MMU CHESHIRE 1
UNIVERSITY OF YORK 4
BUCS Northern Conference Cup Final – Wednesday 24th March
A strong team performance saw York triumph in the BUCS Northern Conference Cup final against a talented Manchester Metropolitan University in Cheshire. The victory gives the hockey side a title to go with their comfortable mid-table position in a very strong BUCS league 2B this season.
York were back up to a full strength squad with the return from injury of experienced players including captain Andy McIlwraith, who reverted to his favoured left back position. With the team buoyed by the fact that this would be a golden opportunity to claim a trophy and knowing how important it was to keep confidence and form high going into Roses the other side of the Easter break, the away side started well. Patient build-up play, with no panic or rush to play the ball forward, moved the Manchester defence around until the decisive pass was played, allowing the energetic Niko Bode to score from close range after only a few minutes.
This early goal turned out to set the tempo for the rest of the match. Cheshire going behind at this stage appeared to ignite their passion, with the vocal home crowd sparking them into an attack based style of play. With strong forward movement and a powerful aerial threat, it wasn’t long before York received confirmation that they were in a battle. A long ball sent over the top of the defence appeared to leave the trailing side through on goal, but a good recovery from Luke Featherstone meant that only a low quality shot could be taken, which did not trouble Sam Harriman’s goal.
However, the fast pace of the match was not objected to by York. Control of the game was taken in the centre of midfield, with Cheshire often over-committing players in an attempt to restore equality in the score line. This was apparent when with the fire still rumbling inside influential home players, Andy Harris focused his thoughts on taking a quick free hit and burst forward to play a through-ball into Bode, who made no mistake in taking his second goal of the day, much to the annoyance of the Manchester side.
After a comfortable first-half, York were prepared to face a barrage of attacks in the second period, which is how the game transpired. Cheshire, having nothing to lose, mounted attack after attack on their opponent’s goal. The defence though stood resolute; whenever one line of protection was breached, Matt Foakes swept up all loose balls and made many inspirational tackles to ensure the two goal lead was kept in tact.
With York absorbing the pressure at one end of the pitch, the direct play of the continuously dangerous Henry Meller was released at the other. Another one of his trademark 3D dribbles sucked in the already undermanned Metropolitan defence, allowing the calm Harris to tuck his shot away into the corner of the goal for a 3-0 lead.
Still believing it was all to play for, the trailing side still pressed, and this time with some success, hitting the post and then winning a string of short corners. The strength of a powerful drag flicker was nullified by Richard Larkin whose quick running out from the corners blocked Cheshire’s goal threat before it could advance on target on three separate occasions, to calm the nerves of the team which had one hand of the trophy. During this sustained period of pressure, there was also time for a goalmouth scramble which saw the ball, after a partial save from the ever-consistent Harriman in goal, agonisingly roll towards the goal. A combination of Harriman and two defenders helped usher the ball to the sideline, only after it stopped a couple of centimetres from being judged a valid goal.
Any chance of a comeback though was finally ended when, from a York short corner, the injection came out to Larkin who showed his composure at the other end of the pitch to strike the ball back to the far post where Bode deflected the ball home to clinch his hat-trick. There still was time for a late consolation goal, however the York team were correctly confident that they had assured their cup victory.
McIlwraith was delighted with the victory: “Our confidence showed as soon as we stepped onto the pitch, scoring twice in the first ten minutes. Our defensive display in the first half was excellent and we quickly shut down any situations that appeared troublesome. Whilst the second-half brought spells of heavy pressure, we held our nerve well and looked confident throughout.”
He continued: “It was a well deserved victory. We were the better team on the day, if anything 4-1 flattered them as we squandered several good opportunities. I am obviously delighted with the team performance and winning silverware has been a great achievement. We must now look to Roses – a win away at Lancaster would be a fantastic end to this season.”
This match, and indeed competition, symbolises York’s season. Having played consistently throughout, York trusted their strong defence to absorb pressure from the opposition, which allowed their more forward thinking players to take control of the match by playing in a very structured and disciplined manner. During this cup run York had previously shown great character, having beaten teams on penalty strokes and a golden goal (and of course the farce of a coin toss), showing the side’s determination and will to succeed. A year ago, this team may have succumbed to the pressure placed upon them and not converted their chances when required, as happened in Roses 2009. However the experience gained within the last year has been vast as York have grown together as a team, with this triumph hopefully setting the squad up for a strong Roses 2010.
York University squad:
Sam Harriman, Matt Foakes, Richard Larkin, Luke Featherstone, Andy McIlwraith (c), James Branton, Billy Walsh, Andy Harris, Henry Meller, Niko Bode, Dan Alder, Mark Inman, Rob Newton, Nick Latcham