Bromsgrove Sporting 0 Lye Town 3
Lye Town posted an impressive victory that booked them a fourth cup final appearance in four seasons and, more importantly, put in a convincing display against lively opposition that will fire them up for their title charge after Saturday’s below-par showing against a poor Smethwick Rangers.
Central defender Damien Whitcombe put in another immense display, him and central defensive partner Stephen Lodge containing the threat of accomplished marksman Mark Bellingham at the back as Whitcombe added another two goals to take the defender’s tally this season to a phenomenal 24.
Whitcombe is playing like a man determined to single-handedly secure the title for Lye to atone for his error in the game against Wolves Casuals that ended last season and saw former Glassboys favourite Bellingham on target as Lye were condemned to runners-up spot.
But where Lye’s joint managers Martin Thomas and Darren Goodall could take the positives, Bromsgrove were left nursing a sense of injustice after the decisive second goal came from a free-kick won by a Simon Williams dive in the 61st minute. If the goal was tainted, there was no telling Whitcombe, who left teammates and markers trailing in his wake to win the race to Ben Wilkins’ perfect delivery to plant an unstoppable header past Jake Bedford in the Sporting goal.
That more or less finished off the visitors with Kalum Evitts’ 88th-minute strike coming as Sporting left yawning gaps at the gap to allow Kevin Nickle to get down their left-hand side and cross to give the Lye forward a tap-in at the far post.
Inevitably it was Whitcombe who had got the ball rolling, from the spot in the 21st minute, after good work from Nickle and Steve Weaver down the right flank which saw the latter tumble on the right-hand side of the area under challenge from Craig Jones, the linesman’s flag going up instantly.
The boisterous Bromgrove fans tried to taunt the penalty taker only for him to send Bedford the wrong way with a shimmy before burying the perfect spot-kick.
Sporting’s best hope lay in the mazy dribbling of Sean Williams, the winger frequently ghosting past opponents only to lack an option in the final third.
Bedford had already been required to stand up well to deny Wilkins with the game goalless but Sporting could have levelled in first-half injury time when Whitcombe missed his tackle on Chris Russell, allowing the forward to turn and fire a low shot which brought a smart save from Lye’s latest emergency goalkeeper – Halesowen Town’s Sam Pearson. A free-kick from the right moments later by Danny Ludlow found Bellingham at the far post but his header back across the six-yard area skidded inches in front of the onrushing Russell at the right-hand post.
It was Williams’ turn to misfire for Lye early in the second half, firing weakly wide when well-placed after good work from Weaver and Evitts and Whitcombe ghosted into space to meet a Matt Johnson corner in the 53rd minute but his header went narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
Pearson, available from Halesowen as Lye continue to search for a replacement for the injured Jake James, had to be at his best to preserve Lye’s slender advantage in the 58th minute, acrobatically denying Russell who had got in behind Scott Moore from a mammoth Bedford goal-kick and, from the resulting corner, arcing his back to claw a looping Ludlow header over the bar.
The value of those saves was underlined shortly afterwards when Williams’ tumble and Wilkins’ delivery saw Whitcombe make the game safe.
Russell came up agonisingly short for Sporting again ten minutes from time after Bellingham had left Lodge on the turf near the halfway line and galloped unopposed down the left channel before supplying a pacey low centre which his strike partner was unable to get anything on.
Six minutes later the hosts went close again, Joe Cole playing in Williams as Lye appealed vainly for offside and Pearson flung himself full length to his left to deny the attacker before hurling himself to the other side of the goal as substitute Jack Wilson fired into the side netting.
Evitts’ late strike booked Lye’s cup final appearance and the only concern for the visitors will have been the attacker briefly clutching his hamstring at the death. If Lye can beg, borrow and steal a replacement for James for the six games that decide the title, they could be looking at an historic double.