HIGHGATE United ended their 2018/19 campaign on a grand stage, but could not find the performance to match, when they were comfortably beaten 4-1 by Sporting Khalsa in the JW Hunt Cup final at Wolverhampton Wanderer’s Molineux stadium on Monday night.
Lei Brown struck with a late penalty to earn scant consolation for Gate, but the match epitomised the indifferent form that Ashley Pulisciano’s men have shown throughout the campaign.
Gate lined up without the experienced head of Sam Oji who was serving a one-game ban, whilst Jordan Goddard was a late exclusion shortly before kick-off.
Their preparations were further hampered by an M42 accident which forced the team coach to arrive at the Molineux under an hour before kick-off.
Khalsa got proceedings underway, but the opening half an hour did little to excite the imagination – with both sides finding chances hard to come by despite playing on a Premier League surface.
An opener finally arrived on 33 minutes, when a ball played out wide was received by Khalsa’s Mensah Kinch, who proceeded to cut inside and fire low into the bottom corner.
Although the goal provoked some pressure from Highgate in response to going behind, they went in at the break with a deficit to claw back.
But five minutes after the restart, Khalsa doubled their lead through Jay Holdcroft, who’s effort went underneath the despairing Brad Catlow and into the South Bank goal.
The task at hand became even more difficult moments later, when Mykel Beckley stuck home Khalsa’s third, putting away the rebound after an initial effort was blocked.
Gate’s misery was compounded when McCauley Manning was shown a red card for a late challenge – deserving of a booking, but perhaps too harsh a punishment.
Highgate, despite the man disadvantage, found some momentum in the game, and began to make inroads into threatening the Sporting rearguard.
Full-back Trevor Edwards broke forward to the edge of the box, but had possession snatched from him at the last when he geared up to post an effort on goal.
Khalsa keeper Sam Arnold was forced into his first stop of the game, when Brown was denied by a tip over the bar, with the ball destined for the net.
Then, after an incisive ball from Corey Currithers picked out Marco Adaggio, the forward rounded Arnold, only for the keeper to bring Adaggio down as he arched his body to score.
The referee pointed straight to the spot, but did not dismiss the keeper following the foul.
Brown duly put away the penalty, earning himself a goal for his efforts.
Three minutes of added time stood between Khalsa and their status as JW Hunt Cup champions – and they sealed their victory in style.
After a Shay Palmer effort led to a corner, Gate keeper Catlow ventured into the box for the set-piece, with Khalsa able to clear, break away, and score.
Nathan Pulisciano got back in time to guard the net, but Berkley, having already found the back of Highgate’s net, opted to square the ball to Alex Perry, who fired into the open net to round off an emphatic win.
It was not the way that Highgate wanted to bring the curtain down on their season, but it leaves Pulisciano and co. with plenty of food for thought over the summer – as they look to kick on at the right end of the MFL Premier Division table next term.