Battle Baptist Football Club is through to the National Christian Cup semi-finals for the third year in a row.
An Adam Staplehurst hat-trick helped fire the East Sussex League Premier Division high-flyers to a 4-2 victory at home to Liverpool-based St Teresa’s Norris Green in Saturday’s quarter-final.
Battle, who won the prestigious knockout competition in 2017, will face an away last four tie against another side from Liverpool or a team from South East London in early April.
Saturday’s game was a cagey affair at first, with St Teresa’s looking to play the ball out from the back, but not looking threatening when they got near the final third.
Battle fashioned the better chances. They hit the crossbar twice through a Jamie Lindsay header from a corner and a rocket of a shot by Gordon Cuddington before finally getting the breakthrough on 25 minutes.
At a corner from Dean Boyd, Tom Saunders was being pulled all over the place and it looked as though the referee was going to award a penalty as Staplehurst rose at the back post to head Battle into the lead.
Battle continued to push as the half went on and had chances to add to the lead. The St Teresa’s goalkeeper made a good save down low from a Boyd strike and Saunders also hit the crossbar from a cross.
On the stroke of half time, Battle did make it 2-0. Another Battle corner found Dale Vinall beyond the far post and he crossed for Staplehurst to score his second at the second attempt.
At half time Battle felt they should have been out of sight, but for the second successive weekend, they hadn’t taken their chances and the next goal would be so important.
Battle made a couple of early changes in the second half to stem the flow of St Teresa’s pressure.
Battle still looked the most likely to score, however, and did so when Staplehurst rose highest at another Boyd corner and headed into the roof of the net despite a St Teresa’s player attempting to head clear off the line.
Three became four shortly afterwards when Boyd made ground down the right flank and squared for Cuddington to slot into an empty net.
Battle made several more changes and St Teresa’s switched to five up-front in an effort to get back into the game.
Chances came and went for Battle to increase their lead before St Teresa’s pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 81st minute and then slotted home a second goal in the last minute.
Battle manager Kyle Mann said: “It was a great occasion today with plenty of support and to progress into the semi-finals of the national cup is always great.
“I felt a little disappointed with how we finished the game, letting in two silly goals to take the shine off things, but we could’ve also scored three or four more today. The amount of chances we seem to create every week is always positive.
“We are really looking forward to the semi-final. It’s just a shame it’s not a home game as I feel we could’ve got a really good amount of supporters there to cheer us on and home advantage will always be ideal at this stage due to the travelling.
“We had some brilliant performances on the pitch today, but Adam Staplehurst really stood out. For a centre-half to score a hat-trick, which doesn’t happen often, was a good achievement and he deserved his man of the match award.”