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Nothing brings out more emotion in a football match than a cup final going all the way to penalty kicks. It was a day of nerves, pressure and great tactical football as Murieston Blue U17s overcame Grange Rovers after sudden death spot kicks to lift the WLAYFC trophy. It was exhausting just watching two highly physical and talented teams clash again and again throughout the course of the match, and both teams certainly earned the highest level of respect.
Sun, spot kicks and celebration. The boys of Murieston Blue and Grange Rovers could not have been aware of the battle that awaited them as they took to the field under the scorching Stoneyburn sun. The pitch was looking good and both teams were visibly fired up as they warmed and moved into formation.
The match kicked off and immediately jumped into action with strong challenges from both teams making possession hard to keep.
Grange Rovers attempted to keep the ball in the Murieston half early on. A challenge from Aidan Moffat was called as a foul to give Grange Rovers a free kick after 5 minutes and the first real chance. The ball was lofted in beautifully but the header from Dean Kenny was sent wide.
At the other end, it was Courtland Mitchell for Murieston Blue who was showing his ability on the ball. A few clever touches and through balls under pressure were identifying him as a target man for his side early on.
Mitchell linked up well with team mate Ryan Conroy as the match progressed, with Aidan Mannion also bombing forward. With players attacking positively, Murieston were forcing themselves into space and after 20 minutes Conroy broke into the box beating several men. It looked promising, but the strong defensive presence of the Grange players pressured him into shooting over.
The Grange defence continued to impress as the match reached the half hour mark, blocking the efforts of Mitchell and Moffat as they attempted to squeeze through the back line.
After 32 minutes, it was Jamie Lunn applying pressure at the other end. The Grange man battled through several defenders to fire a shot at Andrew Massie in the Murieston goal. 1 minute passing saw Lunn again racing through the defence but again being beaten to the punch by Massie, who was quick off his line. Fantastic defending from Andrew Hutchison for Murieston helped finally relieve the pressure.
Meanwhile, Courtland Mitchell was still looking dangerous for his side. Some fantastic one touch passing with fellow midfielder Mark Wilkie saw the two men throw the pressure back onto the Grange Rovers defence.
The end of a half is always a vital point in any match, as both sides look to have the final say before the break. This proved true on the stroke of half time in Stoneyburn, as Murieston Blue finally took the lead in the final. Influencing a quick one-two to send himself into the box, Wilkie swept past the defence before placing his shot underneath the advancing goalkeeper and give his side a massive advantage at the end of the half.
Half Time: Murieston United Blue 1-0 Grange Rovers
The second half started with fury as both teams again lunged into several strong challenges. The battle in midfield was still very much held at a stalemate, but neither team looked happy to leave it at that.
4 minutes into the second half saw Grange Rovers come close to levelling the match. A clever run past several defenders from Bradley McCabe put the pressure on, but his ball in to Dylan Money was met by a sliced shot past the post.
As the match progressed, no team was showing signs of edging the midfield battle and both attacks were being denied by strong challenges and well positioned blocks. Both MacIndoe and Massie looked in control and dealt with the high volume of hopeful balls and swinging corners with safe hands.
With 75 minutes on the clock and their cup hopes slipping away, the Rovers began to step up the pressure and were firing shots away at every opportunity. Attempts from Money and Irvine were met with more composed saves from Massie.
After a brief moment of Murieston attack, headed by the consistent Courtland Mitchell, it was Grange again moving the ball towards the opposite end.
With 5 minutes remaining on the clock, confusion in the box saw the Rovers attacker brought down and the crowd went wild as a late penalty was awarded. The Grange Rovers dug out did not need their nerves as Jamie Lunn fired an unstoppable penalty past the goalkeeper to finally even things up for his side.
A rousing attack in the final minutes of the match saw Mitchell, Dewar and Meade all desperately attempting to create a winner for Murieston. But after 90 minute midfield war, it was inevitable the match continue and the referee soon blew his whistle to signify the end of normal time.
Full Time: Murieston United Blue 1-1 Grange Rovers
Excitement, determination and nerves were all showing on the faces of the players as they began the first half of extra time.
After just 4 minutes of the half, the Grange Rovers side had their hearts in their mouths as Wilkie again came close. His clever flick past his marker saw him with a good chance on goal, but the ball was sliced just wide.
Another 4 minutes of the half passing and again Grange Rovers were looking under pressure. Mannion took control for Murieston with a great driving run into an attacking position before slicing through the defence with a great through ball to set Mitchell up one on one with the keeper. A fantastic save from MacIndoe once again kept Rovers in the match.
The first half of extra time ended with a continued battle in midfield, with the challenges looking dangerous and each team threatening to find that one decisive ball into the danger area.
The players kicked off for the final time as the 2nd half of extra time began.
It was Grange Rovers who looked to apply the pressure, with Ali Kerr showing some good touches on the ball despite the gruelling match that had played out.
Both sides looked strong but understandably fatigues as the final minutes of the match played out. As each side edged forward, the other would threaten to counter before more crunching challenges would switch possession once again.
The final half of play came to a climax in the final minute of extra time as a Murieston Blue corner was met with a furious Mark Wilkie volley. The ball flew wide to the relief of the entire Grange Rovers squad and fan base. The final attempts scrapping forward into attack were ended by blast of the referee’s whistle. The looming question of penalty kick takers was immediately echoed around the pitch.
What a shoot out it proved to be. Again and again players from both sides approached the spot without fear, and fired their penalty into the net. Both sides scored their first 6 penalties, each with one hand on the trophy.
The moment of glory came in the 7th round of penalties for Murieston. A well read save low down from Massie set up the moment of glory. And there was never any doubt as Mark Wilkie approached the penalty spot, took aim and blasted the ball into the net and his team into victory.
Overall the match outlined everything that is exciting and nerve racking about a cup final, as well as displaying without any shadow of doubt that Scottish youth football has a plentiful supply of talent on show. Both sides fought a highly physical and highly tactical battle and both deserve the highest form of credit. However, it was Murieston who reigned supreme in the end and it could not be disputed Blues earned the right to carry home the trophy.
Final Result: Murieston United Blue 1-1 Grange Rovers (Murieston win 7-6 on penalties)