GFA Senior Challenge Cup Final
Super Sesay is Bristol City hero as they retain GFA Senior Challenge Cup
ACROBATIC Alhaji Sesay sprung to Bristol City Under-23s’ aid to ensure they retained their GFA Senior Challenge Cup crown at the expense of gallant Gloucester City, writes Simon Parkinson.
The talented young African, who enjoyed a spell out on loan with Paulton Rovers in the Southern League last season and even scored a spectacular last-gasp headed equaliser in an FA Trophy tie with Cirencester, was centre of attention again in front of a sizeable crowd at a damp Oaklands Park on Monday night.
Having already pulled off a series of fine saves to take the final, which had finished up 1-1 after 90 minutes, straight to penalties, Sesay leapt low to his right to keep out luckless fellow keeper Matt Yates’ spot kick as the aspiring professionals squeezed through 7-6 in the shoot-out decider to make it back-to-back successes in the county competition.
Given the brisk and determined start Bristol City made to the contest to lead 1-0 at the interval through Ricardo Rees’ strike, it was to their National League South opponents’ huge credit that they took the second half by the scruff of the neck to level up through a delighted Joe Hanks finish 18 minutes into the period.
Luke Williams’ City looked as though they meant business from the first whistle with their enterprising approach play and hustling off-the-ball approach, taking only 12 minutes to break the deadlock.
Rees seized possession deep inside his own half as a Gloucester free-kick was cleared and showed electric pace and skill in bursting forward and exchanging passes with the supporting Rory Holden to his left who, in being occupied by advancing Tigers keeper Yates, enabled Rees to continue his run into the box and take an astute return pass to fire into an empty net.
The prodigious Bristol side maintained their hold on a competitive contest and one-time Cadbury Heath forward Saikou Janneh shot wildly wide from a tight angle after initially setting himself up well with a jinking run, while James Morton’s 25-yard fizzer was well dealt with by Gloucester’s on-loan Derby County custodian.
The part-timers had their moments too and Adam Page’s flat delivery caused indecision in the Bristol City ranks at the back post before the ball was uncomfortably helped behind for a corner, while Sesay found himself reacting unconvincingly to push into the air a back-post Jack Deaman header before a combination of a further intervention by the scrambling keeper and his defenders denied Gloucester an attempt at goal.
Sesay was at it again moments later as he leapt to his left to keep out a stinging drive by former Yate Town striker Jake Jackson, while at the other end Jake Andrews lifted a lovely free-kick over the Tigers wall and agonisingly wide of the near post on the cusp of half-time
Marc Richards’ semi-pros looked a whole different proposition from the start of the second half, creating many more chances and fully deserving of their 63rd-minute leveller.
Just before that Page had sped down the left before drilling the ball dangerously across the Reds box, while Tigers captain Sam Avery’s long punt from the back almost put in lively substitute Joe Parker, who was swiftly closed down by an alert Sesay as he shaped to shoot.
Page was instrumental again in Gloucester’s equaliser as he drove the ball hard across the area from the left and watched on happily as one-time Cheltenham Town midfielder Hanks steamed in to meet it in the centre with an unerring first-time finish.
Buoyed by the breakthrough, Gloucester almost snatched the lead second later as Sesay was forced to beat away another fierce angled Hanks attempt, while at the other end Rees’ delivery on the run for the Bristol team was headed inches over by Janneh arriving in acres of space to meet it.
As the end-to-end action continued unabated Sesay sprung to his left to pull off a fine save to prevent substitute Jamal Lawrence’s powerful strike towards the far corner entering his net, while Gloucester’s 19-year-old shot-stopper Yates was equal to Morton’s fizzing low strike as he produced a great diving save of his own at his near upright.
Yates went on to atone for a miscued clearance by coming out bravely to block Holden’s effort after Morton had pounced on the mistake to play his team-mate through.
So it was on to penalties and as clean a first 13 ‘takes’ as you’ll see anywhere as Holden, Morton, Zac Smith, Janneh, Jake Andrews and Harvey Smith all buried their opportunities for the pro’s and Ben Seymour, Hanks, Parker, Deaman, Lawrence and Dan King all confidently converted for the Tigers.
Tom Harrison then netted Bristol City’s seventh goal and after Yates had made the short walk out of his goal to take the Tigers’ next penalty, he watched on in despair as Sesay guessed correctly to claw out his fellow keeper’s effort low to his right before being besieged by Robins jubilant team-mates.
Bristol City U-23s: Sesay, Ali, H Smith (c), Harrison, Turner-Williams, Rees, Andrews, Morton, Day, Janneh, Holden. Subs: Z Smith, Buse, Harper, Spark, Webb.
Gloucester City: Yates, Smerdon, Deaman, Hanks, Hamilton, Avery (c), Mawford, Edge, Jackson, Seymour, Page. Subs: King, Parker, Lawrence, Green, Morford.
Referee: Andrew Sheppard.