Bury Town missed out on a return to the Suffolk Premier Cup final after a narrow 3-2 defeat to Lowestoft Town last night.
The Blues took on the current holders of the county’s biggest cup competition at Needham Market’s Bloomfields, with a place in the final against former manager Richard Wilkins’ Leiston awaiting the winner of the semi-final tie.
Ben Chenery’s side had beaten Kirkley and Pakefield and Felixstowe and Walton United to reach the last four of this season’s Premier Cup, with both wins coming via a penalty shootout, and it looked like they were heading for another nervy finish after goals from Josh Mayhew and Ollie Canfer had helped Bury peg back their higher league opponents in normal time and extra-time.
However, a contentious decision to award a corner to Lowestoft, rather than a goal kick to Bury, on 110 minutes proved costly, as Michael Spillane headed home at the near post to score what ultimately turned out to be the winner in a keenly-contested cup tie.
With Bury’s opponents playing two leagues above them in the Vanarama National League North, the first-half was largely a feeling-out process for the two sides as they adjusted to their unfamiliar adversaries and the Bloomfields surface.
Lowestoft had the better of the chances in the first-half though, as Ryan Jarvis saw his shot from close range deflected over for a corner, before Connor Deeks rattled the Bury crossbar just before the break.
The Blues were buoyed by the return of top goalscorer Ollie Hughes at half-time, who was named as a substitute for Chenery’s side due to work commitments meaning he would not be able to arrive until after kick-off, and his introduction corresponded with a bright start to the second-half for Bury.
A great one-two between Canfer and Hughes saw the former race towards goal, where after beating his man his effort was nervously parried over by Lowestoft goalkeeper Elvis Putjins.
It set the tone for a thrilling second-half which went back and forth, as after Deeks put Lowestoft ahead on 61 minutes with a header from Joe Marsden’s cross, Bury equalised six minutes later when Darcy De’ath’s long throw ended up in front of Mayhew to fire home.
Both sides had chances to win the game in the final minutes of normal time, with Connor Hall directing his shot in front of goal straight into the hands of Putjins on 81 minutes, before Spillane’s strike crashed off the crossbar five minutes from time.
Lowestoft regained the lead four minutes into extra-time after substitute Luke Garrod was afforded too much space in the box to find Chris Henderson to emphatically finish past Neil O’Sullivan.
But the Blues once again responded brilliantly as Canfer got them back on level terms with a precise finish into the far corner in the 99th minute.
Bury’s hard work looked to have been undone when Remi Garrett was shown a straight red card for reacting angrily to being fouled by Henderson on 103 minutes, but still Chenery’s side were undeterred in their bid to score the game’s next goal.
In the end it was a controversial decision by referee Alan Dale to give a corner to Lowestoft with 10 minutes to go that ended Bury’s hopes, as Spillane headed past O’Sullivan from the set piece to put Lowestoft 3-2 up and left the Blues fuming with the match officials.
Bury finished the game a man and a goal down but they had certainly more than matched their higher league opponents over the 120 minutes and will take a lot of pride from their performance, ahead of a trip to Heybridge Swifts on Saturday (3pm) and a local derby with AFC Sudbury at Ram Meadow on Monday (3pm).
* For post-match reaction from Bury Town manager Ben Chenery and a preview to Monday’s derby see Friday’s print edition of the Bury Free Press.