By Ray Tucker
Cleethorpes Town 2
Spalding United 1
A late, late goal denied Spalding United the chance of a penalty shoot-out with reigning Lincs FA Senior Trophy holders Cleethorpes Town at Linden Fields on Saturday.
After trailing to a 16th-minute Scott Vernon penalty in the quarter-final tie, the Tulips battled superbly before levelling through Lewis Brownhill on 80 minutes.
But their hopes of taking the game beyond 90 minutes were dashed by a deciding goal from Alex Flett with just two minutes remaining.
With seven members of his squad unavailable for selection, manager Matt Easton had to dig deep into his resources.
But he had nothing but praise for his troops who, under plenty of pressure for long periods, battled every inch of the way and never made it easy for the home team.
There were some exceptional performances, none more so than midfielder Kegan Everington, defenders Taron Hare and Josh Spencer and goalkeeper Michael Duggan who made some exceptional saves to thwart the home team attack.
Against a side playing their eighth pre-season game, it was the Tulips (playing only their third friendly) who featured first in attack with Jenk Acar testing home keeper Theo Richardson.
Duggan was brought into action shortly afterwards to deny Flett, but the keeper had no chance of keeping out Vernon’s penalty in the 16th minute.
Three minutes later Jamie Jackson ducked and weaved in the home area but was forced wide and shot into the side netting from an acute angle.
Five minutes into the second period the Tulips suffered a few anxious moments when the ball was delivered low into their area, but three goal-line blocks in succession prevented the home side extending their advantage.
Just past the hour mark the home goal was under siege with Jackson turning defenders before delivering the ball which eluded the advancing Acar by inches.
The scores were levelled on 80 minutes. Taron Hare won possession just inside his own half and pumped the ball beyond the defence to find Brownhill racing clear to fire the ball superbly past the static Richardson.
The stunned home side came storming back only to be denied by the brilliance of Duggan. But skipper Flett proved to be their hero with a crucial deciding goal two minutes from time.
Spalding are back in pre-season action against Corby Town at the Sir Halley on Saturday (3pm).
Tulips: Duggan, Hare, Mason (Brown 67), Brownhill, Spencer, Richards, Ramsden, Everington, Jackson, Zuerner (Frain 59), Acar (Holliday 85). Not used: Berry.