Barrowford Celtic 2 Prairie United 2 (AET – Celtic win 4-3 on pens)
At Padiham FC East Lancashire League Bob Little Cup final
Scott McArdle scored a ‘hat-trick’ of penalties as he dragged Barrowford Celtic back from the brink of defeat to shoot-out glory.
Celtic’s skipper scored twice from the spot in normal time after Prairie had raced to a 2-0 lead them again when the final went to penalties.
But while McArdle was unerring from 12 yards, spare a thought for Kevin Tomlinson who was by far the stand-out player in this battle of attrition.
The Prairie United midfielder was everywhere, dropping deep to pick up the ball, breaking up Celtic attacks and spraying passes around the field no-one else could manage or see.
So who better to rely on to take your fifth and final spot kick to keep your team’s cup hopes alive.
But the dreaded penalty shoot-out is a great leveller and has a habit of turning heroes in to villains.
And so it was when Tomlinson stepped up – with both sides having missed a spot kick each already – he needed to convert to force sudden death.
As it was, Celtic keeper James Dacey guessed right, diving low to his left to keep out Tomlinson’s kick and took the mantle of hero of the evening.
A penalty shoot-out was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind as Prairie, playing down the hill in the first half, raced to an early two-goal lead.
Paul Waddington’s punt upfield was latched on to by Dale Gouldsbrough who raced clear to steer his shot beyond Dacey.
Gouldsbrough then turned provider, crossing for Phil Campbell who, falling backwards, managed to scoop his shot over the keeper.
It was all Prairie and Ben Roberts smacked a header against the crossbar from a Darren Stephen cross.
But Celtic got a foothold in the final when Chris Jackson tripped Adam Crew in the area and McArdle’s confidently stepped up and blasted his spot kick in to the top corner.
But Prairie were soon back on the offensive and Gouldsbrough fizzed in a shot from range that Dacey gathered at the second attempt and Stephen volleyed a partially cleared corner just wide.
Celtic however should have drawn level when a mix-up between Stephen and Waddington gave Crew a clear run-in on goal but he dragged his shot wide.
Celtic, now with the slope to their advantage, forced a series of corners early in the second and Martin Campy had a header cleared off the line.
But Prairie, with Tomlinson growing more influential, appeared comfortable and keeper Darren Taylor was rarely trouble.
However, Celtic were awarded another penalty when Jackson kicked away Campy's standing leg after he poked the ball away from the defender.
McArdle stepped up again to convert to level the scores.
Gouldsbrough had a great chance to win it for Prairie, racing on to a threaded through ball by Tomlinson but took far too long to get his shot away and Dean Gascoigne got back to make the challenge.
There were few clear cut chances in extra time and so on to the penalty shoot-out.
Both sides were successful with their first two kicks; the ever reliable McArdle and Josh Dunne for Celtic, Jack Holdsworth and Waddington for Prairie.
Tom Wadswoth made it three from three for Celtic before Prairie skipper Craig Robinson – public enemy number one due to some robust aerial challenges – hit a post with his kick.
Chris Clare hammered home Celtic’s advantage and Gouldsbrough tucked his away to keep Prairie in the game.
Stephen could have won it for Celtic but missed the target so it was down to Tomlinson to draw Prairie level but Dacey was equal to his kick much to the delight of his team-mates.