McKenzie breaks Saints’ hearts with late Challenge Cup decider
Southam United narrowly missed out at the Banks’s Stadium on Wednesday night when Joshua McKenzie’s late winner gave Bromsgrove Sporting victory in a thrilling Les James Challenge Cup final, writes David Hucker
The meetings between the two clubs in this season’s league fixtures had resulted in honours even, but Sporting had fared the better of the two over the course of the campaign, finishing runners-up to Highgate and topping the scoring charts with 121 goals.
Saints boss Quentin Townsend was without the injured Tom Cooper, as well as the ineligible Adam Guest and Kevin Spencer, but was still able to name a strong line-up with Louis Bridges, who had scored 36 goals in league and cup, as captain.
The first chance fell to Sporting, but McKenzie shot wide before Saints took the lead from the penalty spot through Bridges after a handball in the area.
Sporting were back on level terms in the 19th minute as Reece Hewitt latched on to a rebound off a Saints defender to slot past Tom Cross.
They nearly doubled up three minutes later when breaking from defence following a Saints corner and it took a good stop from Cross to deny them again in the 28th minute.
Two more corners for Saints came to nothing before, with a minute of the half remaining, Max Crisp put a good chance into the side netting.
Saints opened up well in the second half, with Chris Bright shooting over the bar after a free-kick was half- cleared by keeper Jake Bedford and then a good move involving Lee Thomas and Crisp saw Bridges through, but his shot lacked power.
Christopher Conway became Sporting’s first substitution just after the hour, replacing Joe Adams, before Saints were forced to make a change shortly after when Suki Nijjar took over from the limping Bridges, with the captain’s armband passing to Cross.
A superb shot into the top corner by Thomas put Saints back in front in the 74th minute after a good exchange of passing with Bright, but the lead was short-lived as Sporting were back level when the defence failed to clear a free-kick and Sam Wills fired home.
With the action end to end, Cross saved at his near post from McKenzie before Sporting went ahead for the first time in the 79th minute, McKenzie latching on to a lob over the defence and beating Cross low down.
Another chance went begging for Sporting and then Conway beat Cross, only for Matty Hunt to clear off the line.
Saints almost squared it on the stroke of full time but substitute Stefan Grudzinksi’s shot came back off the post.