Sporting Bengal United Football Club secured a hard-fought victory against Stanway Pegasus in the playoff final, earning promotion back to step 5 football. After being relegated from the Essex Senior League last season, it was a challenging task for the management duo of Steve Clark and Mathew Guidera to navigate the Thurlow Nunn League, which included several former established Essex Senior League teams such as Burnham Ramblers, Barkingside, and Tower Hamlets.
The playoffs were a test of Sporting Bengal’s character and resilience, having regrouped after a 7-0 loss to Stanway Pegasus in their first game of the season. Despite setbacks, the team finished fourth in the league, relying on an impressive home record at “Fortress Mile End,” winning 16 out of 21 home games in the league and cup.
In the semifinals, Sporting Bengal faced Wormley FC, who were challenging for the title but were defeated by Sporting’s dominant performance. The team’s enigmatic winger and top scorer, Sheri Artmeladze, nicknamed “Bengal Kvaradonna,” scored the opener, while Matty Ball’s powerful header secured a 2-0 victory.
The playoff final was set to be played at Fortress Mile End, but due to FA rules, Stanway Pegasus had home advantage. Despite this, Sporting Bengal remained confident, with an impressive 12-game unbeaten run, including their last seven matches away from home.
In front of 400 partisan fans and Sky Sports News, Sporting Bengal faced a tough test as it appeared Stanway Pegasus were on the verge of securing two promotions in as many seasons. After an early goal from Dan Jones, Pegasus took control with two quick goals, leaving the home fans jubilant at halftime. However, the Bengal management made tactical adjustments, and the team came out fighting in the second half, dominating possession and creating several chances.
With 15 minutes to go, Bengal equalized through a familiar combination of a delicate through ball from Steven Carvell, finished off by Sheri, with DJ scoring his second of the game. With the scores level, both teams pressed for a winner, with Jay Knight’s rasping shot being acrobatically saved by the Stanway keeper.
The game went to penalties, with Sporting Bengal players holding their nerve, dispatching their spot kicks without any trouble. Bengal’s goalkeeper, Sidi Haidara, proved to be the hero of the shootout, saving Stanway’s first and second penalties. Kevin Krans stepped up to score the final penalty and secure promotion for Sporting Bengal.
The players, management, and fans celebrated on the pitch, a breathtaking way to get promoted after an arduous season. Despite the challenges, Sporting Bengal overcame adversity and proved their mettle, earning a well-deserved promotion.