Buoyant Bels rise to the challenge to claim cup final success
Stamford Bels completed the first leg of a potential trophy double after winning the prestigious PFA Challenge Cup at Yaxley on Friday night.
Lewis Morley's men produced a superb all-round performance to become the first side this season to defeat Moulton Harrox Reserves.
Harrox had finished 31 points clear of Bels this season as they raced to the Peterborough League Division One title without losing a game.
However, their hopes of completing a terrific trophy treble after also winning the Chairman's Championship last weekend, were denied by a brilliant Bels display which thrilled player-boss Morley.
He said: "Wow, just wow, I can't believe it.
"They were undefeated all season and we played them off the park. Everything went to plan.
"I'm so, so happy for the lads and it's been an unbelievable first season. A massive thanks to everyone involved.
"Roll on Monday when we face Stamford Lions in the final of the Ancaster Cup."
A lively opening saw both keepers tested from distance with Bels custodian George Winters equal to Ryan Wheeler's effort while James Betts' shot was gathered by Harrox's Ashley Elderkin.
Bels though looked the brighter side in the opening exchanges and broke the deadlock after 15 minutes.
The graceful Rhys Gilson glided past a couple of challenges before unleashing a cracking strike into the bottom corner of the Moulton net.
Harrox, as expected, responded strongly with Martin Sandall dragging an effort wide, but they struggled to make much of an impression on Bels' resolute back four of Tyler Sculthorpe, Matt Leeton, Ben Mason and Pete Conneely.
That gave Bels the belief to push for more goals and Alfie Winters had an effort palmed away by Elderkin while Gilson produced another fine run and shot which flew just over.
Morley then produced a delightful turn to create space with his cross being deflected onto the crossbar as Bels took a deserved lead into the half-time break.
Moulton made a couple of changes at the interval by bringing on the experienced Steve Sinfield and Andy Law to boost their attack.
And they got back on level terms early in the second half with a freak equaliser.
George Winters had produced a brilliant finger-tip save to turn a header from point-blank range onto the crossbar but, as the rebound dropped to Conneely, the Bels defender hooked the ball into his own net to give Moulton a lifeline.
The setback could have rocked Bels, but they pulled together and regained their dominance with Conneely, in particular, leading the charge.
The centre-back went forward with 20 minutes remaining and rose highest to meet an inviting free-kick with a powerful header to put Bels back in front and atone in style for his earlier own goal.
Bels were now full of confidence and two soon became three as lively substitute Joe McDonald showed a tiring Moulton defence a clean pair of heels to race clear and slot home the Stamford side's third goal.
Harrox now had to push players forward to find a way back into the contest and McDonald nearly exposed their lack of numbers at the back on two occasions only to be thwarted by Elderkin.
Moulton made a couple of late forays into the Bels box with George Winters making a crucial save to hang onto a sweet Law strike with a posse of players waiting to pounce on any spill.
But, despite several scrambles, the Stamford side were able to clear their lines and celebrate a memorable success with their strong following of vociferous support who played their part in helping their side to glory.
Bels will now turn their attentions to Monday night's Ancaster Cup final when they take on Stamford Lions in an eagerly-anticipated clash which kicks-off at 7pm at Bourne Town's Abbey Lawn ground.
Moulton: A Elderkin, Nottingham (T Elderkin), Thorold, Price, Hall, Williams, Kisla (Law), Ball, Sandall, Panton, Wheeler (Sinfield).
Bels: G Winters, Leeton (Holland), Sculthorpe, Conneely, Mason, Betts, Cramp (Toomey), Atkinson, L Morley (McDonald), Gilson (J Morley), Winters (S Ford).
PFA man of the match: Rhys Gilson.