Rushall Olympic Youth Development U18s were crowned Joel Richards Memorial Cup champions for the 2019 edition of the competition after a penalty shootout win against AFC Wulfrunians U18 Youth.
Brad Shinton volleyed in from close range to give Mike Dunn’s side the lead in what was a comfortable first half for Rushall. The pendulum swung after the interval, however, when AFC Wulfrunians equalised through Steve Nicholson who met a set piece and headed in from close range.
An injury forced Rushall to finish the contest with 10 men, resulting in them weathering a late period of dominance from the opposition, but they managed to hold on and take the Final to penalties.
Rushall converted their first three spot kicks, whilst their goalkeeper Alex Graham saved the first two penalties from AFC Wulfrunians to put them firmly in control of the shootout. They failed to make it a clean sweep after missing their next penalty, yet Jakob Burroughs stepped up knowing that Rushall would lift the Joel Richards Memorial Cup if he scored from the spot.
Burroughs made no mistake, burying his strike past the despairing goalkeeper to secure a 4-2 victory on penalties.
Taking place at Stourbridge Football Club’s War Memorial Athletic Ground, the Joel Richards Memorial Cup Final is dedicated in memory of Joel who tragically lost his life in the 2015 Tunisia attacks, along with his Grandad Patrick and Uncle Adrian.
When reflecting on Joel and the competition before the match Kevin Shoemake, CEO at Birmingham County Football Association, said: “Our Youth Council and Birmingham County Football Association had no hesitation in proudly naming our prestigious Midweek Youth Cup in honour of Joel’s memory.
“The naming of a County-wide competition is not only a fitting tribute to Joel, but also a lasting memory for everyone who competes and officiates in the Cup in years to come, with it also being a lasting legacy to the wider football community.
“Joel Richards was a fabulous young man, a talented Referee and an inspirational first Chair of Birmingham County Football Association’s Youth Council.”
Prior to the match starting, a minute’s applause took place before the players and match officials posed for a picture to remember Joel and the special occasion that was taking place.
After a cagey and competitive start, a delay in play was enforced after a serious injury was suffered by one of Rushall’s players.
When the contest resumed it was Rushall who dominated possession and had the bulk of the chances, yet AFC Wulfrunians’ defence stood firm and did not look like conceding until a defensive error midway through opening period.
AFC Wulfrunians tried to play out from the back instead of clearing the ball, resulting in them being caught by the onrushing defender who pressed and stole possession leaving them defensively exposed. He picked his head up down the right-hand touchline before crossing to Shinton, who rifled his volley past Joe Morris from close range to give his side the lead.
Kieron Berry, whose pace caused problems all game, had a fantastic opportunity to double Rushall’s advantage, yet his effort flew past the post from inside the 18-yard box after lacking composure when it mattered most.
The pattern of play continued after the break with Rushall having yet another chance to increase their advantage. Brandon Herkes superbly carried the ball from inside his own half to the edge of AFC Wulfrunians’ box where he feigned to shoot and crossed to Shinton, whose volleyed effort into the ground narrowly travelled past the right-hand post.
They were made to pay for a series of missed chances when AFC Wulfrunians won a free kick in a dangerous position down the right-hand touchline. An inviting cross was whipped in towards Nicholson who flicked his header into the bottom left-hand corner, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance whilst also levelling the scoreline.
The goal helped swing the momentum in AFC Wulfrunians’ favour, who had a penalty appeal waved away alongside a series of chances to extend their lead, however they failed to find the back of the net.
Rushall were forced to finish the contest with 10 men after a collision left Herkes unable to continue. At this point it looked like there would only be one winner, but a combination of heroic defending and a lack of cutting edge from AFC Wulfrunians ensured Rushall took the contest the distance.
Alex Graham was the hero for Mike Dunn’s side as he saved the first two penalties from AFC Wulfrunians, whilst his teammates converted their first three from the spot for a comfortable penalty shootout lead early on. Tom Peevor’s side had a lifeline when AFC Wulfrunians scored their next two and their opponents missed, however it was out of their hands at this point with Rushall only needing to convert one penalty to secure victory.
Burroughs, who was being cheered on by friends and family all match, stepped up and made no mistake by converting his penalty to ensure Rushall Olympic Youth Development U18s’ name was on the Joel Richards Memorial Cup for the first time since the competition started in the 1993/94 campaign.