Chequers crashed out of the Leighton & District Division 4 Cup at the first hurdle on Sunday, after a 1-0 defeat at Dunstable St. Mary’s effectively ended any hope of the Purples winning any silverware this season.
Roullier retained his place in goal behind yet another different back four, as injuries and lack of availability saw Rob Mardell and Neil Bishop either side of centre backs Tom Tracy and Chris Fagan. The rest of the team retained a familiar look, with Tim Warne and Wayne Mardel operating out wide with Alex Dell and Tom Smith through the middle. The usual strikeforce of Dean Hinton and Michael Ryan were again partnered in attack.
Chequers started very slowly in driving rain and poor pitch conditions, and could have been behind inside 5 minutes as a half-cleared corner was smashed towards goal with interest, but fortunately it flew straight at Roullier. St. Mary’s didn’t have to wait much longer for the opener though, as a long ball was inexplicably allowed to bounce through the middle of the Chequers defence where a striker was able to steer a half-volley into the corner for 1-0. The home side almost doubled their lead in spectacular fashion on 20 minutes as a winger stepped in off the touchline and curled a shot towards the top corner, but Roullier got just enough on it to send the ball crashing back off the face of the crossbar to safety. The Purples had not gotten themselves into the game whatsoever, and it seemed every simple pass was slightly astray or diverted by a bobble on a very difficult playing surface. Perhaps these conditions played a part in both Warne and Smith picking up first-half leg injuries; both players soldiering on as best they could. Chequers finally registered a shot at goal with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, but makeshift right back Bishop’s shot was blocked. Hinton then tried to drag his side level on the stroke of half time with a snapshot from 25 yards, but found no gaps in the St. Mary’s goalkeeper’s handling as the first period ended 1-0.
Chequers mustered a decent chance of note early in the second half as Roullier’s long kick sent Ryan through on goal, but the forward slipped at the vital moment and skewed his shot wide of the target. St. Mary’s then had a number of chances to kill Chequers off; first a striker was sent clear only to see a tame effort beaten away, before Roullier had to charge out of his area and watch thankfully as a lobbed effort sailed wide. The Chequers ‘keeper then palmed away a swerving effort, only for a St. Mary’s player to lash the rebound inches wide of the upright as the Purples escaped again. Manager Robin Towler sent Mickey Francois on in place of Warne with half an hour to go, and in an attempt to stay in the cup he also sacrificed numbers at the back by pushing Bishop into an attacking role. This seemed to have the desired effect with Wayne Mardel finding space to swing a number of dangerous crosses into the area, but there was no finishing touch as time ticked away. Hinton then saw a close range effort blocked away for yet another corner and Smith had a good shout for a penalty waved away after he was clipped in the box. Dell’s free kick so nearly forced an equaliser as Bishop looked to have arrived on it inside the six yard box, but some more expert handling combined with real bravery from the St. Mary’s goalkeeper saw him snatch the chance away. A poor tackle out wide meant a St. Mary’s player received a yellow card in the closing minutes, and Chequers did force good pressure towards the end, but it culminated only in Hinton’s curling effort from distance which was saved comfortably as the home side held on to reach the next round.
A first defeat in four games, and a disappointing exit from the competition in which Chequers reached the semi finals last season. They will surely look back on a sluggish start as a deciding factor in the loss.
Man of the Match went to captain Wayne Mardel, who provided some dangerous play in the final third and also battled hard defensively.