudley, of course, spent some time in the Southern League during the 80s and 90s, but have since dropped down the leagues and both they and Darlaston now play in the Midland League structure at Step 6. Both have had good starts to the Division One campaign this season. Coming into the game Darlaston were the better placed of the two, sitting fourth with 41 points from their 20 games. Dudley were two positions and two points below their hosts but had played four fewer games. One league meeting had already taken place, a 2-0 home win for Dudley back in September with Rhys Horton getting both goals. However, The Robins would need to be wary of Darlaston's formidable home record in which they have won eight and drawn one from ten matches so far, scoring a colossal 45 goals and conceding only 6. Having said that, Dudley's defence has conceded only 14 to date, a defensive record that only leaders Atherstone Town can match.
It was the home side who started the game on the front foot but it was a mistake at the back that led to the opening goal. Ten minutes in and a speculative ball played into the Dudley penalty area caused all sorts of confusion between the goalkeeper and the defenders. The loose ball dropped to Lewis Gill on the left-hand side of the 18 yard area. His goal-bound effort was helped into the net by an attempted clearance from Rhys Boswell. 1-0. It was hard to tell if the ball would have gone in without the defender's intervention but I would be inclined to give it to Gill.
Dudley were struggling to cope with the home side's movement and were being pressed back into their own half consistently. Jake Pearson's combative style in the centre of midfield (which would earn him a yellow later), captain and centre-forward Andrew Nicol's movement and the pace of Maxwell Ngbeken were all causing concerns to the Dudley backline. However, despite their possessional dominance, there was no real end product and the Dudley goal remained intact.
As the half wore on Dudley did start to get a small foothold. A couple of earlier breaks had led to a header narrowly wide and an attempted bicycle kick off target but there were distinct signs, as we approached the halfway mark, that they were beginning to see more of the ball.
Just as we were all preparing to get a half-time cup of tea, Dudley snatched an equaliser and, as with the home goal, it came form a mistake. An innocuous looking cross into the home six yard box looked to be easily caught by goalkeeper Callum Hayward but he fumbled the ball which fell directly to the lurking Alex Perry who managed to bundle the ball across the line 1-1. Maybe, on such a cold evening, with not too much to do, the keeper's hands were not sufficiently warmed up. Who knows? It was just one of those errors that sometimes happen.
HT Darlaston Town 1 Dudley Town 1. Darlaston were on top for much of the half but Dudley did start to get a foothold towards the end and got lucky with the equaliser. A nice touch from home captain Nicol at the break, as he immediately went over to console his goalkeeper after the mistake that led to the Dudley goal.
FT Darlaston Town 1 Dudley Town 1. The first half belonged to the home side, the second to the away side, so a draw was probably the right result over 90 minutes. No extra-time in the JW Hunt Cup so we were all set for a penalty shootout.
Penalties - Dudley to take the first kick.
Alex Perry scores for Dudley 0-1
Andrew Nicol scores for Darlaston 1-1
Dudley's Kurt Perry puts his kick over the bar. 1-1
Ryan Winwood scores to put Darlaston ahead 2-1
Dudley's Kaine Butler also puts his spot kick over the bar. Still 2-1
Liam Wilkinson catches the 'rugby conversion' bug and blasts his effort over the bar too. Still 2-1 after 3 each.
Brad Ward scores for Dudley. 2-2
Reece Mason does likewise for Darlaston 3-2
Hinesh Patel has to score this one for Dudley but Callum Hayward gets down well to save it and make up for his earlier error.
Darlaston go through 3-2 on penalties.
Whilst writing this blog I saw the terrible news about Darlaston player Leon Taylor who died at the age of 36. Darlaston's game against Shawbury on Saturday has been postponed in light of the awful news. Thoughts go out to his family and friends.
Darlaston Town: Hayward, Ballantyne, Mason, Wilkinson, Lal, Turton, Winwood, Pearson, Nicol(c), Ngbeken, Gill. Subs: Evans, Cook, Jones, Dangerfield, Phillip
Dudley Town: Maydew, Mitchell, Boswell, Lawley, Beddall, A.Perry(c), Archer, Ward, Baker, Hanna, K.Perry. Subs: Fuller, Butler, Patel, Perry, Scriven
Ground Number: 291