Wendron United manager Michael O’Neill lauded his ‘exceptional’ squad as they defeated Saltash United to reach the Cornwall Senior Cup final for the first time ever, writes Matt Friday.
Goals from Jack Stocker, Charlie Young and Cam Wheat stunned the higher-ranked Ashes as Wendron raced into a 3-0 lead after 50 minutes at Sticker’s Burngullow Park, and while Sam Farrant’s drive pulled one back for Dane Bunney’s side, the west Cornwall outfit put in a stoic performance to pull off the biggest result in the club’s history.
It was also a case of revenge for Wendron and O’Neill, who was assistant to previous boss Jack Greenwood when the Dron were soundly beaten 5-0 by the Ashes in their first-ever semi-final appearance at the same ground three years ago.
Wendron will now look forward to an Easter Monday showdown with defending champions Falmouth Town, who ran out 4-1 winners over Dobwalls in the first semi-final at Wadebridge Town’s Bodieve Park 24 hours earlier.
Speaking after the game, a jubilant O’Neill said: “It’s a unique feeling obviously, we’ve not done it before and I felt that we were always pushing to try and break new barriers this season, and to lead the team into their first final is a fantastic feeling.
“But it’s about the lads. They got themselves there, they’ve been exceptional all season and they’re really playing to their potential now with an additional bit of belief, so it’s really about them.”
O’Neill spoke before the game of how Wendron were not just making up the numbers and how they wanted to make life difficult for the Western League outfit, and they wasted little time in doing so and immediately took the game to the ten-time winners virtually from the first whistle.
Their early efforts were rewarded with Stocker finishing off a fine team move to open the scoring in the seventh minute, before Young, a constant thorn in the Ashes defence throughout, got his rewards for his hard work up top by charging down gloveman Ryan Rickard’s clearance and bundling the ball into the empty net midway through the first half.
Needing to force the issue, Saltash quickly got on the front foot in the second half, but quickly found themselves three down when Young charged down another clearance for Wheat to gleefully rifle into the unguarded net from outside the box.
The Ashes still had plenty of time to get back into the game and pulled one back via Farrant, but a disciplined display from the Dron, with some vital blocks from goalkeeper Ethan Fearn and defensive duo Scott Palmer and Reece Carroll thrown in for good measure, helped see Wendron over the line.
“We looked at the threats that they posed and I felt that there were spaces and areas that we could exploit and in the first half we really did play on the front foot when we had all the energy and the impetus right at the beginning of the game,” O’Neill said.
“I felt we just need to make sure that we turn that screw at the right time in the first half and we were lucky enough to get goals at key moments. If you’re on the wrong end of those, that’s an absolute killer, and we have been that ourselves this season, but luckily for us tonight they came at the right point.
“Moving into the second half, we knew we were going to have to defend a lot more and that third goal was so important, and arguably against the run of play. There were definitely areas that we had an eye on that I thought if we can just get the right moment there was always a chance that we were going to have a good night.
“Saltash are a fantastic side, they’re fully deserving of where they are in their league – and they’ve played us off the park historically, so there’s maybe a little bit of history there as well for us to get that special bit of effort on top of a cup semi-final!
“I felt it was there for the taking tonight and it was really nice to be on the right side of it.”
The reward for the Dron’s momentous semi-final result is a date with local rivals Falmouth Town in the final, with the game to take place at St Austell’s Poltair Park on Easter Monday.
O’Neill is under no illusions as to the threat the defending champions and runaway South West Peninsula League Premier West leaders possess, having lost to Andrew Westgarth’s side in both league matches this term.
But the Wendron chief feels his team, who sit third in the SWPL’s west division, have learned from those defeats – plus if Wednesday night is anything to go by, it’s never wise to write off the underdogs.
“Westy [Town boss Westgarth] and I exchanged a couple of messages this morning,” O’Neill said. “I said well done for last night [Tuesday] and that we were here to try and emulate what they were able to achieve.
“I’m excited. It’s Falmouth, it’s a local game, but we’ve obviously played each other twice this season and we’ve been on the wrong end of that. I feel we’ve learned from both of those games and it’s important now that we don’t just go through the motions of those learning experiences, and again, we’re certainly not turning up in that final to be the second team and make that a procession whatsoever, and tonight’s an example.
“We’re only going to reinforce that to the lads now that they deserve to be there. They’re not there by chance, they’ve beaten three really good sides to get there and absolutely deserve their place. We’ll be ready, come that final.”
[Featured image: Colin Bradbury / Cornwall Sports Media]