Mickleover Sports Academy became the NPL Football Academy Champions for the third season in a row on Monday evening when they faced Derbyshire rivals Matlock Town in the first ever Grand Final game.
With the league programme splitting into two divisions, a ‘Grand Final’ was organised to determine who were the overall champions of the NPLFA between the JOMA Division winners Matlock Town (Blue) and the CHRYSO Division winners Mickleover Sports (Black)
Held at Harrison Park, the home of Leek Town FC, the first twenty minutes of the game were understandably a cagey affair, with both teams showing signs of nerves and struggling to get a foot hold of the game, with only a few half chances for both teams.
The first real chance of the game came in the 22nd minute, Mickleover’s Max Bennet had a strike from long distance which was deflected for a corner.
Five minutes later Matlock’s Billy Whitehead played through Ethan Knowles but solid defending from Tyreece Robinson closed the ball down and eventually out for a goal kick.
The next ten minutes was all Mickleover, firstly, both Jake Smith and Morgan Williams found space to get shots away, which were both blocked by the strong Gladiators defence.
Minutes later and Matlock’s Jordan Pierrepont made a superb save to deny Jack Walsh from distance and the young goalkeeper was busy again not long after when good work from Noah Girvan and Jack Smedley saw the latter strike from 18 yards which was comfortably saved.
Billy Whitehead was denied an opportunity to give his side the lead against the run of play, his sweetly struck show was well saved by Tom Cox in the Mickleover goal.
With seconds left of the first half, Mickleover had three chances to go into the interval a goal up. First Morgan Williams hit the post from 15 yards out with Pierrpont beaten, the rebound fell to Jack Smedley who had two chances to score, one whic was blocked and then another cleared off the line, as Matlock survived a mini onslaught as the half time whistle blew.
The second half saw Matlock make three changes in the first 8 minutes and this seemed to give them more strength and fire power in midfield.
Ethan Knowles who was starting to have an influence on the game, did superbly on the right, but his coss just evaded Whitehead who could not connect.
Minutes later it was Knowles again who beat Max Bennett on the right and was taken out by the defender, the resulting free kick from Jordan Lee just whipped past the far post as Matlock were looking more and more dangerous.
With a few stoppages for cramp, the young players were giving everything on the field and just as the game looked like it was heading for penalties, there was to be drama in the final minutes.
A Mickleover free kick in their own half was flicked on by Morgan Williams, the ball found its way to Max Bennett who struck a sweet shot that was brilliantly blocked by Pierrepont, in the resulting melee, Jack Smedley picked the ball out with a great bit of skill and laid it off to Morgan Williams who slotted the ball away to win the game and the championship for Mickleover Sports.
Great scenes followed in the celebrations after, but the game was not over. Matlock as you would expect they would, attacked from the re-start of the game and won themselves a corner. Pierrepont was sent up and from the resulting corner, a goal mouth scramble erupted before Mickleover cleared the ball up field and the sound of the referees whistle brought the game to an end and began the celebrations for John McGrath and Andy Dales young team.
The match and the whole occasion was a fantastic advert for the NPL Football Academy. Both teams were excellent and a real credit to their club’s, their coaches and the NPLFA as a whole.