Moor Mead Athletic 2 - ESPA Juniors Saints 1
Mission accomplished. Moor Mead pulled off a glorious cup win for the ages to march into the Presidents Cup Final.
On a windy day on a threadbare pitch in a huge field that made Hackney Marshes look glamorous, against a team that took them apart earlier this season, and after losing two players early on to injury, the Parakeets dug so deep to produce a performance brimming with guts and determination. If one had to chose a man of the match, then it would be collective team spirit, everybody made a telling contribution.
Zac was simply irresistible, William W marshalled the defence impeccably, Ben and Ollie were at the top of their games, and Dilly looked prepared to lose a leg rather than cede an inch in midfield.
Last week’s masterclass in the 3-0 home league win against ESPA - so imperious at home on their home AstroTurf against us before Christmas - seemed to have swung the balance of power; and what Moor Mead started last Saturday, they comprehensively finished off in this all important semi-final, rendering their opponents bereft of ideas long before the final whistle.
The weather, the pitch, and cup nerves meant both sides struggled to impose themselves in a desperately scrappy start. Miles resumed his sweeper role from last week, but after a confident start was forced off by a knee injury after only a few minutes - followed off mid-way through the half by Shaifulah who got a knock from behind in a firm challenge.
Eventually, ESPA started to threaten but Ben made a couple of interceptions, and William W was strong in the air. Then Zac broke down the left, but Ollie couldn’t quite convert. The same duo combined again, Zac making space on the edge of the box before Ollie drilled a shot across goal.
But it was ESPA who took the lead from a penalty out of nowhere. Their striker went down in the box after the tiniest of contact from Daniel, but the referee saw a foul and the spot kick was dispatched coolly past Alec (0-1).
ESPA then looked to extend their lead, posing a threat from a succession of floated corners which hung in the breeze, but the Moor Mead defence stood firm, if not always in control. At the other end Zac broke down the left, setting up Louis who fired just over the bar.
Then, suddenly, the Parakeets - somewhat against the run of play - were level. Ben lobbed the ball forward, and ZAC brought it under control instantly, flummoxing the keeper, and slotting clinically into the far corner from an acute angle (1-1).
After the early setbacks, it was a real morale boost to reach half-time level, and it set a platform for a wonderfully composed second 35 minutes.
ESPA won a free kick on the edge of the box after Jeremias unluckily handled and was harshly penalised, but Alec dealt easily with a weak effort. Then Zac’s persistence won the ball from nothing, and OLLIE capitalised on a defending misstep to curl a shot artfully beyond the keeper (2-1).
There was still most of the second period to play, and surely a team as polished as ESPA would find a way? Not today. Moor Mead started to impose themselves utterly, always just a little but quicker to the ball, that little bit more composed, and the ESPA swagger was replaced by frustration as Moor Mead stood firm. “Don’t let them run the game,” one of the ESPA fans shouted, but that’s exactly what Moor Mead started to do.
Jake stole away down the right to pressurise the keeper. And every time Zac got the ball he began to mesmerise with footwork as fancy as a Sadler’s Wells prima donna. Finally he was bundled over outside the box, but Ollie curled the free kick just wide.
As the game ticked on, the tension rose with the howling wind. The Gibson roar started to echo across the Epsom Downs, and Tom Sutton vaped for England. ESPA found a second wind. Alec caught a long-range shot, a header from a corner fizzed just over the Moor Mead bar, and William W made one last key interception.
Moor Mead cleverly started to keep possession and shut the game down as ESPA threw more players forward, and then finally: the whistle, and mass celebration. A 5-1 autumn defeat avenged by a league thumping, and a magnificent cup win.
They say the only important thing about a semi-final is the result.
Everything about this win was wonderful, for players and parents, it was something to cherish forever.