Percy Main ground out a hard fought win over Gateshead Rutherford in their Venture Sports Macron Bill Gardner Cup semi-final.
But the home side were indebted to Stewart Wright’s 86th minute leveller which took the tie into extra time just when it looked as though the visitors had done enough to book their passage and claim a cup final appearance against Carlisle City who had accounted for Longbenton on the other semi-final.
The sides had met twice on the league this season with late goals in Percy Main’s favour being the order of the day as firstly Sam Thompson had hit a 90th minute goal which produced a 1-1 draw at Rutherford’s Farnacres base and in the return game, Chris Laidlaw hit a vital strike which ultimately won the game 3-1 for his side, and Saturday’s game was to prove no different.
Wright had put in a superb shift in the Villagers’ front line and deserved a goal for his endeavours alone, while a makeshift home defence with no recognised centre backs could also take great credit for their endeavours.
In particular, Redmond Cockburn, last weekend’s goal scorer in the 4-1 defeat at Carlisle City, drew praise as his work rate was outstanding and he made no less than three vital blocks to deny the visitors.
While not go be outdone, his fellow centre back Rob Watson also defended stoutly and scored the all important second goal during the first period of extra time.
Rutherford were without doubt the better side during the 90 minutes of normal time and could consider themselves unfortunate not to have tied the game up, but Main never gave up and came into their own during extra time, assisted in no small part by the withdrawal of the visitors’ Dean McCallum due to injury when they had already made their three allotted substitutions.
In 14-goal Ross Nicholson, Rutherford have one of the division’s top scorers, and he made his presence felt early on as he glanced McCallum’s cross just past the post.
Also looking to get in on the act for Rutherford was Andy Davidson, who was unable to direct Luke Watson’s free kick goalwards, and Alex White, whose shot from just outside the area hit the frame of the goal.
At the other end, Ryan McKee linked up with Chris Laidlaw before firing into the hands of Rutherford custodian Dan Bullock following a jinking run, before Cockburn made a great challenge to deny Matty Atkin with the goal gaping, and a minute later he produced a similar stop to deny Nicholson as the visitors looked to gain the advantage.
Percy Main came into the game more as the half wore on as Wright linked up with Laidlaw and Joe Betts before firing over, and just before the interval, Betts directed his header from Adam Green’s deep cross from the right flank narrowly wide of the far post.
Rutherford started the second half like they had the first and took the lead less than a minute after the restart as White latched onto an errant pass on the halfway line and fed Nicholson who ran on to fire past Rob Rodgerson in the home goal.
Laidlaw went close to retiring parity with a shot which was just off target, having been played in by a diagonal ball from Rob Ridley, but it was Rutherford who came closest to adding to their tally as Atkin’s back header struck the top of the crossbar and minutes later Cockburn made a goal line clearance as Nicholson threatened.
Wright went close in the hour, but it was Cockburn who made his presence felt at the other end as he was next to strike the crossbar as he rose to meet McKee’s free kick.
With the clock ticking down and minutes remaining, Wright scored his side’s leveller as he added the vital touch from McKee’s left wing corner to take the game into extra time, despite some late pressure from the visitors which went unrewarded.
At the beginning of extra time, substitute Sean Cowx went close for Percy Main before the home side went ahead for the first time in the tie as Watson converted another flag kick from McKee.
Percy Main then survived loud appeals when the ball had appeared to cross their goal line following a scramble, but the visitors protests were waved away by the referee and worse was to follow for Rutherford as recent signing Anth Brown scored his first goal in Percy Main colours as he expertly lofted the ball over the head of Bullock to give the home side a two-goal cushion.
There was no let up in the action and home nerves were jangling a minute later as Rutherford’s Fibon Nyadu was upended in the area and Atkin slotted home the resultant penalty to halve the deficit.
With both sides tiring, there was no be no further addition to the scoring and it was a happy Percy Main side who will look forward to a May Day final against Cumbrian opposition.
This Saturday Percy Main travel to face Ashington Colliers in a Northern Alliance premier division game, kick-off at Hirst Welfare is 2.30pm.