Saturday was a massive day for Smithswood Firs. It was the end of a run of fixtures that had seen them play 12 games in 35 days. At the start of it they were 7 games behind leaders Leamington Hibernian and the task given to them by the League with the fixture overload seemed unfair but there was no way around it and the team had to get on with it. They responded unbelievably well and it seemed to bring them together more and they put together the best football they have played this season with the run including a Semi-Final win against Paget Rangers and they went into Saturdays Alcester Town match on the back of 8 straight wins, amazing from where they were at the end of March. They went into the game knowing that any type of result would get them promotion which they would have took when that horrific fixture list came out. A win would also give them a chance of the title if Leamington slipped up against Perrywood.
The home side only had a few missing with Cameron Lee (injured), Nathan Leek (Holiday), Adam Reece (Away) and Daniel Wall (injured) all absent.
The manager had some selection headaches ahead of the Final on Wednesday and went with the following strong line up.
Short, Duffy, Rooke, Donaghey
Thomas (Capt), Weeks, Anderson
Baker, Sayer, Charlton
Subs: Clarke, Cottrill, Gardiner, Powers, Russell
Anthony Short dropped back into right back as Ryder stuck with Jack Duffy as Adam Rooke’s centre back partner for the second match running. Aaron Anderson dropped into the midfield three alongside Curtis Thomas and Ash Weeks. Lee Sayer and Troy Baker continued up front and were joined by the returning Danny Charlton.
In the changing room there wasn’t a lot that needed to be said. The lads knew what had to be done and there was no way they were going to play for a draw. They went out with the attacking mentality they have been playing with and everyone wanted to go into the Les James Challenge Cup Final on Wednesday having secured promotion as a minimum and on the back of 9 straight wins.
It only took Smithswood three minutes to go in front from a fantastic team move. Anthony Short won a great header outside his area. Harry Donaghey controlled it first time and played it wide to Troy Baker. Baker looked like he was going to control it but instead let it run past him as he turned the defender brilliantly and was clear to run down the wing. Curtis Thomas made a great run to the back post as Baker picked him out with pinpoint accuracy for Thomas to bury a rare header back across the keeper giving him no chance.
Lee Sayer went close not long after as Danny Charlton created it for him with some great work down the right. Sayer’s shot was straight at the keeper and he was able to deflect it clear. The home side were rampant though and continued to put Alcester Town under increasing pressure. The second goal came from another Anthony Short defensive clearance. This time it fell to Lee Sayer who played a first time ball wide to Danny Charlton. Charlton beat one player and cut inside with a shout from the away side that “it’s okay, he can’t run”. He powered forward past the Alcester challenges and played it wide to Troy Baker. Baker cut inside and powered a shot past the keeper to put The Lions two goals up.
It was three four minutes later with another pulsating team move from the home side. Troy Baker was again involved as he picked the ball up on the left. He came inside and unselfishly played it wide to Danny Charlton on the right. Charlton didn’t panic and passed the ball between the defence and the keeper for Lee Sayer to tap in. It was great football to watch for the 70+ crowd who cheered them on as the home side were in total control at half time.
The home side were in control all over the pitch. Jake Woodward hadn't had anything to do in goal mainly due to Anthony SHort, Adam Rooke, Jack Duffy and Harry Donaghey in front of him. They were clearing everything that managed to get through. In front of them Ash Weeks and Curtis Thomas were doing their thing and dominating possession. Aaron Anderson impressed alongside them as he had to be more disciplined than usual. He is used to attacking in the front three but helped Ash Weeks out with his defensive duties to allow Thomas to roam and create. Up top the pace and trickery from Troy Baker, Lee Sayer and Danny Charlton was creating so many headaches for the defence which was creating lots of chances for them.
The fourth goal was probably the pick of the bunch although everyone is unsure if Aaron Anderson actually meant it. Anderson picked the ball up ten yards inside his own half, it looked like he was going to ping a cross in but he hit it with the outside of his boot and it curled high above the keeper into the top corner. A quality goal and even better if Anderson meant it.
Smithswood had the game won but let Alcester get one back to the disappointment of their manager. They were attacking again with a corner of their own but it was cleared and Alcester counter attacked and Leon Blundell finished well although Smithswood wont have been happy at being hit on the break so easily.
The game didn’t produce any more goals, not for the lack of trying from the home side but the Alcester Town keeper was in good form and produced a solid performance with some good saves earning Smithswood Firs Man of the Match vote.
Jack Duffy picked up a late knock so was taken off as a precaution ahead of the final but as the referee blew the whistle the promotion celebrations began. It came through that Leamington Hibernian had beaten Perrywood to take the title but from the situation Smithswood were in at the start of April seven games behind, promotion is a great achievement. It also means they go into the final on a nine game winning streak. When you put into perspective the games played from April, Leamington Hibernian played only 5 games in 35 days whereas Smithswood had 12 games in 35 days. If Badsey Rangers had not folded two weeks before the end of the season, Smithswood Firs would also have had one more game in hand to win the title so things didn’t go for them with the fixture back log or Badsey but promotion is a great achievement which everyone at the club will take. Everyone at Smithswood Firs would like to congratulate Leamington Hibernian on winning the title. They really are an improved side from last season and we look forward to meeting them again next season.
All the lads were out for the clubs Motown night after the game celebrating promotion in true style as the lager and jaeger bombs flowed freely. There was also Hen Parties, Singing and even a lap dance from Lewis Cottrill for the hen. Sunday was a day to rest sore heads and then recover for the big final on Wednesday evening.
The Les James Challenge Cup is played between Division 2 and 3 teams so anyone in our Division is considered underdogs. On our way to the final we have played Coton Green (Div 2), Barton United (Div 3), Knowle (Div 2) and Paget Rangers (Div 2). Our opponents will be Division 2 Champions Alvis Sporting. Alvis were always going to be favourites with their financial backing and have proven worthy champions of their Division and have gone the whole season unbeaten winning 23 league games and drawing 3. They have reached the Presidents Cup Final which they play two days before. There losses in the cup competitions have come against Woodlands WMC in the Coventry Charity Cup who now face Chelmsley Town in the Final and AEI Rugby in the Birmingham Saturday Vase so they aren’t unbeatable. The fact that we go in as underdogs doesn’t bother us as we believe in the team and the type of football being played by them at the moment. Their attacking football is a match for anyone on their day so everyone is looking forward to Wednesday which will be the clubs first final since it was formed in 2008 and the promotion will mean we will be playing at our highest ever level next season. The future looks promising for Smithswood Firs and a lot of the team are young players who will only get better.
We would like to thank everyone who have sent us messages on social media congratulating us. One that was really nice came from an Alcester member who said "second time I've seen Smithswood Firs and for me, comfortably the best side in the league! Back to back promotions maybe?" It is always nice when fellow teams recognise the quality of our play.
Come along and support the lads on Wednesday. The game is being played at Bromsgrove Sporting FC, The Victoria Ground, Birmingham Road, Bromsgrove B61 0DR. It is £5 Adults and £3 concessions.