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Pride overtakes anguish for Needham Market JPL Under-15s manager Jason Curtis as side lose Junior Premier League national final in penalty shootout at Gloucester City AFC




After Needham Market JPL Under-15s came within a penalty kick of lifting the club’s first ever national cup, Jason Curtis has huge pride as well as sharing the painful disappointment with his players.

With less than five seconds remaining at Gloucester City AFC on Saturday the Young Reds were on course to be crowned Nerf Junior Premier League Under-15 Cup champions.

But leading 2-1 a penalty was awarded from a last-gasp corner which duly saw Henley Lions FC Blues equalise to send the final to be decided on spot kicks.

The Needham Market JPL Under-15s squad pictured ahead of their national final at Gloucester City AFC
The Needham Market JPL Under-15s squad pictured ahead of their national final at Gloucester City AFC

After picking themselves up from the disappointment, Needham scored their first four to match their Oxfordshire opponents.

But the players had their head in their hands as a fifth round saw Henley Lions convert against a miss to win a penalty shootout for the second consecutive match in the competition and clinch the national title.

While there was plenty of despair for the squad, manager Curtis was left with mixed emotions.

“I am very, very proud, not just of the performance on the day but the whole cup run. But to get that close and lose will take a few days or so to get over,” he said.

“It is definitely a bitter pill to swallow as we could not have got any closer to it.”

He could not have been any happier with his side’s start to the showpiece, which came after the Junior Premier League branched into Suffolk for the first time in 2020/21. An Aiden Jolly close-range finish and a ‘fantastic’ header from Ben Batho had put them firmly in control at 2-0.

“We started the game as well as we ever have and were 2-0 up in 20 minutes and it looked like it would be an easy afternoon’s work as it could have been three or four,” said Curtis.

Alex Oakley scores the first of his two goals in Needham Market's semi-final victory over Junior Hoops at Bloomfields Picture: Mecha Morton
Alex Oakley scores the first of his two goals in Needham Market's semi-final victory over Junior Hoops at Bloomfields Picture: Mecha Morton

But what he described as ‘a freak goal’ handed the impetus back and the Henley side had levelled up for 2-2 heading into the break.

With four minutes remaining it was Needham who edged back in front via Dylan Sadler’s penalty kick.

But it was another penalty in the last seconds that ensured there would be more drama from the 12 yards to decide the outcome of the trophy.

Magic Smalls celebrates a goal in Needham's 6-4 semi-final victory with his team-mates Picture: Mecha Morton
Magic Smalls celebrates a goal in Needham's 6-4 semi-final victory with his team-mates Picture: Mecha Morton

Curtis, who first started the origins of the team at Hadleigh United as an under-7s group, also representing Needham Phoenix at U12s, said they are already eyeing up going one better next year.

“The whole experience – playing at the highest stage possible – will stand them in good stead for sure and I’m sure in the future they will look back on it with fond memories,” he said.

“The boys have already told me they will win it next year but we are obviously there to be shot at now as our opponents will naturally want to raise their game.”

He thanked the club for their support with first-team manager Kevin Horlock, academy director Rob Peace and physio Kim Baldwin among the contingent of Needham officials to make the journey over to Gloucestershire.

“We have had brilliant support from the whole club,” said Curtis.

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