Ashby Ivanhoe reach Leicestershire County Cup Final after inspired second half display at Birstall
By Josh Kay
8th Feb 2023 | Local Sport
Birstall United 1 Ashby Ivanhoe 3
A dominant second half display saw Ashby Ivanhoe reach the Leicestershire County Cup Final for the first time since 2012.
In a surprising decision, manager Andy Gray left out top scorer Sam Grouse in favour of a frontline led by Will Groocock and George Teeney, in what would turn out to be an inspired move.
At times before the break however, it seemed Grouse's absence was going to be key, as Ivanhoe were unable to test Doherty in the Birstall goal.
His opposite number Sam Taylor, making his first competitive appearance of the season, was also rarely tested in a half in which quality in the final third was few and far between from both sides.
The hosts would get their noses in front, however. Shortly after the half hour mark a Birstall effort was judged to have struck the arm of Macauley Holmes, and after deliberating with his assistant, Karl Donaghey pointed to the spot.
Captain Paul Pallett stepped up and beat Taylor to his right with a low spot kick that the Ashby goalkeeper was inches away from keeping out.
Pallett's goal was his 37th in all competitions this season, a remarkable total for a man whose goals have catapulted his side into the title race in the United Counties League.
Despite producing little in front of goal, Ivanhoe had much of the possession in the first half and looked stronger throughout much of the half. Perhaps with this in mind, Gray made no changes at half time, and saw his side reinvigorated after the break.
Just three minutes into the half, Teeney equalised with a thunderbolt into the far corner which left goalkeeper Doherty stranded. Despite seeing limited starts since arriving at the club, Teeney has made a strong impression in recent weeks and justified Gray's trust.
What followed was an onslaught on Birstall's goal by Ivanhoe. Multiple last-ditch blocks and strong saves by Doherty was followed by Groocock finding the net, the linesman's flag preventing him from giving his side a deserved lead on this occasion.
In the ensuing minutes, Chris Acott's free kick was turned away by Doherty, with the resulting corner being headed onto the post by Teeney.
Their frustration was short lived though as Groocock's deflected pass fell to Ash Garner's feet, the midfielder firing a powerful shot past Doherty from the edge of the box.
Garner was excellent in all phases of the game once again. His fifth goal of the season showing how valuable he is as an attacking threat to Gray's team.
The goal saw Birstall make a triple substitution and become more of an attacking threat in the remaining 20 minutes, but in a strong defensive showing, Ivanhoe's defence stood firm.
It was the visitors who would increase the lead on the counterattack with just over five minutes to play, this time it was Groocock on the scoresheet with a goal his performance merited.
Latching onto a defensive clearance, Groocock took advantage of Birstall's high line and smashed the ball into the roof of the net, unphased as Doherty rushed out to close him down.
Before the final whistle, Taylor made a stunning save to prevent Pallett from scoring a second for Birstall. The captain fired a shot from the left of the penalty area, but saw it tipped onto the post by Taylor, whose fingertip save prevented a nervy injury time for Ivanhoe.
The half was possibly the best of Ashby's season and sees them through to the final at Holmes Park where they will face either Asfordby or Lutterworth Athletic.
On Saturday, attention turns back to league action, where Ivanhoe make the trip to strugglers Heath Hayes, in a clash which usually sees fireworks when these sides meet.