There was a nail biting conclusion to the FAI U17 cup last 16 tie between Willow Park and Regional United last Saturday afternoon (February 3 ), as goalkeeper Klaudiusz Matczak proved to be the hero for the Athlone team.
Extra time failed to separate two evenly matched teams, but in the ensuing penalty shoot-out Willow held their nerve to advance to the quarter finals. A stoppage time equaliser from visiting keeper Kevin Walsh, who had pushed up to join the attack, denied Willow victory in normal time. Cian Molloy had handed Willow the lead midway through the opening half only for the hosts to be rocked late on.
Willow settled quickly with Cian Fallon drilling a free kick over the bar while following up with another off target effort. The first corner kick of the contest fell the home team’s way after 15 minutes, as Regional then replied with two corners of their own.
Willow gradually got on top as the half progressed and took the lead with 26 minutes played. A good move opened up the Limerick team’s defence, as Freddie Sarpong gained possession inside the penalty area. A neat lay off to Molloy on the left saw the number 11 send a low shot to the net. As half-time approached, Willow had a couple of chances to increase the lead. The ball broke to Molloy, but he shot straight at the keeper from close range. Leon Curtin then rescued Regional when he cleared a shot from Stephen O’Connor off the goal line.
With just a single goal lead, Willow were always vulnerable, but still looked like advancing for long periods of the second half. Sarpong should have calmed home nerves by scoring after rounding the keeper, but Bill Phelan got back to clear the ball behind.
Sarpong and O’Connor had further chances to kill off the Regional challenge and as the tie drifted into stoppage time the home fans still looked set to celebrate. There was a late twist, though, as the visitors equalised with almost the last kick of the tie. Goalkeeper Walsh pushed up for a free kick and poked the ball over the line in a crowded goalmouth to force extra-time.
The visitors were out of luck during the first period when a Paudie Hartigan effort crashed off the underside of the bar, a grateful Matczak gathering the loose ball. There was little further action in the remaining minutes, with penalty kicks needed to decide which team would progress.
Regional went first and the Willow goalkeeper saved the spot-kick, but the hosts failed to take advantage by missing their first effort. Three successful strikes and a further fine save by Matczak saw Willow lead after eight penalties. Regional were required to score from their fifth spot kick to keep their hopes alive and then hope that Willow were unsuccessful. The ball was blasted over the bar instead, leaving Willow to celebrate their progression by the narrowest of margins.