It was described as a ‘classic David-versus-Goliath contest’, but Walsham-le-Willows were unable to overcome the might of AFC Sudbury in the Suffolk FA Midweek Cup Final.
Walsham were the accepted underdogs on Monday; an amateur village team that had surpassed expectations by reaching the youth cup final for the first time.
And they faced the might of the 55-man, full-time academy squad of AFC Sudbury watched by a crowd of 426 at the home of Colchester United, falling 5-2 short during a fast-paced match.
A 15-minute spell in the second quarter saw AFC Sudbury put four in the Walsham net and effectively put the game to bed at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
But The Willows manager, Alan Harris, said he is incredibly proud of his squad and their achievement despite the loss, including the way they took on the final.
“It was tough, and they did so well,” he said.
“Going 1-0 down in the first five minutes didn’t bode well but I’m so proud of the way they fought back and equalised quickly.
“I don’t think the score really reflected the game in a lot of ways, there was a 15-minute spell when the boys lost concentration, their heads dipped and were suddenly 5-1 down.
“But we still believed we could do it in the second half. You worry when you go in to half-time with that score, but the boys replied brilliantly.
“I’m so happy with the way they took on the half, they didn’t give up and went the whole way.
“They were embarrassed by the scoreline in the dressing room and so vowed not to give up.
“That mental strength is encouraging, and mature.
“This is the best youth team I think Walsham’s ever had. And making it through the rounds shows this.
“Goalscorer Ryan Gibbs and ‘keeper Alex Johns really stood out for me too.”
The reigning champions AFC Sudbury had taken the lead after just three minutes but Walsham were level with only seven minutes on the clock, with Gibbs scoring from a free-kick.
The centre-forward found a gap in the AFC Sudbury wall to send the kick from outside the penalty area past Curtis Child.
It was Walsham who came closest to scoring next in an even opening half-an-hour before their opponents turned on the jet and blew Walsham away.
They ran riot to score four goals in just 15-minutes at the end of the half.
The second half did not match the excitement or pace of the opening 45 minutes, but Walsham scored the only goal.
Harris said this was something his team should be very proud of. Gibbs, scoring his second of the evening, showed good strength to hold off a defender and guide the ball past Childs in the 72nd minute.
That AFC Sudbury did not add to their tally was largely down to Johns, who excelled with some splendid saves, with a special arch backwards to tip a rising drive over the bar.
Harris added: “Alex was incredible, and made some saves he had no right to save. The whole team played their hearts out — whether it was the ball headed off the line, a fine save, or a fine goal, the boys deserve a pat on the back.
“They should be as proud as we are. A loss of concentration for a small moment and that was it.”
He also thanked Colchester United for hosting the match, which made the occasion ‘extra special’ with the professional facilities.