AFC Hoxne were crowned the Suffolk Junior Cup champions for the first time after beating Henley Athletic 2-0 in the final at Portman Road last night.
Henley had finished one place higher than AFC in Touchline Suffolk and Ipswich League Division One, and had also beaten Jamie Scale’s side three times during the season, giving them the tag of being the slight favourites to etch their name on the trophy for the first time.
Yet it was Hoxne who got off to the brighter start. Smith’s strike was smothered away by Athletic goalkeeper Aaron Beal on 10 minutes, before Varela had an effort tipped away five minutes later as the Blues pursued the opening goal of the final.
And they did not have to wait much longer to find a breakthrough, with Varela notching from close range in the 16th minute.
AFC were without the services of their joint-top goalscorer Bret Bellamy for the final, but his fellow goal machine Robert Peake was on hand to set up Varela for the first goal.
After making a good run down the left wing, Peake got to the byline where he pulled the ball back across goal for Varela to finish into the far corner to put Hoxne ahead.
Clark Bruce and John Sandilands had netted 50 goals between them for Henley this season, but Scales’ determined side rarely gave them a chance of adding to their tally.
The only dangerous foray from either of the pair came on 19 minutes when Sandilands raced towards goal, but after Hoxne’s goalkeeper Max Lock had gone down the Athletic forward could only send his strike wide of the target.
That miss would prove to be costly for Sean Brown’s men, as just four minutes later AFC were celebrating another goal which gave them welcome breathing space.
Aron Boorman sent the ball forward from defence for the onrushing Smith, who finished past Beal and marked his goal at Portman Road with the ‘Dab’ celebration.
Not content with just a two-goal lead, AFC went in search of more goals with Boorman and Smith combining again to put the Henley defence under real pressure.
Beal raced out of his goal to clear away the danger, before Mark Storey made a vital interception to stop the lively Smith from creating an opening to score again.
As the first-half reached its conclusion Athletic enjoyed one of their more purposeful spells. James Westren’s cross struck the Hoxne crossbar, while Sandilands saw his low strike from outside the box comfortably saved by Lock.
Henley came back out for the second-half and played with a much higher line as they desperately searched for a way back into the final.
Bruce sent a free-kick high over the AFC crossbar and Lamonte Cooper teed himself up for a shot which went wide, but for all their greater possession Athletic could not unsettle a dogged Hoxne defence.
With time ticking away, and with the game’s rhythm disrupted by a multitude of rolling substitutions by both sides, it was in fact Hoxne who came the closest to scoring in the second-half.
Peake was the provider again as his cross reached an unmarked Smith with five minutes to go, but his diving header went wide of the post to keep Henley’s slim hopes of a comeback alive.
Hoxne saw out four minutes of added time to spark jubilant scenes among their supporters, as they won the Junior Cup for the first time.