No denying Elland for a third time as the champs double up

Elland United 3

Copley United 2

ELLAND put the bitter disappointment of defeat in the two previous finals behind them to return to the Shay and finally lift the Halifax AFL Challenge Cup last night.

Paul Bradbury’s side stormed into a 3-0 lead inside 13 minutes but had to endure a few worrying moments late on after their never-say-die opponents Copley got two goals back in the second half.

Victory in the Skircoat Green Physiotherapy-backed competition completed a remarkable second half to the season for Elland, who have strung together a long winning run to enable them to match Hebden Royd Red Star’s league and cup double of 12 months ago.

Red Star have been relegated this season but Bradbury, who was contemplating quitting as boss right up to last night, believes the return of some players and the further development of the side’s youngsters could make his outfit even more formidable next season.

There was certainly plenty to like about the link-up play of their frontmen Mark Kelsey and Carlton Balmer, supported by manager’s son Jake Bradbury and Vaughan Boon, in the first half.

The Copley defenders were caught like rabbits in the headlights as Bradbury took advantage of Balmer’s first-time touch to shoot his side in front on three minutes.

The same pair combined again on 12 minutes when Balmer rolled the ball tantalising across the face of goal and Bradbury side-footed home.

Sixty seconds later it was three, Kelsey knocking the ball towards goal and Balmer slamming it into the roof of the net from a narrow angle.

It was by no means one-way traffic in a very open first half. Elland had a string of shots on goal and cut Copley open almost at will but at the other end ‘keeper Michael Hickingbotham was also heavily involved, saving smartly from Paul Drake.

Copley, with Jamie Gillespie spraying the passes around, had a James Murphy goal ruled out for offside and had a good penalty shout turned down when centre forward Gary Ash went down under a challenge from fullback Lee Goodall just before half time.

The Elland back four of towering centre back Kellen Bradbury, Richard Thornley, Goodall and man of the match Josh Prestage - who coped well with the threat of quicksilver Lee Worrall - were more decisive than their Copley counterparts in the tackle.

However, Murphy punished their first lapse on 53 minutes with a header from Ash’s cross.

Kelsey shot straight at ‘keeper Phil McDonagh before a lull in the game, ended by Ash’s turn and crisp strike on 73 minutes, Hickingbotham getting his hands to the ball but being unable to prevent it from going into the net.

Kelsey had two chances to take Elland clear again. His first effort, after breaking clear from half-way, was blocked by ‘keeper Phil McDonagh and his second effort, a chip, resulted in the ball coming back off the bar.

Copley won late free kicks and corners but were unable to force extra time.

ELLAND UNITED: M.Hickingbotham, J.Prestage, L.Goodall, R.Thornley, V.Boon, K.Bradbury, J.Burnham, A.Campbell, M.Kelsey, C.Balmer, J.Bradbury. Subs: R.Richardson, M.Boon.

COPLEY UNITED: P.McDonagh, T.Neville, T.Illingworth, G.Gilman, P.Drake, J.Teasdale, G.Devlin, J.Gillespie, G.Ash, J.Murphy, L.Worrall. Subs: B.Waterworth, D.Dewick, C.Skinner, N.Makie.

Referee: P.Higgins.