Despite the cliche, it's not a lottery! There are penalty-takers, goalkeepers, and the ability to perform under pressure; and when it mattered Stony stood up to be counted.
After a day of rain, the weather had cleared before kick-off and with the pitch looking plush, albeit slightly uneven in patches, given a sixth final in seven days, Stony kicked off. Dan Gurling's only real selection dilemma was the right midfield slot and the choice of the pace and direct-running of Rothy, or the close-control and trickery of Cam. Both were excellent choices and both came into the game on five goals from the cup run so far. Rothy started with Cam always likely to make an impact from the bench when called. Olney Reserves' squad was once again a mix of experienced Reserve team campaigners and eligible first-teamers and was always going to present a tough challenge for Stony.
The first half played out goalless but not without its moments. With Woolley holding the ball up well the outlets were Jamal and Rothy on the flanks but the defence was holding them at bay. Excellent overlapping by Mario and Jack offered some penetration but the final ball was missing. A flurry of corners saw Stony go close. Both fired in from the right, first Shafiq's downwards header bounced out and away off the keeper, then Finlay's diving header in the six-yard box was somehow hacked off the line. Romano latched onto a clearance and his shot flew narrowly over from outside the box. Olney's game plan was more direct, playing two up top, and trying to hit them from the off. They put plenty of pressure on the defence and an array of set-pieces tested Jake. A couple of headers went over and a long-range shot squirmed past the post but Stony held firm to take the game into the break goalless.
Into the second half, Stony made a tactical change as Cam replaced Rothy down the right. With the team gaining confidence on a tricky surface and pressing further forwards, things clicked and chances were being carved out. Ten minutes into the half the breakthrough arrived. Cam making progress down the right found the right ball into the box, Woolley calm with the ball at his feet, found the angle and fired across the Olney keeper for the opener. From that point, bar the odd set-piece effort, Stony were dominant, and it seemed the only team likely to score again. Sadly not, Woolley was withdrawn with an injury and Olney finally landed the suckerpunch five minutes from time when after some scrambled defending an Olney shot deflected off a couple of players and beat Jake's desperate dive as he was forced to change direction.
Olney were momentarily revitalised and a naive bit of defending saw Cam dispossessed and a snapshot fired in from the edge of the area which Jake clawed out of the top corner with a full stretch worldy of a save. With minutes ticking by and Olney committed forwards a break from defence saw Stony burst through onto a long ball in numbers. Into the box and with only the keeper to beat a lack of communication saw Mario lose control and the ball squirm agonisingly wide when Jamal was better placed for the shot. There was still time for the Olney keeper to drop one behind him that looked suspiciously over the line as he sheepishly retrieved it but play carried on. The Stony faithful were incensed when a flurry of blocked shots finally beat the keeper only to be blocked by a defender's arms. The assistant flagged but was seemingly overruled. Heated exchanges with the referee saw Cam sin-binned for dissent. Down to 10 men already when Luke Ford went down injured and so temporarily down to nine while a sub was prepared. Both teams held on to the final whistle and straight into penalties.
Olney up first and fired in low beating Jake. Romano for Stony calmly slotted into the bottom corner. Olney fired in their second, as did Sam. Then drama, Jake made his second outstanding save of the match as he flung up a strong arm as he dived to keep out one smashed down the middle. Shafiq confidently dispatched his kick. At 2-3, Olney had to score and did. Highs became nervous lows when Jamal slipped and clipped his shot onto the crossbar. 3-3 and into the final pair. Olney stepped up, Jake guessed right and saved comfortably! It was down to Mark for the win, and not for the first time in his Stony career he slotted home the cup-winning penalty. Cue pandemonium!
Presentations saw Stony receive both the league and the cup trophies and Dan Woolley awarded player of the final by the North Bucks observers. Our thanks to North Bucks and Buckingham Athletic for a great night at Stratford Fields. Commiserations to Olney who came with a plan and never gave up, and so nearly got over the line for a cup win in consecutive seasons.
Huge congratulations to Dan and the team for a fabulous season! Onwards and upwards next season for a whole new set of challenges.