The Final was being played at Loughborough Dynamo's home for the third consecutive season, a ground that I had not visited before. Dynamo play in the Northern Premier League Midlands Division (Step 4) and have a stadium that befits their league standing. The ground is situated to the South East of Loughborough in the suburb of Nanpantan, hence the its actual name of the Nanpantan Sports Ground. The football stadium is part of a multi-sport complex that also includes tennis, bowls, cricket and basketball.
The Leicestershire Senior Football League produced a single printed programme to cover both of their cup finals, the City Goldsmiths Presidents Trophy and the Tiger Bitter League Cup. priced at just a pound, it represented very good value in my opinion. All four clubs involved in the finals, Holwell Sports Reserves, Ashby Ivanhoe Knights, Burbage & Huncote and Magna 73, had two pages of the programme dedicated to them, including club histories, honours & statistics, as well as some player pen pictures. Both competitions also had a double page spread dedicated to past competitions and the route to this year's final. Add to this an entertaining centre spread of interesting football stories and you have plenty of half-time reading for only £1.
The last two editions of the League Cup have been won by Allexton & New Parks, beating Burbage Old Boys 2-1 in last season's final. However, Burbage & Huncote, as they are now called, gained some revenge by defeating Allexton 3-2 in this season's semi-final last month, thanks mainly to a Connor Beasley hat-trick. Previous to the semi-final, Burbage had also disposed of Ellistown (5-0) in Round 2 and then hammered Hathern 6-2 i the Quarter-Final. Magna's trip to the final started a round earlier, in Roun1 where they thrashed Division Two side Loughborough, 6-0. They followed this with a 3-2 win over premier League Khalsa GAD. In the Quarter-Final Magna required penalties to beat Division One outfit Dunton & Broughton United, after a 1-1 draw. No need for penalties in the semi-final however, as they saw off another Premier League side, Highfield Rangers, by 3-0.
The league season is not quite over for either team. In fact, they stil have to play each other in the league, on Saturday at Magna's Meadow Sports Ground. As it stands, Burbage hold sway as far as league position is concerned, sitting sixth. A win in their final game woudl take them to fourth. A big win, by six goals woudl take them into third spot. Magna are currently in twelfth spot but are in no danger of dropping lower. A very big win (+8 goal swing) would take them over Khalsa GAD into eleventh. Earlier in the season the sides met at Huncote Sports Club. Two goals from Connor Beasley and one from Alex Mugglestone was enough to give the home side a 3-1 win. Wesley Johnson scored for Magna.
After what was a bright start from both sides, it was Burbage who created the first real opportunity when a through ball split the Magna defence allowing Connor Beasley to run through. Spotting Ben Chapman off his line, the striker went for a lob from all of 40 yards but couldn't find enough elevation to beat the keeper. magna then created a chance of their own a few minutes later. Fin Thomas did well to make some room on the right-hand side of the box before sliding a ball across the six yard box. Jordan Creed, arriving at the far post, couldn't quite get enough on it, diverting the ball into the side netting. Something of a let-off for Burbage.
The clear cut chances then dried up somewhat but Magna continued to command the larger amount of possession, keeping the ball inside the Burbage half for prolonged periods. Burbage countered by playing a more direct style, trying to free up Graham, Beasley or Atkinson. This almost paid off in the 26th minute when a searching diagonal ball found James Graham clear on the right. he drove towards goal, unleashing a drive that Chapman did well to block, getting his angles spot on.
On the half-hour mark Burbage also had a small penalty shout when Beasley went over in the box. Contact looked fairly minimal. A view shared by the referee, who waved away the shouts. Three minutes later, however, Burbage took the lead against the general run of play. Cameron Atkinson did brilliantly on the left, beating his marked before driving a ball across the face of goal where the fast-arriving Mitchell Fairhurst met it with a volley to give Chapman no chance. 1-0.
Following the goal you could see the confidence levels rise in the Burbage ranks, and they set about trying to get a second goal. Atkinson had come alive too, once again causing issues on the left flank, this time crossing low for James Graham who saw his goal bound effort blocked. Magna tried to respond as well, but could only muster a Spencer Beck shot that didn't really trouble Crossley to any extent.
HT Burbage & Huncote 1 Magna 73 0. Burbage found themselves pushed back for much of the opening 30 minutes but defended well. Magna, as so often happens when a team doesn't score whilst on top, then conceded a goal against the run of play. Plenty to play for in the second period.
Burbage's top-scorer didn't have to worry for too long though. Four minutes into the second half his team doubled their advantage. Oddly, the goal originated from a Magna corner that saw captain Matt Howarth's header cleared off the Burbage line. They then broke very quickly, feeding the ball through to Cameron Atkinson who outpaced his marker, rounded Chapman and slid the ball into an empty net. 2-0. Five minutes later it really looked like game over as the pale blue shirts of Burbage were celebrating a third goal. A perfect free-kick delivery from the left flank was met by the head of captain Jody Green at the near post, giving Chapman no chance. 3-0.
Magna were rattled. They had been caught completely cold after the restart, conceding two quick goals that had effectively taking the game out of their grasp. It took them a while to rally but, after the hour mark they started to make more inroads. A free-kick from just outside the box on 63 minutes was rattled into the wall by Fin Thomas but, two minutes later, they did get a goal back. Initially it looked as if Crossley had averted the danger with a good save. However, he was only able to parry the ball and in the ensuing scramble, Matt Howarth was able to force the ball over the line. 3-1
Momentum suddenly moved in favour of Magna after the goal. Conversely, Burbage lost some of their sparkle and Magna sensed an opportunity. The Burbage defence were happy to clear the ball as far as possible, in a few cases over the stand or over the fence into the car park. This led to an odd situation in the 76thj minute when, after an other clearance went into the car park, fourth official John Carr was left with no spares in his bag. There was a small delay whilst a new match ball was found.
The break didn't phase Magna and, with ten minutes remaining, they set up the potential for a blistering finish with a second goal. Strike Fin Thomas was the scorer, receiving the ball inside the penalty area with his back to goal before spinning sharply and planting a low drive past Crossley. 3-2
Credit to Burbage at this point though. The expected onslaught from Magna never really transpired, mainly down to some very sound defending from Burbage, one or two more cars possibly got dents in the process but Pickering and green in particular, were taking no prisoners with their clearances.
Magna did create one more half chance for Thomas, but this time he coudl only fire wide of the target and, with that, the referee called time.
FT Burbage & Huncote 3 Magna 73 2. Congratulations to Burbage & Huncote who needed to dig deep both at the start of the game and certainly towards the end. When they did get their chances, they took them well. Credit also to Magna 73 who played a big part in making the final a great spectacle.
Although there is nothing much to play for in the league meeting on Saturday, it may well be worth watching the game. I'm sure Magna will want some revenge for their final defeat, and Burbage have the opportunity to finish in the top three or four with a win.
Burbage & Huncote: Crossley, Robinson, Armstrong, Green(c), Pickering, Selby, Graham, A.Mason, Beasley, Atkinson, Fairhurst. Subs: H.Mason, Mugglestone, Farren, King, Fox, Wileman, Bate
Magna 73: Chapman, Jones, Horne, Law, Howarth(c), Lee, Fielding, Slater, Thomas, Beck, Creed. Subs: Richmond, Yadav, Corcoran, Randall, Smith, Johnson, Simons
Ground Number: 365