The reigning champions face an uphill struggle if they are going win the cup for an unprecedented third year in row, but write Alcuin off at your own peril. The switch to Astroturf could aid their fluid playing style and the backline is back to full strength, with Paul Reiss returning to the side after recovering from a broken leg in the Winter term.
For Alcuin to win it all they need to find a killer instinct in front of goal – Alex Brown should get the nod after leading the line for much of the year, while winger Will Taylor will act as Alcuin’s best creative outlet.
Halifax firsts await in the group stages, but progression to the Cup should be a formality.
Making the last eight of the Cup in 2009 and the final of the Plate in 2010, Alcuin seconds will be keen to make their mark once again in 2011. Their form has been inconsistent for most of the year, but they showed why they continue to be a threat at the back end of the Spring Term, beating a strong Halifax seconds in the final league match.
Crossover Will Dodgson will anchor the midfield, while Tom Hargreaves will need to carry his strong late season form into the cup to give them a shot of progressing.
Alcuin seconds are drawn in Group 2 alongside Goodricke firsts for the third year in a row.
Alcuin’s third string are making their debut in the College Cup in 2011 under the tutelage of captain Edward Hadley, who has overseen their rise as one of the most attacking third teams. Whether any of their frontmen can pose a threat to much against stronger defences however, remains to be seen. Any chances they do have will likely fall to the feet of Reda Bouchaib; the diminutive striker is in great form while Hadley will set the tempo from his role in the middle of the park.
A berth in the Plate is the target, but elimination is most likely.
Derwent have done a stellar job in refitting their side after losing so many players to graduation, and the Spring league winners will come into the cup as one of the favourites.
In a team sprinkled with quality, it could be two players from either end of the pitch that prove the difference. Dan Atherton is emerging as one of College Football’s best in front of goal and Goalkeeper Seb Treasure has been a revelation – wonder saves against Alcuin and Wentworth went a long way to securing the Spring Term title. Similarly Josh Baines, Fantasy Football’s highest valued defender at £9m, will prove something of an obstacle to all opposition teams.
Derwent should easily top Group 3 – then it’s just a case of holding their nerve as they push towards the final.
One of the stronger second strings in the competition, a second place finish is not beyond them in Group 2, dubbed the “group of death”.
Much in the same way as their first team, Derwent seconds have added a few new faces with no loss of potency from the Plate winning side. Both Will Da Silva and crossover David Kirk have been impressive in 2011, but they will need a solid defensive display and keeper Krish Yellappa to avoid any unforced mistakes to progress to the Cup.
Strong league form makes them an interesting proposition – a showdown with Langwith firsts looms large.
One of the third team sides that everyone was keen to avoid, Derwent have been drawn in Group 4.
A brilliant start to the season saw them go unbeaten until January, but their form since then has been patchy at best. New captain Yaw Frempong Koduah-Sarpong has hinted a five man defence will be employed, a standard for most third team sides in 2010, while trying to nick a goal at set pieces will be the modus operandi as Sarpong sends forward defender John Gow as his aerial threat.
They will challenge James seconds for a place in the Plate, but as is the case for most third team sides, elimination is likely at the group stage.
Drawn in Group 2 alongside Langwith firsts, Goodricke have to be considered as potential winners having scooped the Winter League and running Derwent firsts to the very last day in the Spring league.
Despite not having the flashiness of Halifax, or the defensive muscle of Derwent, captain Sam Lewis has a tight knit team sprinkled with players who can change the game, none more so than Jon Sharpe, who has proved unstoppable on certain days. The midfield is one of the best in the competition with Lewis as its spearhead.
A semi-final appearance should be a formality, but anything less than an appearance in the final would be a disappointment for a side brimming with confidence.
Drawn with Wentworth firsts in Group 3, Goodricke seconds will undoubtedly fancy their chances of progression the Cup.
An indifferent season in the Seconds league, in which they struggled for goals, could well be their downfall in the group stages. They have manipulated the crossover system to great effect bringing in Sam Astbury and Nick Dheir to add some considerable quality to the side. Christian Hammer acts as a creative outlet in the midfield.
Even if they don’t happen to reach the cup and even with their indifferent form, they will still be considered dark horses for the Plate.
A strong showing in third’s league will stand them in good stead for the cup, but being drawn in Group 1, it is likely to be a long group stages for the Hes East boys.
Much will hinge on the performances of forward Matt Burke, who will need to be clinical with the limited chances he has, while Goalkeeper Noel Rogers can expect to be the busiest player on the pitch in a group not lacking in attacking intent.
Beating Wentworth seconds is an imperative if they are to have any chance of reaching the Plate.
Just how good could Halifax be in this year’s cup? Well, when your first string almost solely consists of University first and second teamers, you’re bound to be good; but for the first years reading this, time for a history lesson. Halifax have been here before – as favourites in 2010 and with a team packed with quality, they were stunned by an organised Vanbrugh firsts in the groups, before being discarded by five goals at the hands of Alcuin firsts in the semi-finals.
Halifax under-performed in the leagues, failing to win either, so expect a backlash in the cup. With a settled team, Halifax look a frightening prospect; A hybrid 4-2-4 formation with Conor Brennan, Jack Beadle, Tom Ragan and Tom Day all firing will be difficult to stop.
Considered by many as the team that will crash the Cup party, Halifax seconds are the strongest second team by far having been the grateful recipient of those players dislodged from their first team, thanks to selection of UYAFC first teamers.
A frightening prospect in attack, Harry Pearson will be able to call upon Alex Reid, who has played University 1sts this year but is on his way back from injury and self-titled “goalscoring defender” and crossover Mark Lund, who has proved a menace in the Wednesday league all year. Ben Rea and Sam Dempster also bring their considerable experience as part of a gifted midfield.
A week three face off with James firsts will either sound them out as great pretenders or genuine threat.
Yet more proof (if it is needed) that Halifax has the strength in depth that other colleges could only dream about, Halifax comfortably won the Thirds league and will look to continue their good form in the College Cup.
Hamish Denham provides an expensive crossover attacking threat in front of midfield that plays a neat brand of football. Goalkeeper turned striker Jake Mundy is another player who could prove his worth in fantasy football, considered by some as the best kept secret in the cup.
Drawn in group three, they will vie with Langwith seconds for the final spot in the plate.
Could this be the time that it all comes together for James, after a disappointing grass season? James are drawn in the tricky Group 1, but should they negotiate that, they will surely be amongst the favourites to win it all.
In a team packed with talent, Tom Clarke and Mark Mcleod are the obvious stand outs and will add considerable quality in their first appearances of the year. The strong presence of Sam Clitheroe in goal and Oscar Lynch paired with Nick St. George forms the foundation for the rest of the side.
Both Vanbrugh firsts and Halifax seconds provide a stern test in the groups.
James will be keen to have a successful summer after some inconsistent performances on grass, in which lapses of concentration in defence cost them dearly. A much-changed side to the one of the first two terms, it is vital that they quickly gain a rapport if their college cup aspirations are to be met.
Matthew Bainbridge will be imperative to the success of this team, marshalling the team’s defence for the majority of the year while forward Lase Laleye will pose problems for opposing defences.
Drawn in Group 4 alongside Halifax and Alcuin firsts, progression to the Plate looks like being the most likely outcome.
James 3rds come into the Cup on the back of a good spring term; a largely unchanged side this year has been seen them improve dramatically and Plate qualification will undoubtedly be the aim in the unpredictable Group 2.
Brendan Norman is vital as the main creative player in the midfield and his service will look to provide the final ball for Tim Green, who will look to continue to be a potent threat in front of goal. Towering defender Nathan McCusker is an aerial threat at set-pieces.
James will be keen to gain revenge on Alcuin seconds after a controversial tie last year – the sides meet each other on May 12th.
Providing perhaps one of the biggest shocks of last year’s competition, beating a strong James team 3-1, Langwith were narrowly beaten by eventual winners Alcuin at the quarter-final stage. Losing several key players last summer has slowed down the progress that they seemed to be making and the side will be seen as target for both Derwent and Alcuin seconds in Group 2.
The defence is reasonably solid with Matt Wilcox, Luke Gardner and Liam Condron present, but finding a consistent partner to Bruce Starkey remains a problem – Matt Derry looks like a likely choice after showing promise toward the end of the Spring term.
After some organisational issues early on this year, Langwith 2nds have had a somewhat difficult year, but captain Craig Burnell can take positives from hardfought draws against Derwent, Alcuin and James.
The return from injury of Tom Lynch (and his troublesome long throw) comes as a boost in a team starved of recognised defenders. Box-to-box midfielder Luke Holbrook could do some damage against the third teams in the group.
Langwith are drawn in Group 3, where they will battle with Halifax thirds for a possible spot in the Plate.
The revelation of the Cup last season, Vanbrugh have struggled for consistency in the grass leagues. A mixed bag of results illustrates the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the side – a high drubbing Halifax 5-1 in term one, was followed by the low of conceding seven goals to Derwent 1sts.
The switch to Astroturf could bring the best of the side; Ali Prince returns to the side after impressing in his final season for UYAFC, while the likes of Rob Rix, Ziggy Heath will be a tenacious defensive pairing. Ben Stanier’s delivery from crosses will be vital.
Vanbrugh face two tough games against James firsts and Halifax seconds after being drawn in Group 1, but progression should be a formality. A final appearance at least will be the aim for captain Phil Taylor.
Vanbrugh seconds could fly under the radar as Plate contenders, after showing flashes of their ability in the Spring leagues.
Drawn in Group 4, they face an uphill task of overcoming Alcuin and Halifax firsts to reach the Cup, but they do possess players who can influence games. John Gill has had an excellent term, while Adam Jerrelle Lewis should justify his 5.9m price tag leading the attack. Goalkeeper Kallum Taylor, who has experience in the first team, is a safe pair of hands at the back.
Vanbrugh will dream of a Cup place, but progression to the Plate should be guaranteed.
At the centre of the controversy that ultimately lead to an expanded 24-team format, they will be keen to do their talking on the pitch, drawn in the unpredictable Group 2.
Vanbrugh will prove to be as stubborn in defence as they were last year, giving Derwent firsts a major score in a game which they hit they woodwork twice. The star of that game, Max Walter, will again return on the wing – he will look to supply striker Isaac Parkinson, who could be an astute pickup in fantasy football should Vanbrugh impress.
Elimination at the group stage is likely, but the target will undoubtedly be just to make the Plate.
This will be unchartered territory for team that has existed for just under a year – winning the playoff against Derwent 4ths could just be the start of the story.
Kimmy Tang-Wright is the creative outlet for a team that will need to defend for their lives against the first teams in their group, but with no pressure on them against the Wentworth 2nds and Goodricke 3rds, they could spring a surprise.
A fixture against their own first team will be an interesting affair for both sides.
Wentworth have traditionally been the underdogs in college football, especially at firsts level, but recent years has seen a revival of postgraduate football, and it took a Matt Hallam ‘Hand of God’ to prevent the purples from taking a share of the points against Derwent at the end of the Spring term league.
If Rich Rhodes can field his strongest eleven they stand a chance of gaining revenge against Derwent firsts in group 3, but teaching and lecturing commitments of much of the team can get in the way of a full selection.
Wentworth have picked up some quality in ex-Goodricke stalwart Adam Leadbeater, Samik Datta could again prove a handful on the wing, while up front Dom Green will be keen to repeat his 2010 performance in what could be his Wentworth swansong.
Drawn in a tough group, an ever-improving side, who notched seven victories in the league, could find the going tough, but should progress to the Plate.
Glaswegian manager Mark Eslick always shapes his team from a defensive position, so expect a packed no-nonsense midfield and a solid, well-marshalled defence. The team will not be without pace and flair however, which may be provided by crossovers Samik Datta and Lachie Murray, the two’s co-manager and also fastest man on campus. As always, expect no lack of fight from a squad largely made up of one year masters students who have forged a real togetherness in only a handful of matches over the last two terms.
Wentworth’s third string team has attracted over fifty different players over the year, which has reflected a poor set of results over the two terms.
The College Cup offers the chance for captain James Lomas to choose a regular squad and settle a team which will have to battle bravely to scrape into the Plate. Watch out for Mexican shot-stopper Humberto Bezares Arango, who has pulled out some dazzling saves over the year, as well as college stalwart Dan Horsfall, who will be keen be known for his playing as well as his refereeing wares.