LEE Bagley scored a fairytale winner in the last seconds of extra-time to bring the first silverware of the season to Uttoxeter Town.
The striker netted with penalties looming in the Staffordshire Senior League President’s Cup final – after Tommy Smith had bailed Town out with a leveller in the 90th minute.
It had looked like the cup was heading to Hilton Harriers until leading scorer Smith grabbed his 28th goal of the season.
Bagley’s winner sparked wild celebrations among the 178 fans at Norton FC – and is surely the beginning of a trophy-laden end to the season for Uttoxeter.
Joint managers Mark Grimley and Andy O’Connor kept faith with the same players and formation that had crushed Redgate Clayton 9-1 only 48 hours earlier.
Town started brightly, with Smith and Matt Redshaw latching onto some precise through balls. However, every chance saw the Hilton keeper produce a fantastic save.
Kyle Esplin then went close from 18 yards but was again thwarted by the exceptional number one before Martin Gadsby glanced Liam Sowter’s free kick inches over.
As the half wore on, Hilton began to show their attacking capabilities and their leading marksman, Scott Abbey, will have been disappointed not to work Alex Langridge in the Town goal when he volleyed well over from eight yards.
Langridge was called into action on the half-hour, though, when the Hilton left-back surged into the Town half before unleashing a superb drive that was destined for the top corner. Langridge, who often saves his best performances for the big games, produced a fine one-handed save to deny the full-back.
Uttoxeter again came back at their hosts as half-time approached, with Gary Beardsley finding space in his deep-lying central midfield role, but again the Hilton keeper was equal to the effort.
The second half saw Town again begin the brighter and the first 20 minutes belonged to them, but when Smith fired Gadsby’s through ball over an air of optimism coursed through Hilton as they believed it could be their day.
On 72 minutes, they took the lead from another set piece wide on the right. The ball was floated to the back post, where a midfielder was on hand to slot home unopposed to the delight of the Hilton supporters.
The introduction of Bagley less than a minute later buoyed Uttoxeter as they tried everything to grab an equaliser, but it did not look to be their day.
Gadsby again glanced a header over before the Hilton stopper produced three further sensational saves to deny Town and in particular the bright Bagley.
Hilton were surviving by the skin of their teeth, but still provided a threat on the counter attack, with Dom Ward and Chris Richards having to be at the top of their game to keep Abbey quiet.
With less than 45 seconds remaining of the 90 minutes, Town grabbed an equaliser that sent the watching crowd into raptures.
Ryan Metcalfe, who belied his tender years with a superb performance at right-back, clipped a fine ball into the box that caught the Hilton defence square. A mix-up by the covering defender and onrushing keeper gave Smith half a sight of goal and the leading marksman slipped the ball home.
It was no less than Uttoxeter deserved for their chances and they flew into extra time buoyant and again created chances for first Smith and then Redshaw, but the Hilton keeper was having the game of his life to deny them.
There was little threat in the final third from Hilton’s attack, but the second period of extra-time saw them almost grab a winner with seconds remaining.
A deep cross from the left picked out Abbey, who rose majestically to seemingly give Harriers the lead, the ball sailed high towards the far top corner but Langridge produced a brilliant stop to claw the ball to safety. It was a magical moment from the keeper and proved to be a match-winning one.
With the referee looking at his watch, Rob Collins, who had produced another fine display at left-back, clipped the ball into Gadsby and the midfielder powered his header past the keeper only to see the ball ricochet to safety off the base of the upright.
However, Town were not to be denied and with less than 30 seconds to go before penalties it was a player who has so often been a hero in the past who cemented his status as a hero with a fantastic goal.
Smith cushioned Gadsby’s cross into the path of Bagley and the striker took one touch before rifling the ball into the far corner to spark unbelievable scenes.