Each Saturday the pitches are contested by the teams of York football’s 3A and 3B divisions, half hungover, malnourished and clinging to last night’s takeaway, sharing cigarettes. This is not the pretty face of college football. Today then, offers a rare chance to escape from the bottom of the league system to the veritable paradise that is Division 2, complete with Sunday games on the heavenly 22 Acres.
It’s ironic then that both playoffs were on the JLD. The wind was howling across the pitch, conveniently blowing directly towards one goal. The pitch is sandy, hazardous and doesn’t believe in consistency when regulating friction on through balls. To top it off there was an inconsistent drizzle that fluctuated to reduce visibility and left the benches miserable and cold.
Kick-off was a melancholic affair. Constantine captain Loveless opted to play with the wind and so it fell to James to start the game. It was a tense affair; the weight of the occasion lead to an even mix of possession in the middle of the field. Both sets of players, though liberated from the mud, had yet to puzzle out the finer mysteries of the surface. It took 10 minutes for the first chance: James’ captain Fardon was left without a centre back and turned freely, narrowly putting his shot to the right of goal.
The game started anew and Constantine started to pile on the pressure, winning the first corner of the game, which lead to nothing. Then Constantine’s Chambers got away on the wing, darting into James’ penalty area (in reality a hockey semi-circle) and went down under pressure. Referee While saw nothing in it and waved play on.
Both teams were showing urgency in getting what could be a crucial first goal, when injuries started to slow the game down. Miernik came off for Constantine, replaced by Uddin resplendent in Adidas casual trainers. A similar change occurred for James when Martinez Bachofen was forced off and Killen came on.
However, James restarted with impetus and Staddon found himself through on goal and lobbed Constantine keeper Crane with ease at distance. 1-0 James.
The remaining 30 minutes of the first half were evenly battled out. James were pushing for a second but were denied by Crane and a bit of bad luck; substitute Killen’s through ball was sublime but nobody managed to get on the end of it. At the other end, there was a goal mouth scramble following a Constantine corner but Angus was equal to it. The half ended with James introducing Kris Gray to their attack, replacing the injured Blackmore.
After the break it didn’t take long for James to double their lead. Constantine had just narrowly shot over, but James moved the ball quickly from the goal kick and the fresh Gray slotted the ball with some force into the bottom right corner. 2-0 James.
Needing a change, Constantine introduced Onyeama and Gibbs who made an instant impact. Gibbs held the ball up in the centre of the park before releasing Onyeama who narrowly shot wide. Constantine maintained the pressure and left-back Barton cut into the box but was slide tackled before delivering his cross, in clear violation of the no-slide policy on the JLD.
The referee was unmoved by Constantine’s pleas and play continued, with Fardon’s shot at the other end skimming off the wrong side of the woodwork. Further pressure from Constantine was rewarded with a free kick halfway into James’ half, which Gibbs stepped up to take. The resultant ball was flicked down almost straight to the towering Spraggs, who was wrong footed and couldn’t direct an effort towards the goal.
Miernik came back onto the pitch desperate to change Constantine’s fortunes, Clay making way for him. Yet it was James in the ascendency, Crane only just managing to tip a vicious free kick over his own crossbar. Banks was also called upon to block a stinging shot which was a part of the same move, which Constantine broke well from. Shove collected the ball at the halfway line before curling a half-volley into the back of James’ net. 2-1 James.
Constantine appeared to be back in the game, but all their hopes of promotion were dashed when Gray struck again, his chipped shot easily finding the far side of the goal putting James 3-1 up. Constantine in desperation switched to three at the back and pushed men into James’ half and penalty area but they never looked like scoring, despite having the majority of possession and a few tame shots.
At the full 90, James fourths had secured a place in the second division with style, leaving a wearied Constantine seconds to try to repeat their league success next term, still to overcome the ever-present danger of the final hurdle of the playoffs.