Picture Matthew Lofthouse
In an action-packed showdown at Maes Tegid, it took the first-ever playoff final penalty shootout to separate the two sides, but the Archers eventually came out on top.
It was a lively start to the game as a header at the back post from Met’s left-back Joel Edwards was cleared off the line by his opposite number for Bala, Sean Smith, and Eliot Evans had a close-range effort saved by Keighan Jones after seven minutes.
A mistake in building out from the back by the Archers saw Henry Jones pounce for the home side and pick the ball away from Chris Baker before letting fly from 25 yards, but Will Fuller saved well.
Adam Roscrow had the best chance to score in the opening stages as Eliot Evans did excellently on the right flank to beat his man and get a cross into Met’s unmarked number nine, but his header rattled against the post from five yards out and the home side were let off.
This scare sparked Bala into life as they began to take control of the game, culminating in Henry Jones prodding them ahead after 20 minutes with an instinctive finish to make it 1-0.
It didn’t take the visitors long to respond, however, as a beautiful ball by Joel Edwards over the top found Will Evans free on the left flank. He cut inside and fired a low cross into the path of Eliot Evans, who finished well from close range to make it 1-1.
The Lakesiders had two glorious chances to go back in front before the end of the half, but Sean Smith and Mike Hayes were wasteful and Met were able to survive until halftime with the scores still level.
The second half started in a similarly back-and-forth manner as Bala were the strongest in the opening few minutes without really creating anything before Met had a similar spell. Kieran Smith had the first real chance of the second half after 62 minutes when he found some space on the edge of the box to shoot low to the far corner but Fuller just managed to palm it clear.
Dan Spencer came on for Met to change the emphasis of the play for the visiting side, and he got inside of Sean Smith on the right wing to cross towards the far post which was begging to be headed home by Will Evans, but he stuck a foot out instead which allowed Jones to come out and punch the ball clear.
Fluency was missing from the play of both sides as the second half wore on, and it looked like extra time was destined to come. Met had a couple of decent chances as the end of regular time loomed, however, as Eliot Evans dribbled past three Bala bodies down the left wing before getting into a great position to cut a ball back, only to go for the shot himself and win a corner. Baker went close with a free header from the resulting set piece, but Bala were let off and to extra time it went.
The first half of extra time saw a lot of tired legs up front and the defences dominating, but Met had a golden chance to make it 2-1 with minutes to go in the first half of extra time as Chris Baker rose highest at the back post to meet a corner but he could only head against the crossbar and the score stayed level.
Anthony Stephens looked destined to send Bala ahead in the second half of extra time as Evan Horwood, Chris Venables and Stephens combined to tee the latter up to shoot from 20 yards low to Fuller’s right and the keeper was at full stretch to get a strong hand in the way and save his side’s hopes of Europe once more.
The woodwork was next to come to Met’s rescue as a Horwood free-kick was headed onto the bar twice by Bala forwards – the third and fourth times respectively of the match – in a situation where the Lakesiders seemed destined to score, but the Archers somehow held on, and for the first time ever a European Playoff final went to penalties.
Fuller continued his heroics in the penalty shootout, making two saves, and Kenleigh Owen was superb too, but Met came out on top with a decisive penalty from Eliot Evans seeing the Archers win 3-1 from the spot.
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