Mill Hill are champions of the Sunday Trophy 2023 after beating Highfield Social 6-5 on penalties in an enthralling final.
The goalkeeping heroics from James Whittingham in the shootout got Mill Hill over the line, sealing the victory after a dramatic comeback in normal time.
It was a technical but cautious beginning to the game, as both sides looked to retain possession and build their way into the final. The pressure and the nerves were clear to see, as neither side wanted to make a mistake which could damage their chances of victory.
Amidst all the restraint and timidness, however, came a moment of astounding quality. Luke Hepple, of Mill Hill, picked up the ball on the left-hand side and began driving forward. He cut inside and unleashed a thunderbolt from well outside the area, crashing into the back of the net. Josh Woods in the Highfield Social goal was powerless against the strike, and 15 minutes into the game Mill Hill led 1-0.
Scott Stirling had the opportunity to make it two, as he had an effort from a long throw in, but this time Wood was up to the task and the score remained 1-0.
Around the 30-minute mark, with Highfield Social still behind, it was the turn of Nicholas Hepple to produce a moment of the finest level. He broke into the opposition box, beat some defenders with his close control before driving a low cross into the back post where Robbie Hulme was to equalise.
With the scores level at 1-1, the second half was riddled with drama and controversy. A header from Jack Wyres-Roebuck was fired towards goal and seemed to cross the line, but the linesman never signalled. The Highfield players were adamant and in disbelief that the goal wasn’t given. However, the referee then went over to the linesman to discuss their opinions, and the goal was finally given to make it 2-1.
From this point on, the tension, both on the pitch and off it, rose rapidly. Feeling hard done by the previous decision, the Mill Hill players upped the tempo of game, playing with real passion and determination. They pushed and pushed, and when it looked like all hope was lost, Joel Phelps stepped up to score an injury time equaliser, causing chaos within the ground.
Mill Hill were ecstatic, Highfield Social devastated. But neither side could allow the emotions from the equaliser cloud their judgement, as the most pressurised situation in football was still ahead of them: a penalty shootout.
All four of the first takers embraced the situation and tucked away their penalties, before a save from Josh Woods and a miss from Andrew Duckworth played with the nerves of all in attendance. Another save from Josh Woods put Highfield Social in the ascendancy, and the score reached 3-3 with a penalty for Nick Hepple to win the trophy. The striker stepped up, placing the ball in the bottom left corner, but a remarkable save from James Whittingham denied him.
The nerves kept rising with every scored penalty in sudden death, but finally, with the score at 6-5 to Mill Hill, James Whittingham was there, once again, to save the day. Both teams played a huge part in an excellent final, but it was Mill Hill who came home with the trophy.
By Joe Edgar
FT: Mill Hill 2-2 Highfield Social (6-5 on Penalties)
Mill Hill are the new champions of the Sunday Trophy 2023.