Cottesmore Amateurs boss Neil Miller believes football in Rutland is in a healthy state after he watched his side get knocked out of the Leicestershire and Rutland Senior Cup quarter-finals to derby rivals Oakham United.
The county’s highest level side Oakham had a little bit too much class on Tuesday night and ran out 2-0 winners at Rogues Park thanks to a pair of goals from Lewis Leckie.
The striker’s second goal of the game, eight minutes from time, was simply sensational. Ben Easson hit the ball long to the lone striker who had his back to goal 40 metres out with a Cottesmore defender all over him. But with one touch Leckie flicked the ball behind him and the defender, turned the quicker and then used his pace to race clear before beating the keeper with a calm finish. It was an individual goal of the highest quality.
And Oakham needed that spark of quality against an excellent and spirited Cottesmore side who never let the visitors settle, harrying and pressing United when they had the ball.
Only a slice of luck saw Oakham go ahead in the first half. The ball was crossed in by United’s Stu Lambie but it looked as if the Cottesmore defence would easily deal with the danger however somehow the ball when straight under the foot of the defender and into the path of Leckie who made no mistake.
His goal sparked a forward roll of a celebration, created this week after picking up the name ‘Canonball’ in recent press reports having broken the net with a thunderous shot on Saturday.
Cottesmore manager Miller said: “Let’s not forget we have made a good show of two Rutland teams tonight. When was the last time two Rutland teams were in the county cup quarter-finals?
“Rutland football as a whole is excellent right now and Oakham are setting the standard.
“In the second half I thought we were the better team but a little bit of lady luck went their way.
“We really knocked on the door and the lads should be proud of themselves.”
Cottesmore set-up to soak up the Oakham pressure and hit on the break using their pace and they did so well.
Both sides had chances although United had the better of them. Richard Nelson, who was skipper for the night in the absence of Eddie McDonald and Adam Rothery turning up late because of work commitments, was excellent in the middle of the park. He almost single handily won the physical battle to give them the edge in a derby, which despite being the first competitive meeting between the two sides, had some niggle and bite to it.
When Cottesmore did get beyond him in the middle of the park the excellent Dan Jenkins got them out of trouble more often than not.
Miller said: “We stuck to the game plan and we had more joy finding the width in the second half.
“I felt if we could have found a goal in the second half when it was 1-0, we could have gone on to win it.”
Cottesmore’s John Love, who was the embodiment of his side’s battling spirit for much of the match, had the host’s best chance when he put a free header high over the bar.
Miller said: “We have shown people we are a good football side. We can hold our head high after that performance. Wayne [Oldaker - the Oakham manager] is setting the standard at the moment but we are close and we have echoed that tonight.
“We have got ability, talent and they work hard. No taking away from Oakham they are a decent football team and a decent bunch of lads.
“But I would like to think any Oakham fans watching will think if we haven’t got a game I wouldn’t mind watching Cottesmore play because they play decent football.”
Oakham United assistant manager Andy Bailey said: “We are ecstatic to be in the semi-finals, onwards and upwards now.”
He said the match came down to two good finishes from Leckie but was equally delighted with the clean sheet, their first for seven games.
Bailey said the good cup run keeps the club’s momentum going forward throughout the season, which is especially important when the team is mid-table.
They currently sit seventh in 20 team UCL Division One. .