Under 14s Team beat West Brom in JPL Shield Semi Final
On a dry, warm, spring evening, Ciren. Town FC welcomed WBA Glos. to the Corinium for this JPL Shield semi-final, played on the 1st team stadium pitch under flood lights. The stage and venue were set, could the match live up to the local derby expectation and the venue setting? The answer was an emphatic yes!
The next 90 minutes of football had everything, and before I report on the match detail, both sets of lads deserved enormous credit for serving up such a high quality, courageous and dramatic display that everybody watching it was enthralled and enraptured by what they saw.
The match began with WBAg dominating early possession and territory, they were 1st to every 2nd ball, and kept Ciren pinned back as they forced the pace and the issue. Cirens midfield three of Harvey Jupp, Serkan Kilic, and Alex Lines could not get a foothold in the game as they were either bypassed by long balls that cut them out completely, or by clever and more aggressive passing by their WBAg counterparts. This meant that for sustained periods Cirens, defenders Ty Mifsud, Tom Smart, and Lewis Vanstone, were working overtime, as were the wing backs, Finn Fowler and Joe Perry.
WBAg gained an early reward for their fast start when from a corner that Ciren failed to clear the ball forced home by WBAg to make it 1-0 on 4 minutes. Ciren. Looking a little shell shocked, then spent the majority of the half defending, and were again undone from another set piece for WBAg to go 2-0 on 28 minutes.
Ciren 2-0 down at half time as the whistle went, having been forced to defend for almost the entire half and with skipper and league top scorer Rhys Sarson anonymous and kept quiet by the excellent WBA defence in general, but particularly the centre half.
A combination of the occasion and an excellent WBAg team performance left Ciren staring into the abyss. 2-0 down at half time in a semi-final is a dark and dangerous place to be, so half time was going to be critical to any chance of a fight back! (what goes on in the dressing room, stays in the dressing room)
As the 2nd half got underway, there was an immediate and noticeable change in Ciren's approach, attitude, and application. Suddenly the midfield three of Jupp, Kilic, and Line were more prominent, wining vital possession, 2nd balls, and at last setting moves in motion which began to pose a threat to WBAg, something they had not been able to do for almost the entire 1st half.
On 44 minutes and from a 50-50 tackle won in the middle of the park by Jupp from the outstanding WBAg skipper, the referee awarded a free kick, from range. Sarson hit the cross bar, and the rebound was headed home by Lewis Bainbridge. 2-1 and it felt like the tide was turning, or being forced to turn by an invigorated Ciren team who had at last had found their feet. Skipper Sarson had also woken from his slumber and was now the marauding handful he has been all season. With Ciren. Now dominating possession and territory, was the comeback on?
The crowd by now were completely engrossed by what they were watching, sporting drama at its best. Which way would it go? The next goal would be massive. Ciren gained reward for their possession and territorial domination when on 65 minutes Sarson hit a beautiful, crisp half volley from the edge of the box, 2-2 and the stadium erupted!!
Even as Ciren then continued to push forward WBAg to their eternal credit fought tooth and nail for every inch of ground, and the match was now reaching fever pitch on and off the field. Could a winner be found by either side, or was the dreaded extra time to be the next port of call? As hard as both teams tried, the deadlock could not be broken. Extra time beckoned.
Extra time became an extension of the drama we had seen for the whole of normal time, Ciren still holding the upper hand, but WBAg raiding dangerously on the counter.
Ciren keeper Lewis Markey was called on as a series of free kicks on the edge of the Ciren box posed a real threat, supported by his outstanding defenders, Mifsud, Smart, and Vanstone, he kept them at bay showing both skill and courage under enormous pressure. Sarson by this point had the bit between his teeth and was a real handful for the WBAg defence and when the WBAg centre half (who had been outstanding) was shown a second yellow and the resultant red card just before the end of the first period of ET, WBAg were forced to go one on one with him.
As extra time ticked away, both teams took increasing risks to try to break the deadlock and with 3 or 4 Ciren players now carrying injuries, but being designated penalty takers, the tension all around the ground and in the stands was palpable.
Then finally with 3 minutes left in extra time, a clearance from the Ciren defence went long into the night sky, Sarson chased it, covered by a retreating defender and confronted by an advancing WBAg keeper (who had been brilliant all night by the way) the ball bounced and as it did Sarson found the reserves of energy to accelerate clear of the defender, and reach the ball before the keeper. He lobbed the ball over the keeper, everybody held their collective breath and time seemed to stand still for a few seconds, and then pandemonium as the ball nestled in the back of the net, 3-2 to Ciren. 3 minutes left.
Come back complete? There was still time for both sides to create more chances at both ends, but the final whistle came, to confirm an extraordinary comeback form Ciren, for 2-0 down and having been out played, to find the composure, mental and physical resources (and no little skill and ability) to win 3-2 AET was extra ordinary.
It does of course take 2 sides to produce a game this kind, and we must pay our respects and credit to Colin and his lads. This WBAg side are a terrific team and it was very evident why their recent form has been so outstanding. Losing in a semi-final is never easy but the WBAg boys should all be proud of the part they played on the field.
For Ciren, the final awaits, and having shown impressive reserves of courage, skill, and character that far exceeds their tender years, we look forward with hope and anticipation, knowing we are able to deal with whatever is thrown at us.