Balham defeated Cray Valley Paper Mills 4-1 at Silver Jubilee Park in Hendon to win the London Senior Cup, having defeated AFC Wimbledon, Hendon and Dulwich Hamlet on the way.
After winning the semi-final against Dulwich Hamlet, Balham were pitted against Cray Valley, the current holders of the cup. A win for Cray Valley would make them the first team to retain the trophy since Tooting & Mitcham ten years ago.
Balham got the cup final off to the perfect start, taking the lead within five minutes. Centre back Cem Tumkaya brought down Jordan Alonge in the box, and Tomasz Wocial converted the penalty, sending the ball into the bottom right corner outside of the goalkeeper’s reach.
Despite Balham dominating the first ten minutes of the game, Cray Valley quickly pulled level through a set piece, with Tumkaya atoning for his earlier error by heading in a floated free kick.
Fortunately for Balham, the Millers were unable to build on that. After the equaliser, their only real chances of the half came from a cross from winger Gayle on the right hand side, which evaded everyone, and a scramble in the box from another set piece which Balham keeper Haydn Read saved well.
Balham, on the other hand, were playing high quality football. Good on the ball, and counterattacking well, the artificial pitch suited Balham’s frequent passing, and there were times where Cray Valley seemed unable to get the ball back.
It only took until the 20th minute for Balham to break the deadlock once more, and the goal came from James Gallagher. It was a very well worked move, with a number of Balham players combining to open up space for Gallagher, who beat his man and prodded the ball into the bottom corner.
At half time, Balham went in 2-1 ahead, having been the better team, but not creating many chances. That changed in the second half though, with Ibz Olutade and Arsen Ujkaj being the main difference makers.
It was Olutade who increased the lead to 3-1 just ten minutes into the second half, although it wasn’t his best goal of the season, as he deflected a Cray Valley defender’s clearance into the top corner. Olutade added a fourth to Balham’s tally with twenty minutes to go, beautifully lobbing the ball over the Cray Valley keeper after latching on to a set piece from Hamish Frew.
The game was all but wrapped up by that point, but Balham pressed on regardless and could have had more. Arsen Ujkaj was particularly impressive in the latter stages, hitting the post from outside the box just moments after missing a long range free kick by a matter of inches.
Opposing manager Kevin Watson was particularly impressed, labelling Arsen “the best player on the pitch”.
Olutade and Ujkaj were not the only impressive performers, though. Anis Nuur came close on a number of occasions, and Jordan Alonge proved incredibly creative, particularly in the first half where he won the penalty and set up the second goal.
It was also an assured defensive display from Balham, who prevented Cray Valley from threatening for almost all of the second half. Although they came close from a low corner early in the half, their front line, led by former Premier League striker Kevin Lisbie, did not ask many questions of the Balham defence.
The final whistle was punctuated by a small scale pitch invasion from the Balham fans, who had passionately and noisily backed their team all evening. The loudest cheer of all was reserved for when captain Jake Henry lifted the trophy under the lights.
Manager Greg Cruttwell praised the team’s performance after the game.
“I’m speechless, it was amazing. We couldn’t have played better, to be honest, they weren’t in the game. We hit the post twice as well. That’s the difference that it makes when we play on a great pitch like this.”
Team: Read H, Frew, Henry(capt), Wocial, Fenlon, Gallagher, Erriu, Nuur, Ujkaj A, Olutade, Alonge
Subs: Savage, McConnell, Garcia, Benson, Neish
Goal Scorer: Wocial, Olutade(2), Gallagher