Substitute Celine Ray was the hero as her save in the penalty shoot-out saw Stevenage lift their fifth Herts Women's Challenge Cup - beating Royston Town.

A large crowd of 507 at Letchworth's County Ground saw the sides level 2-2 after 90 minutes, Royston grabbing their second in added time mere minutes after Stevenage had gone ahead.

But before the final whistle Ray emerged from the bench to replace Mia O'Brien in what proved to be a stroke of tactical genius by Boro's caretaker boss Dave Perry.

Jodie Bellinger scored for Boro but Amy Houghton levelled for the Crows, both excellently converted.

Royston then took the advantage when Nicole Farmer had her effort saved by Amy Martin and they held on to it until the fourth round of kicks when Georgia Miller, who had scored the dramatic equaliser, thumping her effort off the bar.

Emily Schofield and Char South took the game into sudden death and Boro skipper Vicky Neal put them ahead before Ray had her moment, diving to her left to smother Becky Charter's attempt.

Royston Crow: Celine Ray saves the final penalty in the shoot-out. Picture: ED PAYNECeline Ray saves the final penalty in the shoot-out. Picture: ED PAYNE (Image: Ed Payne)

Perry was relieved to get through the shoot-out but delighted with the overall performance of his side.

He said: "Royston gave us a good game, they hung in there and we had to work hard.

"It’s not a nice way to win on penalties, I don’t like it myself, but it is how it ends and I couldn’t be happier with how we played."

Royston Crow: Stevenage celebrate their county cup success. Picture: ED PAYNEStevenage celebrate their county cup success. Picture: ED PAYNE (Image: Ed Payne)

The match itself was a slow burner, neither side wanting to give too much away in the early going.

Laura Mills had the first attempt for Royston, dragged wide, while Martin's one save of note at the other end denied Holly Greenwood from distance.

But it was the Crows who took the lead 10 minutes before the break, former Stevenage star Amy Josland, second in Boro's all-time appearances list on 143, lifting the ball over O’Brien and into the net.

Royston Crow: Vicky Neal equalises for Stevenage with a header from a corner. Picture: ED PAYNEVicky Neal equalises for Stevenage with a header from a corner. Picture: ED PAYNE (Image: Ed Payne)

That led to a strong finish to the half from Royston with Annie Georgiou and Poppy Smith going close but their lead was wiped out 10 minutes into the second period.

Shephard took a corner and sent it perfectly to the far post where skipper Neal arrived to head home her ninth goal in Boro's colours.

Royston Crow: Vicky Neal celebrates her goal for Stevenage against Royston. Picture: ED PAYNEVicky Neal celebrates her goal for Stevenage against Royston. Picture: ED PAYNE (Image: Ed Payne)

Buoyed by the goal, Stevenage took control of the tie.

Rosy Wodhams saw her effort turned wide and Neal headed past the post, although Royston still had chances, Laura Mills with a shot tipped over by O'Brien.

It looked as if penalties would be needed until the 89th minute.

Lucy Webster sent a tantalising ball for Gooderham to chase and in the muddle of defender and goalkeeper, the ball fell kindly for the Boro forward to slot into an unguarded net.

But while the Stevenage fans celebrated, Royston rolled their sleeves up again and with time well into stoppage time, Miller got on to a long ball before celebrating with the Royston faithful.

Unfortunately for her and the Crows, there was still more drama to come.


Stevenage: O’ Brien, Farmer, Neal, Price, Nebbitt, Bodily, Greenwood, Schofield, Millen, Makewell, Wodhams

Subs: Ray, Shephard, Gooderham, Webster, Bellinger

Goals: Neal, Gooderham


Royston Town: Martin, Fox-Barker, A. Georgiou, Straver, Miller, Houghton, Smith, South, Croucher, Mills, Josland

Subs: Bourne, Page, Holt, Charter, Hendricks

Goals: Josland, Miller


Stevenage penalties: Bellenger, (Farmer), Gooderham, Shepherd, Schofield, Neal

Royston penalties: Houghton, Croucher, Straver, (Miller), South, (Charter)