SWINEFLEET FC 2 EPWORTH TOWN 3
Late, late goals seem to be a feature of games involving Swinefleet, usually with Swinefleet coming out on top. But this Challenge Cup Semi-Final went the other way, to their opponents Epworth Town. With the match referee officially allowing 8 minutes 45 seconds of stoppage time (closer to 11 minutes according to Fergie’s watch), in a second half that required only a 30 second delay for an injury to Epworth’s Leigh Jenkinson, it was the two quick stoppage time goals from Epworth on 95 minutes and 98 minutes that settled this absorbing Cup Tie.
First 10 minutes of the match started off as a rather cagey affair, with the exception of a bit of a personal battle between Swinefleet’s centre-half Will Sparkes and Epworth striker Johnson that drew the referee’s attention, both receiving a yellow card each for their troubles.
But then on 13 minutes the football side of the game sprung to life. Great wing play from Ryan Whitlam on the left, exchanging passes with Cohen Vause, put Whitlam in to side foot the ball past the Epworth keeper. Six minutes later, this time down the right, Regan Allen playing like a new man after his recent little operation, received a through ball from Niall Barker and slotted the ball past the advancing Epworth keeper. With Epworth now reeling from two goals in 6 minutes, Barker nearly made them pay dearly but his 25th minute shot just sailed over the bar. Swinefleet were certainly on top and playing the better football with Aaron Raymond and Danny Nicholson in central midfield winning the balls and bringing the advancing full-backs Liam Cooper on the right, and Gareth Welsh on the left, into play and keeping possession well. A Swinefleet corner on 30 minutes gave Raymond an opportunity to unleash a powerful right foot shot but his goal-bound effort struck an Epworth defender to rebound for another corner. As the game headed towards the interval, Epworth gradually were able to work their way back into the game, and started to look more dangerous and forced a couple of corners themselves. With 4 minutes of the half left, a long throw into Swinefleet’s penalty area from the right, gave Epworth’s Harrison the chance to shoot and score to give them a lifeline in the match.
The second half started a more even affair with Swinefleet looking fairly comfortable at the back with Archie Stephens mopping most things up for Swinefleet. Swinefleet’s keeper Jamie Ward had to finger-tip over the bar a 25 yard shot from Epworth on 51 minutes to keep the score-line level. But Swinefleet again looked the more likely to score the next all important goal. The sizeable Swinefleet crowd thought this had come in the 55th minute. An intelligent cross-field run of Vause was picked out by Raymond and with Vause accelerating clear of the opposition defenders, his right foot shot across the advancing keeper was only centimetres from the far corner of the net. Four minutes later a deep cross from Cooper on the right fell to Whitlam coming in from the left, but his first time shot skimmed over the Epworth cross-bar. Swinefleet brought on Keir Vause up front with Barker dropping to right midfield for Allen on 63 minutes, as Epworth were beginning to step up the pressure on Swinefleet. For the last 20 minutes of the match, Swinefleet were being forced further and further back, but again were restricting Epworth to long range shots or pressurising them into over hitting their passes. On 71 minutes Swinefleet brought on Dale Noon up front, replacing C. Vause, to try and give them an experienced outlet to hold the ball up for them. But Epworth still kept pressing forward. Swinefleet keeper Ward was again called into action on 75 minutes with a full stretch save to deny another 25 yard effort.
With the height in their side, Epworth were likely to pose Swinefleet a big threat from corners and set-pieces, and on 81 minutes a goal-bound header from them was headed off the line by left-back Gareth Welsh. With time ticking away for Epworth, the referee indicated to the Swinefleet captain Danny Nicholson 5 minutes left to play, and 4 minutes of stoppage time. Surely, Swinefleet could hang on? Deep into stoppage time, Epworth were awarded a free-kick on the edge of Swinefleet’s penalty area. Swinefleet keeper Ward saved the powerful free-kick, but was unable to prevent Epworth from following up on the rebound, and the score-line was level. And then just 3 minutes later, an Epworth corner was headed in for an amazing turnaround for the visitors. With just 45 seconds of stoppage time remaining, Swinefleet won a free-kick and piled all the bodies forward in to the Epworth penalty area. Strong urgent appeals for a penalty were made after the ball was floated into the box, and there was no doubt the ball struck an Epworth hand, but with the referee deciding it was not intentional, the Swinefleet appeals were waived away. With borderline penalties like this, some you get, some you don’t.
Credit must go to Epworth for showing the character and reliance to come back virtually from the dead, but Swinefleet were left bitterly disappointed as they know they were the better side on the day. The 8 minutes and 45 seconds of official stoppage time as recorded on the match referee’s watch, does take some understanding, and it would be true to say that if this match had involved a certain professional club based in Manchester, their Manager would more than likely be having to book the day off work for a trip down to London to the F.A to explain his after-match comments!
The Gilbert Dyke Sponsored Man of the Match Award went to Ryan Whitlam.
Next week Swinefleet have a tough Hospital Cup Quarter-Final tie way at Limestone to defend the trophy they won last year. All players to meet at Marshlands at 11.45am.