Halifax Hammers were crowned champions in a highly-charged North West cup final.
Trailing to a Bolton United goal at half-time the Hammers lifted themselves in an incident packed second half to clinch the AMT Lawyers sponsored championship for the second time in three years.
The final this year took place at Highbury the Home of Fleetwood Town FC.
Both sides had reached the final after going through gruelling semi-finals held at Nelson FC. Halifax had edged past underdogs AFC Preston. Bolton United had come through an equally thrilling semi-final with goalkeeper Faisel Patel penalty shoot-out hero.
Bolton United began the game the stronger side and should have gone ahead through a penalty. But a great save by keeper Yasir and another moments later kept the game scoreless. Yasir was inspirational for Halifax and kept his side in the final.
At the other Faisel didn’t put a foot wrong claiming the ball time and time again under intense pressure.
Bolton United would go ahead though through midfielder Riaz Abdullah. His clinical finish sent the Bolton faithful wild. And they should have gone on to score again if it wasn’t for some resolute Halifax defending.
After a half-time grilling that could be heard in Blackpool Halifax came out a different side.
But it was still Bolton who were looking the better side for the opening minutes of the second half.
Player of the tournament Shiraz Khan was getting more and more into the game. Eventually Halifax broke through down the right and Shiraz was best placed to hammer home the equaliser.
Halifax pressed again and Bolton defended as they had in the semi-final and cleared off the line twice.
At this this point the game was set for rousing finish and it should have continued in that vain.
After a series of rash challenges tempers flared. And sadly it was the more experienced players and ‘coaching’ staff behaving more like schoolboys than footballers.
The young footballers from both sides who had lit-up this tournament could only look as their role models took it upon themselves to halt proceedings. And credit must be given to the young players who actually did keep their heads throughout the game.
Bolton though had themselves to blame for being dragged into a battle of niggly challenges and dissent. Some of players who had for many years epitomised this side’s great spirit and good football were responsible for some poor decisions.
Halifax duly capitalised as Bolton’s discipline disappeared and it was the other teenager Awais who managed to scramble home the home winner with ten minutes remaining.
But it wasn’t finished yet - Abdullah's silly lunge with minutes to go saw him shown a deserved straight red card. Up until then he had been clearly one of the better players in this tournament.
As the final whistle went Halifax celebrated winning the cup and on the balance of play and the sedcond half performance they edged it.
Both sides had for 70 minutes played some great football and in great spirit. Sadly they were let down by individual errors and a bad tempered final 20 minutes.
The Young Player award went to Bolton’s Umer Chopdat and the player of the tournament was Halifax’s Shiraz Khan.
Full report and round in May issue Asian Image