Dave Thomas and Paul Stansfield were given the perfect send off from life at Knaresborough Town, as they rejoiced together to lift the Whitworth Cup on Tuesday evening.
The pair laughed, joked and smiled as they held the trophy aloft to their teammates in front of a 100-strong gathering at Harrogate Railway’s Station View.
However, the NCEL League Cup winners of last week had been made to work hard to earn a second piece of silverware by a spirited, albeit threadbare, Boroughbridge.
Bridge came into the clash as the competition holders having beaten rivals Ripon City 2-1 in the final on the same ground 12 months ago.
But boss Daz Ekin was forced to field a weakened outfit, with injuries and unavailability rife. Star players Paul Eagling, Baz O’Neill, Ben Clayton and Danny Webster were all out as Ekin plucked talent from the club’s reserves and third string.
Town were also depleted, but Brian Davey still had the luxury of a plethora of first team players. Stansfield had announced prior to the game that he would step down as the club’s assistant manager next season, and Thomas was also playing his last game ahead of a social career on fairways and greens.
Davey could call upon prolific striker Colin Heath, who was partnered by pacy reserve forward Edmore Marau in attack.
However, central defensive rock Will Leneghan, former Leeds United winger Seb Carole and exciting left winger Byron Littlefair weren’t among the Reds squad.
A feisty affair was expected. And stinging tackles from both sets of players coupled with the odd push and shove intensified what could easily have felt like an end of season cool down.
Marau was the first to have a sight of goal and his left-footed strike stung the palms of Boroughbridge stopper Paul Diamond.
Chances were at a premium in the opening spells of pressure with neither team grabbing a firm foothold.
But on 20 minutes, Danny Wright’s whipped cross was met perfectly by Heath and the forward thumped home a header into the top corner.
The lead lasted less than 10 minutes, however.
Jake Fletcher latched onto a loose ball outside the Boro penalty area, and unleashed a precise low shot that went in off the post.
Bridge had only threatened in fits and starts, but the young side contained the pace and trickery of Town’s frontline. And they could have taken the lead, had a moment’s panic in the Boro defence forced Nick Radcliffe into drilling a back pass the wrong side of the goalpost.
Radcliffe had been under little pressure after receiving a pass, but his wayward cross-field pass struck fans by surprise as it trickled out for a corner. However, the defender was then on hand to make up for the mistake minutes later as he perfectly timed a tackle on the onrushing Ollie Bone to prevent the Bridge forward shooting.
The opening 45 minutes had been a cagey affair, but Bridge’s stubborn resistance was soon undone in the second period.
At times, the match looked like boiling over, and Heath was cautioned after a head to head exchange with Bridge left-back Ben Mudd.
It was to Boro’s gain that the powerful striker remained on the pitch as he had a say in their second goal, which provided a moment of comedy, and heartache for spectators of opposition colours.
Heath muscled the ball down inside the area from a corner and in clearing, Blues defender Andy Layton smashed the ball straight at teammate Liam Healy and, unfortunately, back into his own net.
It was a cruel blow, but it might not have mattered as much had Boro stopper Weston Marau, hero of Town’s NCEL League Cup victory last week, not been at his quickest to deny Stephen Coles a run on goal a minute later.
Danny Wright and George Eustance probed from the wings throughout the second period, and it was the former that effectively wrapped up proceedings with a smart finish down the right.
Thomas’ long diagonal evaded Mudd, and Wright stepped into the area to power a shot past the helpless Diamond. Boro could have piled on misery to Boroughbridge with a host of late chances, but any further goals would have been more than cruel on Ekin’s men.
Eustance fired wide, and Diamond denied both Heath and Edmore Marau with a couple of quality saves to keep the holders interested.
Heath did put the ball in the net one last time before the end with a header, only for his celebrations to be short-lived with the sight of the linesman’s flag.
Bridge pushed three men forward but Boro maintained their focus to steal the trophy out of their opponent’s cabinet.