Alliance squeeze into inter-league first round

FA Inter-League Cup

Northern Alliance...2 Lancashire & Cheshire...2 (after extra-time; Alliance won 3-1 on penalties)

You couldn’t have written the script as in a nervous, nail-biting finish, the Northern Alliance advanced into the FA Inter-League Cup Round One on penalties.

Alliance keeper Ian Milburn was the hero as he pulled off two stunning penalty saves as they dumped out Lancashire & Cheshire 3-1 in an exciting shoot-out.

When Matthew Thompson hammered in off the underside of the bar in the last minute of injury-time, it looked like the Alliance had won it but the visitors forced a leveller with the last kick of the game.

Represented by reigning champions Harraby CC, the Alliance began brightly with Segio Royo, Thompson and Rob Bainbridge all going close.

The Alliance suffered a setback on the half-hour when Dan Balmer was brought down and was unable to continue, being replaced by James Tose.

Bainbridge limped off soon after and, with half-time approaching, Lancs forced a corner that was only cleared to just outside the box where Hector Samuel struck a blistering half-volley that flew past Milburn into the roof of the net.

To rub salt into the wounds, Tose pulled a hamstring as the corner came in and he had to be replaced by Peterlee Town’s Steve Hockaday, who was helping Harraby out due to their shortage of fit players.

Marc Shiel looped a header over the keeper but a covering defender raced back to head off the line.

Royo let fly with a shot from 20 yards that flew inches wide and a Thompson back-post header hit the side-netting before the Alliance levelled with ten minutes to go.

Royo again fired from distance. It was deflected into the path of sub Jordan Cowley, who whipped in a low cross that Shiel fired in at the near-post from six yards.

The Alliance were celebrating in the dying seconds of extra-time when Thompson smashed a shot against the underside of the bar. The ball bounced up into the roof of the net to make it 2-1.

But Lancs threw caution to the wind as they went on one last surge forward and forced a corner.

With all of their team, including the keeper, packed into the box, Milburn’s punched clearance fell to Kane Berkeley on the edge of the box and he unbelievably lashed into the top corner.

In the shoot-out, Otutu took the first kick for the visitors but his well-struck effort saw Milburn dive to his right to touch the ball onto the bar.

Shiel confidently slotted his effort home to put the home side ahead before Knott then hit his kick at a comfortable height for Milburn to go to his right and save again.

Royo gave the Alliance a two-goal lead with his successful kick before Berkely then fired the visitors’ third over the bar.

Ashley Combes’ effort came back off the bar, with Costa netting for Lancs. But Dan Anderton became the match winner as he slotted home.

The Northern Alliance now face the Yorkshire Amateur League in the first round of the competition, which sees the winners represent England in the UEFA Regions Cup.