Thursday 2nd May at The Bescot Stadium, Walsall saw the curtain drawn on the England Colleges Football season with the National Knockout Cup between Itchen College and Peter Symonds College followed by the Premier Cup Final contested between Barking Abbey & South Tyneside.
The Knockout Cup saw two colleges from Hampshire make the long trip to Walsall to not only contest the National Final, but rumour was that they had agreed to use the fixture to fulfil their outstanding Hampshire Colleges game. The match also saw a number of Women’s clubs represented, including but probably not limited to: Portsmouth, Chichester City, Southampton Women, Southampton Saints Girls & Ladies, Southampton FC, Winchester City Flyers, Warsash Wasps, also represented was England Beach Soccer.
The game started at a slow pace, probably the 3 ½ hour journeys from the south coast may have taken its toll on the legs, with Itchen College playing a passing game and building from the back with the goalkeeper being used as a pivot point to change the aspect of play. Peter Symonds worked hard to try and win the ball back but struggled with the geometric patterns being used to move the ball around the excellent playing surface.
Numerous attempts started to reign down on the Peter Symonds goal, with some excellent wing play from Jenna Sutton, but the Peter Symonds keeper was not in the mood to be beaten and was putting in a quality performance between the sticks.
The deadlock was broken after 15 minutes when Itchen captain Alisha Buckingham broke through the defensive line to rifle home the first. Peter Symonds continued with their plan by trying to move the ball quickly forward, and no signs of any hoof-ball that you sometimes see. This soon paid off as the Peter Symonds striker was brought down in the Itchen box for a penalty. The subsequent penalty was a quality strike into the bottom corner. I will say though that Jaime Rowlands in goal for Itchen was unlucky as she chose the right way, got a strong hand to the shot and pushed it onto the upright only to see the ball decide that it wanted to nestle into the net rather than return into play.
24 minutes gone and the game was back level. It stayed this way for another 11 minutes while Itchen started to apply more pressure with quality passing and constantly building from the back. To see defenders happy to use their keeper is great to see. This constant ball movement and pressure eventually paid off again as Tash Wild netted after 35 minutes to regain the lead for Itchen.
Peter Symonds though had other ideas as a quality ball forward gave Armiee Akpobire a one v one against Rowlands. Rowlands took the only option available for her and raced out off her line in an attempt to beat the striker to the ball, unfortunately for her, but not for the game, she didn’t quite make it in time as Akpobire nipped the ball past her outside of the box, and with an open goal, (and no Nathan Thompson heroics from the Itchen defence), she had the simplest of goals to equalise.
Itchen though didn’t drop their heads and continued to press forward and some excellent individual work from Alisha Buckingham saw Itchen grab a 3rd just before half time to go in 3-2 up.
The second half started with the Itchen coach keeping to his pre-match promise to switch Goalkeepers at half time and replace Rowlands with Grace Jenman. This also signalled a change in tempo as Itchen started to press higher up the field. This intensity change paid off as two quick goals early in the second half from Mia Gardner and to be fair that was a world-class strike and another excellent individual effort from Mia gave Itchen a 5-2 lead.
This possibly would lead you to think that the game would be over but Peter Symonds refused to give up and their continued pressure found gaps behind the Itchen defenders as they played the high line leading to a free kick on the edge of the box, which was dealt with. Further pressure from the Peter Symonds right winger forced Jenman into having to claim two low crosses into her box in quick succession. Symonds were aware of Itchen’s desire to play out from the back again almost paid off as they started to intercept the passes out from the back but quality covering from Bradbeer, Kaur and Woolley and quick reactions from Jenman kept the attacks at bay.
A late tackle in the Symonds Box led to Itchen winning a penalty that was calmly scored by Abi Cleverly and the scoring was rounded off by another Tash Wild goal as she profited from a mixup in the Penalty area and nipped between the keeper and defender to slot the ball home to put Itchen 7-2 up. Further opportunities fell Itchen’s way but two more goals were ruled out by the official’s offside flag being raised, to the upset of the Itchen followers. Both would probably have been awarded had VAR been in play.
Itchen captain Alisha Buckingham was awarded the player of the game but I have to say that every player on the pitch gave everything they had and deserve credit for making this a great game to watch.
Added to this two of the Itchen Players, Sian Bradbeer and Jaime Rowlands were awarded their England College’s representative Caps during the half time break of the Premier Cup final, along with the rest of the England Colleges Squad, which also saw 3 of the players in that final awarded their caps (2 finals, 4 teams, 5 caps)
With the long trip back to the South Coast, I didn’t stay to see the completion of the Premier Cup final which saw Barking Abbey run out 1-0 winners with the only goal scored by Lauren George who also picked up the Player of the Game award.
Report by Andy Rowlands