Sutton Coldfield Over 35s were comfortable winners of the 2019 Veterans Cup Final at the Walter Goodman Stadium on Sunday.
Whilst the scoreline probably flattered them somewhat against an energetic Highgate Wanderers side, they had set the tone early on when former Aston Villa and England star Lee Hendrie stepped inside his man and curled an effort into the top corner from 20 yards after eight minutes.
Highgate had looked pretty dangerous in the early stages, with a powerful front two of Jermaine Clarke and Shane Benjamin causing several headaches for the Sutton defence.
But on 10 minutes, Sutton were given the chance to double their lead after Andy Dagnall was tripped in the box. Another former Villa man, Darren Byfield, stepped up and coolly slotted into the bottom-left corner.
Clarke slipped in Benjamin a few minutes later, who was denied a shooting opportunity by a great last-ditch challenge from Peter Logan. Sutton then had another penalty shout when Keith Rosthill appeared to be taken out. This time Bryan Parkes was uninterested. A few minutes later, a frustrated-looking Rosthill was fortunate to escape a caution for a late challenge on Mal Ward.
For Highgate, Benjamin was involved in everything. He cut inside on 23 minutes, but his drive was blocked by John Conway. He then had a free header from eight yards after a Martin Crowley corner, but couldn’t keep his effort down.
On 31 minutes, Benjamin was again in on goal. Clarke’s flick saw him through one-on-one with goalkeeper Anthony Perks, but he got just too much on his lofted effort with it travelling over the crossbar.
Highgate were well on top at this stage, with Rich Robinson again creating a chance for Benjamin, but it came off his shoulder and missed the target.
Sutton weathered the storm and were awarded another penalty on 38 minutes, after the pacey Byfield was cynically tripped. He got up to take it himself, rolling it into the same corner as before to give his side a 3-0 lead.
Wanderers showed plenty of endeavour to try and get back into the game in the second half, but struggled to create anything clear cut.
Scott Rickards and Hendrie were beginning to show their class in controlling possession in the Sutton midfield.
An inventive cross from Hendrie on the hour mark found Steven Robson, whose volleyed effort was well blocked. Anthony Baker then found himself one-on-one but hit the post.
At the other end, Clarke had a chance but headed straight at the keeper.
Going into the final 10 minutes, Hendrie was now at the centre of everything. There did appear to be some tired bodies out there though, as Highgate’s efforts to pull it back appeared to be over.
In injury time, Hendrie played Byfield through on goal. He was forced wide by goalkeeper Sukpar Bischel, but kept his cool to slide a pass through to Andy Ling for a tap in.
It was the icing on the cake for Sutton Coldfield, who ran out 4-0 winners to become Veterans Cup champions, much to the delight of manager Rob Allsopp.
“We were at it from minute one and I thought it was a very deserved half-time lead,” reflected Allsopp.
“It was horrible standing here last year after losing on penalties. Standing here today means the world to us.”