With a strong wind blowing straight down the pitch and heavy underfoot conditions it was likely that the team that mastered the conditions best would end up on the winning side. The match equation was simple Affinity needed to win to progress, any other result would see New Horizons take the spoils and progress to the quarter finals. Affinity welcomed Mike Panther for his first start in a sky blue shirt.
Affinity playing with the wind in the first half started strongly with plenty of width on both flanks with Steve G and James on the right and Chris and Mark on the left interacting well. The strength of the at times swirling wind made judgement of passes of any length a fine art with Mike P and Andy willing runners but limited to scraps as New Horizons’ defender swept up well.
Defensively Affinity had had very little to do when New Horizons broke away and with their first effort scored with a lob over an advancing Aron. The strength of the wind increased the amount of effort expended by each team and the game became stretched from this point onwards.
Affinity with a high percentage of possession had a series of chances in the next phase of the game with Mark heading just wide from a James corner and forcing the keeper to save from a shot from the left and James himself forcing the goalie into a fine save with a first time effort from a ball over the defence from Chris. The possession and pressure eventually earned its reward with a fine sweeping finish for Mike P as he controlled a flicked header from James on the right edge of the penalty area.
Affinity wanting to push on from here again made most of the running only to be punished by a second break away goal just before half time with a shot rolling under Aron as he came to narrow the angle and had enough power on it to beat him as he attempted to retrieve the ball before it crossed the line.
A 2-1 lead with the wind at their backs in the second half must have seemed like a winning position for New Horizons but as in the first half they would spend the majority of the second half pinned back in their final third of the pitch. With the wind if anything strengthening Affinity patiently built pressure from the back and midfield with fine interplay again on both flanks with Mike A making a real nuisance of himself on the right.
Chances came and went for James and Mike A as they made the goalie earn his man of the match award with fine saves and additional help from the woodwork. Chris and Gurps also crafted a couple of half chances with pinpoint passes played through the defence and only the final shot finding New Horizons defenders resolutely defending their lead. As expected with the wind at their backs New Horizons did have some periods of pressure but with Gary sitting in front of the back four their efforts were restricted largely to shots from outside of the area.
With the clock ticking down Affinity moved to a 3-5-2 formation with Chris pushing higher up the field on the left. Affinity ensured that the final 15 minutes would be a real contest by equalising with Mike A finding James on the left of a centre three and firing through a crowded defence and through the legs of two defenders and the keeper.
Mike P with Ian continued to pressure the Horizons defence but they would see the rest of the game out making the most of sending their clearances as far out of play as possible with Affinity desperately trying to recover the ball quickly to get it back in play.
A hard fought draw but it felt like a defeat as a point ultimately counted for nothing for Affinity. In truth it had been the first halves against LOWFORS and St Johns that had prevented progression further in this season's cup competition. Lots to be pleased about and lots to look forward to in the New Year if the confidence can continue to be built on.
Man of the match goes to a hard working Mike P on his debut and a fine goal that got Affinity back in the game at an important time. Special mention also to Ian and Gary working tirelessly in the centre of midfield, Sean marshalling the back line, Chris energetic in both defence and attack on the left side and James for his goal and making the keeper make several saves to keep them in the game