LIMESTONE RANGERS 0 SWINEFLEET FC 1
Nobody leaves early watching any match involving Swinefleet, and last Saturday’s game yet again served up late, late drama, with the only goal of the match scored 8 minutes from the end of extra-time in this Hospital Cup Quarter Final.
Swinefleet suffered an early blow before kick-off with versatile defender Gareth Welsh falling ill after a pre-match meal and therefore unable to make the long journey to the outskirts of Lincoln. This meant a re-shuffle for the Swinefleet side with Captain Danny Nicholson switching to left-back alongside co-defenders Will Sparkes, Archie Stephens and Liam Cooper, and Niall Barker dropping back into central midfield alongside Aaron Raymond. Keir Vause partnering brother Cohen up front.
On a sticky pitch, quality football was to be at a premium, but Swinefleet started brightly enough. But, another re-shuffle of the side was required on 16 minutes when playmaker Aaron Raymond suffered a back injury forcing him to leave the field and be a severe doubt for next week’s Goole & Thorne Cup Semi-Final. Dale Noon was brought on into the central midfield area to bring his experience and expertise, alongside the enigmatic Barker.
The first half became one of very few chances for either side, a couple of shots from Limestone whizzing past Jamie Ward’s post, and Swinefleet also had efforts from Cohen Vause and Ryan Whitlam just wide of the mark. Swinefleet had the ball in the Limestone net on 27 minutes through Keir Vause, following in on a stunning free-kick from brother Cohen, but a linesman’s flag went up for offside.
The second half was pretty much similar to the first half, with the state of the pitch being the real winner. Limestone also had the ball in the net on 56 minutes, but again the referee ruled this as offside. Swinefleet probably shaded this second half as well as the first half, as they had slightly more possession, but it was really both defences that were on top. The Limestone keeper was only tested by long range efforts from Whitlam, Barker and C. Vause, and Jamie Ward in the Swinefleet nets, the similar number from the home side attackers.
With 25 minutes left and the game still scoreless, a change in Swinefleet tactics was required if this game was to be won. The experienced goal predator Dale Noon was moved from central midfield back up front alongside C. Vause, Danny Nicholson switched from left back into his normal central midfield position, Keir Vause now playing on the right of midfield, and Regan Allen requested to play in a new, unaccustomed left back position. Allen was quite a revelation in this new position for the remaining 25 minutes of normal time, and for the entire 30 minutes of extra-time, showing his footballing ability and tactical awareness.
This switch seemed to breathe new life into Swinefleet with Barker having a strong run and shot on 68 minutes, Whitlam’s shot on 72 minutes hitting the side-netting, but the best chance of the game so far came fell to Noon on 77 minutes, but his shot was parried away by the Limestone keeper. With the score-line goal-less after 90 minutes, the match moved into 30 minutes of extra-time, and sprung into life.
For the first period of extra-time, again both defences were on top, but as the game went into the last 15 minutes before the dreaded penalty shoot-out, the game became more open. Swinefleet keeper Jamie Ward pulled off two marvellous saves on 106 and 109 minutes to keep his side in the tie. But Swinefleet sensed victory here, and a one-two between Ryan Whitlam and Cohen Vause on 112 minutes saw Whitlam smash the ball past the Limestone keeper, crash against the cross-bar and into the net for a purely spectacular goal. Cohen Vause again had the ball in the Limestone net 3 minutes later racing away from the Limestone defence latching onto to a header from Noon, but a late linesman’s flag over-ruled this goal. For the last 5 minutes of time plus 3 minutes of stoppage time, the home side threw everything they had at Swinefleet. Three great individual pieces of defending from Will Sparkes, Liam Cooper and the experienced Archie Stephens in this last 8 minutes kept the Swinefleet goal intact, but it needed a save from keeper Ward in stoppage time, tipping the ball onto the post to prevent a penalty shoot-out.
There were some loud sing-song celebrations in the Swinefleet dressing room immediately afterwards, reminiscent of last year’s Cup Final itself, as Limestone is always a difficult place to come and get a result. There were some good individual performances from the Swinefleet players. Niall Barker in central midfield, solid defending from Liam Cooper and Archie Stephens at the back, and the versatility of Regan Allen, but the Julie Whitlam Sponsored Man of the Match Award was awarded to keeper Jamie Ward.
Next week Swinefleet face their hardest match of the season so far away as underdogs against Thorne Colliery in the Goole & Thorne Cup Semi-Final. As this is an early kick-off, all players to meet at Marshlands at 11.30am.