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Pride prevails despite defeat

SHOWING RESPECT: Gym United players and coaching staff applaud the travelling supporters at Bramall Lane. Picture: Ben Pooley
SHOWING RESPECT: Gym United players and coaching staff applaud the travelling supporters at Bramall Lane. Picture: Ben Pooley



Gym United 0

Hardwick Social 2

(after extra-time)

There was a steely gaze emanating from Gym United player-manager Matt Morton’s eyes during the post-match presentation and pitchside interview that spoke volumes about his inner thoughts.

He was evidently proud of his side for showing they can go toe-to-toe with the now two-time national champions, who boosted almost a whole starting XI that are about to feature for Stockton Town in the FA Vase Final at Wembley.

But more than that, the burning desire to get his team back to complete what he now sees as unfinished business, in their quest to be crowned the best Sunday side in the country, shone through.

North east side Hardwick Social were the better team on the day, and created nearly all the chances. But Bury & Sunday District League side Gym, named after the sports bar in the town, stood firm for 109 minutes before their resistance was finally broken in extra-time via an unfortunate deflection off substitute Charlie Robinson, with another defensive error let in the Stockton-on-Tees side for Sonni Coleman to wrap up the trophy.

Morton believes if they improve their fitness levels, in 12 months it could be them popping the bubbly on the pitch.

“I am proud of everyone. Getting here is a great achievement for a side from Bury St Edmunds,” he said.

“We came into it as underdogs and at half-time we realised we weren’t underdogs. I think we just edged the first half. We played really well.

“The second half we were under the cosh but we dealt with it.

“The reason we lost today, to an excellent side, was fitness. And that is the thing we need to learn from.

“We need to get back here next year and be fitter. I think if we are we will win it next time, 100 per cent.

“It is nothing to do with ability, heart or desire. Those players gave it everything today, and that’s all I ask of them. I am very proud of them and we are plenty good enough to win this.”

Former Premier League referee Kelvin Morton, Matt’s father and Gym United FC president, said he was very grateful to those who came to support them among the crowd of 422, as well as being ‘so proud of the fantastic achievement of the club’.

He added: “The match was competitive but sporting with no yellow cards issued and was well refereed by Football League referee Kevin Johnson. He was very complimentary over the conduct of Gym (and Hardwick) players who were a pleasure to referee.”

Going into the game, Gym had already made history by being the first ever club from the county to reach the final of the nationwide competition.

The early exchanges were rather cagey as both sides — lining up in 4-2-3-1 formations — were reluctant to give the other an inch.

When chances were created they largely went the way of Hardwick, with Gym skipper Nathan Clarke forced to make a last-ditch tackle in the 10th minute to thwart James Ward, before James Risbrough headed the resultant corner into the side netting.

Gym, meanwhile, were being let down by their final ball and on the two occasions opportunities did arise — free-kicks from 25 yards out in the 29th and 30th minute — both Max Melanson and Andrew Wood were off target.

Hardwick went closest to breaking the first-half stalemate three minutes later when Ward ghosted into the Gym area, but from eight yards out he was denied by Duncan McAnally’s sprawling save.

In contrast to the opening 45 minutes, Hardwick went on the front foot with Coleman planting a header straight into the hands of McAnally, while skipper Jamie Owens should have hit the target with a far post header.

McAnally was comfortably behind Ward’s overhead kick while, in the 80th minute, Owens was twice denied by some brave Gym defending. And, when Owens did manage to get a clean shot away two minutes later, his bottom corner-bound strike was well turned away by McAnally’s strong left hand.

It was backs-against-the-wall stuff, but to Gym’s credit they stood firm, finding an answer to every question posed.

That stubbornness meant their clean sheet remained intact, sending the encounter into extra-time and potentially penalties to find a winner.

However, spot kicks would not be required because in the 109th minute Gym’s resistance was finally broken. There seemed to be some miscommunication between McAnally and Clarke as the ball was swung in towards the near post.

With nobody taking command, the ball looped up and hit Robinson, who inadvertently diverted the ball into his own net despite the best efforts of Stuart Walker on the line.

And the outcome was sealed six minutes from time when Matt Morton’s cross-field pass put his fellow centre-back Clarke under pressure.

He duly surrendered possession and Hardwick broke in clinical fashion — Tom Coulthard squaring for Coleman, who had a simple finish from six yards out to secure the trophy for a second year running.

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