Time to dust off those Astros, College Cup is back. An expanded twenty four team tournament format this year will undoubtedly produce a more absorbing College Cup than ever before. So, take a seat and let Nouse give you all the information you could ever need on the summer of football that awaits.
Favourites – Halifax firsts
We’ve been here before. Rewind back to 2010 and Halifax were installed as favourites to win it all. Call it a sense of entitlement, blame squad dynamics or blame something else, but however you see it, it was a tournament to forget. Docked points after fielding an ineligible player and being stunned by Vanbrugh firsts in the groups, Halifax could only limp through to the semi-finals, where they were given a footballing lesson by eventual champions Alcuin firsts. Their league form this year has also been less than spectacular, failing to capture either of the termly leagues. So what makes Halifax such strong favourites?
Because in this year, no one will have more quality – throughout their whole squad – than they will.
A quick skim through the squad list makes grim reading for their opponents in every department as Halifax look stronger than they were last year. Conor Brennan and Tom Ragan will lead the line in what will be their last year for Halifax, capping a run which has seen them both rise from their seconds side two years ago. Behind them, Jack Beadle, who is so dangerous in a true number ten role, will complete the best midfield line-up in the competition alongside Matt Mawdesley and Ash Daly. Part of another strong class of first years, Mawdesley will be a menacing midfield presence which should give licence for dead-ball specialist Daly to venture forward and try his luck from distance if needs be.
The only area of real concern is at the back, but it is a minor one. Halifax have taken steps to address their lack of height at the back, which cost them so dearly in their semi-final match up with Alcuin firsts, by adding giant Tom Patrickson to anchor a potential back three line up completed by Dan Turley and Dom Petschak.
A fortunate draw has found them placed in Group 4 alongside much changed defending champions Alcuin firsts who should be their only real test at the group stage. Beyond that, if they perform to their potential, it could be their cup to lose.
Next in Line – Derwent firsts & Goodricke firsts
The Great British weather saw to these two title chasing teams avoid each other in the league formats, but both are here on merit as potential champions elect.
Workmanlike, with a dash of finesse, is probably the best way to describe a Derwent side that takes all the momentum of winning the Spring League into the Cup. The back end of the term perhaps saw them at their best; a hard fought smash-and-grab victory over a stubborn Alcuin side in a game marred by dreadful pitch conditions put them in a position for the title, before they sealed it with a 1-0 victory against a resilient Wentworth, thanks in no small part to the reflexives of Goalkeeper Seb Treasure (and midfielder Matt Hallam).
Derwent did an excellent job in finding replacements for the core of the side they lost to graduation in 2010 and gained two out and out strikers that they craved, striking gold in the additions of first year duo David Kirk and Dan Atherton. Experience will be key to a Cup charge but Derwent have two players of high calibre to help them out. The experience and creative verve of Hallam will act as the attacking catalyst for both Kirk and Atherton while they will be able to call on Dom Henney who has enjoyed success in a target man role this year.
Goodricke were perhaps the surprise package of the Winter term and proved they were capable of taking the step up after narrowly exiting the cup in the quarter finals last year, losing in a mammoth penalty shoot-out to Halifax firsts. Much like Derwent, even though they might not have the big names from University Football, they are more than capable of getting the best of what they have, epitomised in a underrated midfield. In what it lacks in a vocal point, the midfield makes up for it in versatility; one potential cup line up could see Nick Dheir and fresher Luke Inness anchoring the midfield, allowing college stalwart Sam Lewis a free role to fully utilise his attacking wares. But however they decide to start, opposition teams will be doing everything they can to limit the revelation of the League in forward Jon Sharpe, whose Olympian pace and eye for goal will be key to a Goodricke title charge.
Choosing a favourite from the two is tough, but Derwent may carry the slightest of edges courtesy of finding the ‘softer’ side of the draw for a potential route to the final – a semi-final showdown with Halifax firsts looming for Goodricke. The final matches of the competition are never a formality for any side, but if Halifax firsts suffer a case of cold feet again this year, it could be one of these two filling their spot as favourites.
Outsiders – James firsts
Could this finally be the year that James emerge from being also-rans and capitalise on their potential? It’s not going to be easy, but if it’s going to happen, now is undoubtedly the time.
James will be the first to admit that they have under achieved in the leagues, suffering swathes of inconsistency over the course of the two terms, but the chance for several third years to step up when it matters and the inclusion of two UYAFC stalwarts could be the inspirational tonic needed spur them on.
James have a solid spine to their side with Goalkeeper Sam Clitheroe, Defender Oscar Lynch and Midfielder Richard Baxter, but the inclusion of UYAFC ever-presents Mark Mcleod and Tom Clarke, perhaps the two best players in competition, could provide the difference when everything is on the line. Some observers have suggested that Mcleod has been overshadowed in his previous Cup appearances by former free scoring team mate Mark Johnson; but without Mcleod next to him, there is no doubt that he wouldn’t have performed as well as he did. No one brings more to the table in terms of raw talent than the former UYAFC 1sts captain, his distribution bettered by no one and fired on by his impending graduation, 2011 could be the year that he comes to life.
Clarke, formerly on the books of League One outfit Yeovil Town, brings his considerable calibre to the college scene after turning heads with his first season with UYAFC. Naturally for a player competing against intra-mural players, he has the potential to run riot; equally comfortable on either foot, supreme awareness and bags of pace (which will be even more effective on the surface of the JLD), every team will need to compensate for him.
James have to remain focused -any mistakes akin to their group stage loss to Langwith firsts last year would leave the door open for upstarts Halifax seconds, who will keen to claim a shock place in the Cup proper with a squad laden with talent – both sides will meet each other on May 10th.
The Group of Death – Group 2
Goodricke 1sts, Langwith 1sts, Alcuins 2nds, Derwent 2nds, Vanbrugh 3rds, James 3rds
Even though Group 1 contains a strong Halifax seconds side who many have tipped to upset the balance of power, it’s possible that Group 2 could be where most of drama unfolds.
Goodricke are strong favourites for the group but Alcuin and Derwent seconds, both of whom have had a mixed bag this year, will relish a chance to knock off Langwith firsts, who’ve had a season to forget. In equal measure, James and Vanbrugh are two of the better thirds sides and are more than capable of snatching a result against either.
The real enigma in Group 2 is Langwith, who are seemingly a team of two halves. In a defence that should prove too much for either Alcuin or Derwent, Liam Condron provides the foundation, complimented by the much needed experience of Luke Gardener and Matt Wilcox alongside him. Despite this strength, scoring goals is still a major problem. Langwith have played talisman Bruce Starkey just about everywhere this year and word of him playing further back this year should be treated as a smokescreen – as forming a potential partnership with Matt Derry will be crucial to their chances of progressing.
Many of defending Plate champions Derwent seconds squad will look to their experience as part of the first team that demolished Langwith earlier this year as motivation and won’t be short on quality to do so. They have been astute in using their crossover players and will welcome Andy Jeffries and Steve Walwyn, two players imperative to the first team let alone the second. With the creativity of James Matthews in the middle of the park they will be a force to be reckoned with. Seemingly always involved in last-minute group stage drama, Alcuin seconds finally showed their potential in the Spring Seconds League, most notably in their 2-0 defeat of a strong Halifax seconds in the last game of the season. Traders of a neat passing game, the switch to the JLD should suit them but they will need striker Tom Hargreaves to continue find the net whereas centre backs Harry Billimore and crossover Chris Boyd will need to continue their rich vein of form if they have a chance of Cup progression.
Vanbrugh thirds finished in the top half of the Thirds League and will be a tenacious opposition, while James thirds will seek redemption against Alcuin seconds for an incident packed game in the groups last year – much of their hopes rest on striker Tim Green, who has scored some eye-popping goals in the league campaign.
5 GAMES YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS
Spare time on your hands? Want a break from exam revision? Get yourself down to the JLD to watch five games crammed with potential.
James firsts vs Vanbrugh firsts – Monday Week 2 (K.O 3pm)
A corking match on opening day between two heavyweights – time to find out if James are for real.
Halifax thirds vs Goodricke seconds – Thursday Week 2 (K.O 2pm)
Halifax thirds ran away with the Thirds League and will fancy themselves to gatecrash the Plate competition. Goodricke seconds will provide a stern test of their resolve
Halifax seconds vs James fists – Tuesday Week 3 (K.O 2pm)
Time to see just how good a hyped-up Halifax 2nds are in a game that has the potential to seal James’s passage to the last eight or send them packing.
Alcuin firsts vs Halifax firsts – Tuesday Week 4 (K.O 4pm)
Halifax face their first real test with a chance to avenge their semi-final defeat of last year, a strong performance for Alcuin stakes their claim as dark horses.
Langwith firsts vs Derwent seconds – Tuesday Week 6 (K.O 4pm)
A potential decider for who advances into the cup and a derby game all rolled in to one, there is bound to be drama.