It was another week of débuts as Sporting made their first appearance in the Club Colours Cup and after last weeks miserable performance the squad was eager to up their game.
Disappointment, shame, regret. Just some of the feelings and emotions that had run through the minds of the A Team's minds just a week ago. Today however was an opportunity to put things right, B. Freeman was the overseer and the game commenced.
The games pace was of a high tempo from the off with Sporting looking to better last weeks efforts and Salvation Army Reserves looking to continue their run of good performances. It was SAR who pressed the most, winning back the ball and dominating possession early on, creating a host of attacks putting pressure on defensive pair Honeyball and Taylor both of whom stood firm and managed to fend off several attacks. Starting from central midfield this week; Barton looked to leave his mark on proceedings as he put himself into tackle after tackle but early on in the half it would be Benwell, Barton's partner in midfield who would have the first meaningful strike of the game with a thunderous left footed drive 20yrds out only to see it crack against the cross bar. Herrera seemed off the boil from the off as his usual array of passing failed him time and again, his corners were also failing to impress as SAR now pressed harder in their attack. The pressure would be rewarded on 22 minutes when a breakdown in communication within Sporting's defence would let SAR's striker in to put away the game's first goal. Dan Page returning after a weeks absence was left dumbstruck as he conceded his first goal in just under 2 hours of football. Sporting now looked like a beaten team with images of that 3 all draw flashing through their minds. The senior Sporting players Stebbings, Lovejoy and Taylor looked to lead by example as they shook off the jitters and battled away harder than ever. Benwell would again be the outlet as he slipped in Bailey only for the onrushing keeper to parry and keep out the low drive. Moments later Bailey again had a chance but this time some rather dubious defending from SAR allowed the keeper to keep a clean sheet as he found himself in no mans land. Sporting were knocking at the door and Benwell and Barton were winning almost everything in the air. Manning returning to his normal position wide left was plugging away and putting in some great combination work with the returning Jack Warnock. All of Sporting's endeavour however would be undone when on 38 minutes SAR's left winger burst past Herrera and Stebbings, cutting inside and not closed down in time realeased a spectacular effort which curled away from Page's dive low down into the bottom right hand corner. The game appeared all over by half time and the whistle blew with the score 0-2 to SAR.
M. Crawford was not present at the game due to other personal commitments and had left Tim Lovejoy and Ashley Brown in charge in his stead. The two did their best to rally Sporting and get them ready to fight in the second half. A few tactical alterations were made with Barton moving in behind Bailey and Lovejoy dropping back into midfield and the second half would commence.
If last weeks perfomance was a Jekyll and Hyde game of two halves then this weeks would be likened to Beauty and the Beast. With a beastly first half out of the way Sporting were about to show true footballing beauty of the highest level.
Sporting came flying out of the corner and hit SAR hard, the passing clicked the tackles came off and Barton and Bailey were linking perfectly together leaving SAR's defence in tatters. This was an entirely different team in the second half and Sporting pressed time and again, SAR were reeling and teetering on the brink as Bailey was slipped in again only to narrowly be closed out. SAR were under heavy pressure when their desperation and nervousness shined through as a foul was given away on the left hand side of the pitch. Herrera, who had not had the best of days with his deliveries stepped up and sent in a fizzing cross which was met by Barton who's header went narrowly wide almost skimming the paint off the far post. A signal of intent was set and out of almost nothing on 58 minutes Sporting would be on the comeback trail as Manning made an incisive run and call to Herrera who sent over a trademark diagonal Hollywood ball which was met outside the area by Manning with a thumping header which flew past a static SAR keeper and brought sporting back into the game at 1-2.
Herrera left the pitch and was replaced by Krogh but Manning wasn't finished with SAR yet. Sporting continued to press on, driven by the need to win and put things right. Taylor fought valiantly at the back and Honeyball emerged in the second half as an unyielding sentinel winning ball after ball in the air. Further Sporting pressure led to a corner and on 71 minutes Manning stepped up to take over corners. A perfectly placed corner found the head of stalwart Taylor's head and the ball hit the back of the net with aplomb. 2-2. Sporting were jubilant but a draw simply wasn't good enough and they pressed even harder with chances falling for Barton, Manning, Benwell and Bailey in succession. Manning was given a well earned rest as the returning Macintyre who had been out with a hernia operation early in the year replacing him on 75 minutes.
Sporting probed and prowled for the winning goal as Krogh pegged back SAR's defence with his pace and trickery. Macintyre had an early opportunity from a corner as he nearly got on the end of the cross but was blocked at the final moment. It was Sporting's game to win and on 82 minutes Bailey's tireless efforts on the frontlines would be rewarded as he got in to nip the ball off of SAR's dawdling defender and rushed on to their goal. Giving the keeper the eyes Bailey swept the ball past the keeper beautifully into the near corner of the net and scenes of euphoria could be seen on the sidelines. Stebbings was replaced by Brown on 84 minutes and helped calm things down as Sporting looked to hold onto the lead. SAR's last effort of the game a tame free kick was easily dispatched by Warnock and the whistle blew.
It was a day of retribution, of rehabilitation and Sporting had shown their character by bouncing back from the disappointment of last week.
The win ensures Sporting march into the second round to play Benhall St Mary Reserves who sit 6th in SIL Div 5.
A hard fought but ultimately well deserved win, inspired by two fantastic moments of play from Manning who put in a stellar performance and his best to date. No Sporting player was found wanting and Benwell who played out of his skin was awarded man of the match with Taylor, Honeyball, Bailey and Manning not far behind.
Guinness book of world records were rumoured to be keeping tabs on Benwell as this game marked his longest time on the pitch this season without succumbing to cramp.
More on this as information becomes available.