Fresh from a dramatic play-off promotion from the Revolution Division 3, plucky Alcuin thirds put in a spirited team performance against the well-oiled machine of James firsts, despite failing to a 3-0 defeat.
Both sides started nervously in chilly conditions on the JLD, with Alcuin battleaxe Matt Cox lashing the ball out of the cage twice in the opening stages and neither side getting a foothold in the game.
However, once the game settled the obvious quality of the Black Swan showed, as their midfield began to dominate and apply pressure to a resistant Alcuin. Alcuin seemed capable of keeping James out of their area, with full-backs Robison and Bennell particularly effective. Bennell especially, producing several commanding headers to relieve pressure on his side. James took an inevitable lead after ten minutes as a cheap free-kick conceded 18 yards out was snuck under the wall and into the net by Ralph Gill.
Alcuin reacted with spirit, attempting a fightback, which peaked as Sam Shield stylishly turned Mandeep Sangha inside out and sent Elliot Jones-Williams, a regular medics player, through to no avail.
Prickled, James 1s showed their quality, with an array of UYAFC players on show, creating multiple chances and working Owls ‘keeper, Jake Richardson. For a moment it seemed a game was on, as some good footwork from Jones-Williams produced a free-kick, floated in by Bennell and bouncing around the box before Johannes Huber forced a smart stop from an alert Andy Balzan.
If Alcuin hoped for a result, James’ main man Gill was having none of it, as he and Joe Fox combined to bring James firsts firmly back on top of the game in another spell of pressure. James doubled their lead as Gill took a seemingly speculative effort from 25 yards out which zipped into the far post, undoing Alcuin’s defiance. In a flurry of James chances, they saw a free header sail over the bar before the half-time whistle blew.
The pattern of the game was firmly established after the restart, as the Division 2 side tightened their defence and James kept knocking at the door. Defending tight on the narrow JLD pitch, Alcuin were stalwart, Oli Kyndt blocking a fierce effort and James starved of clear chances despite wide-men Gwyn Davies and Andrew Jopson’s endeavours down the flanks. With fifteen minutes to go, though, James finally worked an opening and made it three, as forward Singleton finished a slick team move by placing a shot with pinpoint accuracy in the bottom corner.
With little left to play for, Ralph Gill twice saw powerful free kicks bounce off the woodwork, winger Jopson also striking the post.
In the dying moments, Owls forward Henry Farrant pounced on a loose James pass to send a lofted through ball to Glen Lyon, sending him clear but for the onrushing Andy Balzan, who smothered Lyon’s feet, saving the Black Swan’s blushes.
James emerged with the expected three points after a composed display, but Alcuin 3s can hold their heads high after a feisty team effort against one of the tournament favourites.
Alcuin captains Lyon & Bennell said: “We gave Alcuin 3s a good game today, we gave a good account of ourselves and 3-0 flattered them, either side could easily have won.” On their chances for the Cup, Bennell told Nouse: “Chance would be a fine thing, a fine thing indeed.”
James Firsts: Balzan (GK); Sangha (C), Elliott, McCormick, Tuite; Gill, Fox; Jopson, Jobbling, Davies; Singleton
Substitutes: Axford, Clarkson, Carr
Alcuin Thirds: Richardson (GK); Robison, Cox, Kyndt, Bennell; Strong, Huber; Shield, Lyon, Jones-Williams; Farrant
Substitutes: Shine, Simpson
Player of the Match: Ralph Gill