When people see the 3-1 score line they may think it was just business as usual with the run of form the Lions have been on recently but that wasn’t the case on a cold wet miserable day at the Mackadown stadium. FC Premier made them work and battle for the whole 90 minutes to earn their spot in the last 32 of the Birmingham County Cup.
Things didn’t start well for Paul Ryder before the game as he was hoping to have 17 players on the day with only Harry Gardiner and Carl Thompson supposed to be missing. Thompson had been hit by the flu and still turned up to watch but ended up having to go back home to get his boots as he had to be named on the bench. Craig Thomas ruled himself out as he battles back from injury. He had been on a run and he just didn’t feel like his leg was ready. Scott Clarke ruled himself out as he was ill like Thompson and then Tyrone Borland and Ashley Weeks couldn’t make it and Daniel Russell didn’t turn up. With Daniel Charlton also battling the flu he turned up and started knowing he wouldn’t likely be able to complete the whole game due to illness, this left the manager with Lee Sayer on the bench and an ill Carl Thompson.
Despite losing all those players on the day the starting line up was still full of quality. Lewis Cottrill remained in goal with Anthony Short, Jack Duffy, Adam Rooke and Adam Reece in front of him. The Lions went with four in midfield with Curtis Thomas and Nathan Leek in the centre and Daniel Charlton and Aaron Anderson providing the width with the blossoming strike force of Sam Hulme and Liam Williams up top.
Smithswood have been quick out of the blocks on this recent run of eight straight wins and this game was no different. The surface wasn’t ideal for their normal passing game and there were a few misplaced passes from the back and in midfield in the early exchanges which was to be expected in the poor conditions but they still tried to play the ball around the pitch in the way they have been recently.
Nathan Leek was tasked with playing slightly deeper than normal to try and protect the back four and start attacks from the back by getting the ball from them. He has a great range of passing so having him and Adam Rooke who can both ping a great pass worked really well. With him playing slightly deeper it gave Curtis Thomas the chance to push on more. Daniel Charlton battled flu early on to try and create down the right and beat the full back a few times but just couldn’t find a teammate with the final ball as the heavy pitch tested his stamina. Aaron Anderson was a constant threat and wanted the ball all the time and what was really impressive on the day was his work rate. He was up and down the left protecting Adam Reece all game and put a real shift in.
FC Premier had a couple of lively strikers in particular their number 9 Chris Johnson who kept Rooke, Duffy and Short on their toes breaking down the middle and on the right but they managed to keep him at bay.
Smithswood took the lead on 17 minutes through Sam Hulme who along with Liam Williams was giving their defence a real hard time with their strong physical play. The ball broke to Jack Duffy in the box following a cross and his shot looked to be going wide but Sam Hulme was on hand to bury it in the back of the net. Many people watching would have expected the goal to be the start of many more for the home team and for FC Premier to drop their heads but credit to them and their manager as they battled back and had some promising attacks of their own. They kept the score at 1-0 going into half time and manager Paul Ryder was wary during his team talk that they would really be up for this in the second half and would fancy their chances and that his team had to be on top of their game in the second half. They were most likely going to throw everything at them from the start. He was confident that fitness could well play a part in the last twenty minutes and that we could take advantage but saying that, we had Charlton struggling with illness and Carl Thompson sitting on the bench in the cold with the same so Lee Sayer was his only fully fit replacement so was hoping for no injuries. Sam Hulme had gone down hard in the first half but had managed to continue.
The game became a battle in the second half as the pitch cut up with FC Premier having a real go at the home side. Both teams had chances but the game remained 1-0 going into the last 25 minutes. Daniel Charlton battled for an hour before giving way to the eager Lee Sayer but it was the away side who levelled the game up. It was a scrappy goal but they didn’t care and they really deserved it aswell. It came from a corner which ended up in a goalmouth scramble. The defence couldn’t clear and FC Premier poked the ball home.
Adam Reece felt his hamstring fifteen minutes from time and Carl Thompson had to replace him. FC Premier managed to keep Smithswood out until the last ten minutes where a combination of fitness and that little bit of quality made the difference. Ten minutes from time Sam Hulme struck again. Curtis Thomas picked the ball up wide right and whipped a great ball in. Liam Williams managed to flick it on and Sam Hulme controlled it first time, spun and buried his shot.
The Lions didn’t sit back on the lead and went for the third which came three minutes from time. Nathan Leek hit a 40-yard cross field pass to Aaron Anderson who passed the ball first time in behind the defence for Sam Hulme who ran on to the ball and hit a shot from the edge of the area across the keeper to seal his hat-trick and Smithswood Firs place in the last 32.
FC Premier tried to get forward in the last ten minutes but Anthony Short and Jack Duffy stepped up and cut most of their passes out down the right while Adam Rooke was solid in the air.
With the last minute injuries and lack of players it was a great result for Smithswood Firs. They had to battle for the win but also created some good chances. The win makes it nine on the bounce but also shows another side of the team. Recently they have been blowing teams away early on but they really had to work for this win and be disciplined against an FC Premier side who were a credit to the AFA and could easily make the move to the Midland Football League if they wanted to. In the end the team’s quality was the difference and Sam Hulme was excellent on the day joining Daniel Russell and Liam Williams as hat-trick hero’s this season and picking up the man of the match.
Smithswood Firs will be away in the next round against the winners of Barton United and Whitnash Town. Should Barton be victorious that would mean that the lions will play them in every cup game as they have also drawn them in the Les James Challenge Cup and the Challenge Vase. The game will be played on Saturday 19th December 2015.
With Barton United drawing with FC Stratford, Smithswood Firs stay top of the league despite not playing. They are now one-point clear of Barton United with three games in hand on them, two points clear of Leamington Hibernian with one game in hand and three points ahead of Badsey Rangers with a game in hand so it is well and truly in their own hands.
Next week focus switches back to the league as they travel to Shipston Excelsior for a 2pm kick-off at London Road, Shipston On Stour, CV36 4EP