On a momentous day in the College Cup, when undisputed favourites Derwent Firsts were unceremoniously dumped out at the group stage, James Firsts secured top spot in Group D with a 5-o victory over Constantine.
Earlier, the Men in Blue fell to a shock 2-1 reverse at the hands of Halifax 2’s, who go through to the Cup in second place after an excellent campaign. James went into Friday evening’s game level on ten points with Derwent, needing only a draw to seal first place.
That they would do the necessary was never really in doubt.
George Tordoff, deputising in goal for Constantine, tried to launch a defensive free-kick up the field but could only find Ralph Gill, placed around forty yards from goal. Gill strode forward into space and fizzed a low, long-range effort goalwards. Whether deflected or not, it completely wrong-footed Tordoff and settled in the bottom right corner for 1-0.
Striker Max Cherry, who has impressed this year in breaking into the UYAFC ranks, delivered another good display characterised by its industry. Ten minutes in his flicked header from ten yards hit the angle of cross and bar, with Andy Balzan stranded, although the rebound didn’t fall to a pink shirt. Later in the first half, he jinked past Callum Elliott, into the box, only to hook a left-footed effort well wide.
Joe Fox, deployed at left-back for the UYAFC Firsts- winning their player of the year award- fulfills the playmaker role in central midfield for James. He clipped a measured ball over the top for Gill, who spun on the spot with his back to goal and struck a left-footed shot agonisingly past the far post. As the first half progressed, Fox made a threatening late run and reached Declan Tuite’s through ball before the onrushing Tordoff, although his effort trickled across the goalmouth.
Constantine, whose fourth-place group stage finish has earned them a place in the Plate quarters, looked alert and organised before half-time. They faded as the game went on however, as James’ class begun to tell. Andrew Jopson doubled his side’s lead, striding unimpeded to the byline and cutting back to Gill, who side-footed home from the penalty spot.
Gill, who was absolutely imperious throughout, lashed home a sweetly-struck hit from fully 20 yards out to make it 3-0 just minutes later. He seemed to operate on a different timescale to the other 21 competitors, gliding into dangerous areas and snapping into tackles with the same bristling purpose. When offered time and space, as he was by Constantine, there is no-one more potent in college football.
The Black Swan enjoyed further occasions to increase their lead. Tuite curled an effort over from 20 yards, while, following a corner, Declan McCormack volleyed firmly, aiming at the top right, and Tordoff palmed over acrobatically.
The inevitable fourth goal came as Dave Clarkson’s clipped through ball was reached by Andrew Jopson thirty yards or so from goal; he swatted aside Ben Froughi and lashed home emphatically. Jopson and Gill, a fine double act, combined again as the striker set up Gill for his fourth of the evening.
James showed no sign of missing Matthew Singleton, their prolific frontman, or indeed the other first-choice players they lacked. Richard Williams and Matt Hosier slotted in well from the 3rd’s, and Dave Clarkson had a good game on the right. The way in which they dealt with absences should act as an omen for other sides with designs on Cup glory.
More than likely, any aspiring College Cup winner will have to beat this James side- no mean feat. Goodricke Firsts await in the Cup quarter-finals.
Captain Mandeep Sangha was pleased with his side’s approach: “This had the potential to be a tricky tie in that we only needed a draw. I told the boys not to be complacent and we took our chances very well. In the second half, we were really impressive- with a lot of players missing, as well.
He refused to instate his team as favourites: “Derwent losing is obviously a massive result. It goes to show that you can’t overlook any opposition in this format, on the JLD. All we know is that we have Goodricke in the quarters on Thursday, taking it game by game.”
Constantine face a stern test in the Plate, drawn against top seeds Derwent Seconds. They have put together good spells across games but have ultimately been let down by individual errors.
Manager Jamie Summers felt the scoreline didn’t reflect his side’s efforts: “We are disappointed to lose 5-0, it’s harsh on us. First half, I thought we played very well and contained them. Then we conceded a sloppy goal; we’ve let in around 20 goals now and I can’t think of a single good goal we’ve conceded. We are the underdogs going into Tuesday.
“This year, we’ve achieved what we wanted to achieve, particularly in the autumn. We didn’t drop a point in the league. The Cup has been a real learning curve- this is the lads’ first experience of it- and we have realised that we can’t dictate games like we used to. There’s a bit of naivety there, but we can’t fault the performance.”
James (4-3-3): Balzan; Sangha (c), McCormack, Elliott, Williams; Fox, Tuite, Gill; Clarkson, Jopson, Hosier
Substitutes: Axford, Baker
Man of the Match: Ralph Gill
Constantine (4-1-2-1-2): Tordoff; Richards, Odusolu, Collins, Banks; Froughi; Coathup, Shove (c); Gibbs; Cherry, Kendai
Man of the Match: Nick Banks