Willington 0 Heaton Stannington 0 – 6-5 in penalty shoot-out – Ernest Armstrong Memorial Cup quarter-finals

England’s football team don’t exactly have a great record when it comes to penalty shoot-outs– last year’s World Cup notwithstanding.

Heaton Stannington are starting to catch the bug.  For the third time this season they have exited a cup competition in the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

And in many ways they only have themselves to blame for the game going to penalties when Willington were forced to play for more than an hour after Brad Burns was sent off after unceremoniously bringing down Heaton Stan attacker Lewis Burns as the No. 7 ran past him to set up a goal scoring opportunity.  There were too many complaints by Burns (Brad) or his team mates.

Mind you, it didn’t seem to knock Willington off their stride for too long, apart from a small glitch as they re-adjusted to being a man short immediately after the red card.  In fact they were probably the better side for most of the second half.

But they have their keeper Lewis Graham to thank for keeping them in the competition.  The Willington stopper pulled off the save of the season in the league – well that was the consensus view of the cognoscenti* gathered opposite the clubhouse.  With four minutes to go, a great strike by Stan No. 11 and captain Joe Kerridge looked goalbound until Graham produced a fantastic save diving to his left to get his finger tips to the ball and divert it on to the post before the ball bounced clear.

As for the rest of the game, it wasn’t too bad, considering the 155-strong crowd didn’t see a goal.

In the opening eight minutes Heaton’s Connor Campbell and Burns combined twice to craft openings, both falling to Burns.  With his first effort, the spin on the ball turned a cross into a shot that just went past the far post and then five minutes later he skied a shot over the bar.

For Willington, left back Scott Oldfield was the busiest player on the pitch in the first half and he produced a cross that Matty Moffat headed just wide.  That was quickly followed by Dean Thexton twice turning in the box and then striking the ball over the bar.  Within two minutes they were down to 10 men with the Burns red card.

In the 39th minute Willington’s left winger Nathan Plews sent over a cross which Moffat headed back across the goal mouth only for Heaton’s Dan Sayer to clear it off the line.

In the second half Willington more than held their own and had the better of the play in the first 15 minutes.  Oldfield put a shot over the Heaton bar and visiting keeper Thomas Mitchell was able to smother a half-chance for Plews.

Until Graham’s heroics in the 86th minute, the visitors came closest in the 65th minute when Campbell struck the ball across the goal line, only just missing the far post and just out of the reach of Kerridge who slid in to try and get a touch on it to score.

But it was all square after 96 minutes and into the penalty shoot-out.  Both keepers pulled off some good saves but Moffat settled it with the 7th spot kick for his team, putting Willington through 6-5 after eight penalties.

(* – cognoscenti – well the gaggle of ground hoppers perched opposite the clubhouse, if “gaggle” is the correct collective noun for a group of ground hoppers.)

Mike Snowdon