Brantham's Anfield final dream dies

COMEBACK kings, Brantham Colts, fell just short of staging another successful rally in yesterday's enthralling FA Carlsberg Sunday Cup semi-final at AFC Sudbury.

Carl Marston

COMEBACK kings, Brantham Colts, fell just short of staging another successful rally in yesterday's enthralling FA Carlsberg Sunday Cup semi-final at AFC Sudbury.

Brave Brantham, of the Ipswich Licensed Trades League, had come from behind in four of their previous five matches in this nationwide competition, but they could not repeat the feat against powerful opponents.

Durham-based Coundon Conservative are on course to retain their trophy, and they are guaranteed a glamorous return trip to Anfield for this year's final.

A first-half brace from influential midfielder, Martin Houlahan, proved sufficient to see Coundon through, but they had to soak up some heavy pressure from Brantham in a storming second-half.

Ben Newson halved the deficit with a clinical shot on 58 minutes, to give the Suffolk side genuine hope of mounting a recovery. But try as they might, they could not sneak an equaliser despite a number of scoring chances.

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Coundon were crowned Sunday Cup champions last year, thanks to a 5-0 victory over Lebeq Tavern Courage, and it took them just eight minutes to take the lead against Brantham.

Houlahan let fly with a stunning 20-yard volley that flew into the roof of the net, with the aid of a strong wind. That goal was a big confidence booster for Coundon, and Houlahan in particular - he could have had a hat-trick before the break.

Brantham keeper Ryan Bedingfield saved a close-range shot from Houlahan with his legs in the 27th minute, but he was powerless to prevent the same player from heading home Phil Brumwell's cross for the second in the 35th minute.

Coundon's robust style of play led to three bookings in the first period, and they were soon hanging on when Ben Newson fired home a shot out of the blue.

Just three minutes later and Newson could have netted the equaliser when bursting through on goal, only to slice his shot wide.

Visiting keeper, Mark Bell, pulled off two quickfire saves to maintain his side's lead in the 72nd minute. He blocked a goalbound shot from Michael Brothers, and then recovered to parry the follow-up effort from Ben Newson at point blank range.

In the last minute of normal time, Ross Crouch rose high to meet Aaron Skeggs' cross with a firm header that Bell caught under his bar.

That was Brantham's last chance of forcing an equaliser. Their dreams of playing at Anfield are over - at least for another season.

The teams

Brantham Athletic: Ryan Bedingfield, Shaun Dale, Andy French, Ross Crouch, James Long (capt), Aaron Skeggs, Ben Newson, Keith Emmerson, Sam Newson, Michael Brothers, Patrick Brothers. Subs: Chris French (not used), Steve Townes (not used), Jon Jorgensen (for S Dale, 65), Sean Gunn (for French, 83), Dean Dale (not used).

Coundon Conservatives: Mark Bell, Phil Brumwell, Gary Ankers, Ian Lowe, Danny Key, Danny Richmond, Martin Houlahan, Kevin Bromley, Andrew Thompson, Paul Bailes, Stuart Owen. Subs: Chris Beckett (for Bromley, 81), Kevin Shoulder (for Bailes, 86), Steven Butler (for Houlahan, 90), Karl Jones (not used), Barry Poskett (not used).

Referee: Simon Beck (Essex FA).

Attendance: 457.

Sunderland-based Hetton Lyons, who were crowned champions in 2006, will play Coundon Conservative in the Carlsberg Sunday Cup Final after they won 2-0 at Paddock FC in yesterday's other semi-final.

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