On the warmest and sunniest day of the year so far, Yardley Youths shone brightest to lift the ESPSFA League title for the first time defeating Short Heath in a final rich in passion and commitment and no little quality in football either and one which could really have gone either way. But from the start of the semi-finals to the last kick of the final, it was a brilliant afternoon of football which show-cased why the ESPSFA League is the best in the West midlands. Hats off and kudos to all of the schools at Castle Vale Stadium today, their players were a credit to their teachers, staff and families.
Paget 1 – 2 Short Heath
Short Heath produced a superb performance of grit and determination in defeating La Liga champions, Paget, in a blood and thunder affair with no quarter given on either side. After a swift Paget start, Heath took the lead following a smart low-driven near-post finish. They then doubled that lead a few minutes later with a spectacular strike from a centre-back who fired from the edge of his own penalty area – delight and delirium ensued as the ball flew over Paget’s ‘keeper and into the net. Paget upped their game in the second half and looked like the side that had taken them to La Liga and HMS Shield victories this season. The boys in yellow threw everything at Short Heath and though they managed to pull one back following a low shot from close range, they just couldn’t find another way past Heath’s stoic defence who threw bodies and limbs to repel every Paget effort in a frantic end to a pulsating clash.
Lea Forest 0 – 0 Yardley (AET) Yardley won 2-1 on penalties.
After an exhaustive half-an-hour of gripping and tense football, Yardley finally booked a first ESPSFA play-off final berth with a penalty shoot-out victory. The Youths probably should have been 3 or 4 up at half-time but a combination of wasteful finishing and excellent Lea Forest ‘keeping meant the sides went in at the break goalless. Forest came into the game more in the second period but both defences refused to buckle and both ‘keepers stood firm in their goals and extra-time was needed to see if either could break a solid dead-lock. There were chances for both sides in that five-minute period but a goal never looked like coming and penalties were required to resolve the issue. Though Yardley missed first – an excellent save from Forest’s custodian – and fell one behind, they rallied to win 2-1. Heartache for Forest, joy for Yardley.
Short Heath 1 – 2 Yardley
There were mere minutes for Yardley to focus on the final after their semi-final penalty drama and if the La Liga clash of a few weeks ago was anything to go by, this was going to be both an entertaining encounter and a close one – and so it proved. Both sides began the game feeling each other out but it exploded into life when the Youths took the lead midway through the first half when a shot from a centre-back from the edge of the penalty area bounced beyond Heath’s ‘keeper and into the far corner. Two minutes later it was 2-0 – Youths speedy striker broke free down the right to smash home smartly from eight yards out. Heath regrouped at half-time and in the second half they threw the kitchen sink at Yardley, spilling forward at every opportunity. They set up a grandstand finish when a long throw was headed in by a brave boy in blue and they then laid siege on Yardley’s goal. But try as they may, the Heathens just could not find a way past an inspired Yardley 'keeper and the Youths hung on to record that first title win.
Paget 4 – 0 Lea Forest
Probably the last thing Lea Forest’s lads wanted to do was to play another game after their penalty shoot-out defeat and with tired legs and minds they just couldn’t rouse themselves for their final game of the season against their fellow divisional winners. Though also disappointed, Paget, were the keener of the two and they eased to a 4-0 victory with Forest struggling to find that competitive edge that had fared them so well over the past few months. The pick of Paget's goals was their third, a beauty of a free-kick, and the win may at least have gone some way to ease the pain of that Short Heath defeat.