The English Department football team swept to the KPMG Saturday League title with a stunning 3-1 victory over Men’s Cricket. The victory was the team’s eighth consecutive triumph, and ensured their passage into the ‘Champions of Champions’ tournament with the winners of the Wednesday and Sunday leagues, Law Society and ‘Statix’. The final itself was played on a glorious Saturday afternoon, and the quality of football proved the perfect supplement to the weather.
The opening was a tight, tense affair, with the traditionally miserly defence of the English Department offering Cricket little sight of goal. Having conceded just ten goals in their previous ten fixtures, the back-line of Tom Goble, Christopher Newman, Andrew Burrows and Anthony Tan effectively executed a high line, allowing the midfield and forwards to press Cricket high up the pitch, resulting in heavy spells of pressure for the eventual champions.
This resulted in the opening goal of the game, after a scrappy tussle in midfield; the outstanding Dave Bewick lofted a high ball in to the Cricket penalty area, which was misjudged by the advancing goalkeeper, allowing Oliver Mason to fire into the empty net for his third goal of the season.
The lead was maintained until half-time, with the game increasingly scrappy in the middle of the pitch, much to the frustration of Cricket’s central midfield duo. Bewick, accompanied in English’s central midfield by Matt Ellis, frustrated their opponents with timely tackles and strong physicality, which was complimented on the flanks by the tricky Adam Turner and goal scorer Mason, who provided ammunition for the front duo of Danny Arter and Mark Guildea, who replaced Ben Jacobs early on.
English could and should have scored a second before the interval, and this proved crucial as Cricket came out in the second half invigorated. Having only caused English trouble from set-plays in the first-half, the eventual victors did not heed the warning, and a powerful header from a corner levelled the scores at 1-1. Yet the freshness of the English team’s substitutes proved vital, with the rapid Lewis Spiers and the sheer athleticism of Philip Jackson giving them an added threat going forward.
Yet it was the influential Bewick who orchestrated the decisive third goal of the game. After the equaliser, a scrappy period ensued with neither team wanting to over-commit men forward. Yet, a powerful burst from the midfielder following an English long-throw resulted in a misjudged tackle from an opponent. This gave KPMG organizer and match referee Brian Weller his most important decision of the match, which he did not shy away from, deciding that the defender did not play the ball, thus awarding English an opportunity to re-gain the lead from twelve yards.
Striker Mark Guildea stepped forward, and confidently despatched the penalty past the despairing dive of the Cricket goalkeeper to give English a crucial lead with just over ten minutes remaining. Naturally Cricket threw caution to the wind, attacking in great numbers, but English and their use of rotating substitutes proved a more than competent match for the onslaught, with numerous blocks and crucial tackles made by a newly-formed central midfield trio, as English deployed a 4-5-1 formation hoping to see out the remaining time. At 2-1, goalkeeper Alfred Heath pulled off a fingertip save to deny Cricket an equaliser, and from the resulting corner a long clearance allowed the pacy Spiers to challenge the tiring Cricket backline.
He did this with aplomb, racing past two tackles before rounding the advancing goalkeeper to slot into an empty net, securing his eighth goal of the season and moving level with Danny Arter as English’s top scorer for the season.
This proved the final blow for Cricket with seconds remaining, and the final whistle heralded celebrations from the English team that were fully justified and deserved. The team’s collective performance over the course of the season has merited the victory, having lost only one match early in the season.
Yet, this proved the catalyst for their fantastic eight-match winning streak, and the team ended the competition as both top scorers, averaging nearly three goals a game with thirty-two strikes in eleven fixtures. Equally impressive has been their tight-backline, marshalled by Christopher Newman, who prepared for the final by watching videos of his defensive idol Lither Matthias. The defence conceded only eleven goals over the course of the season, four of which came in their first fixture in a thrilling 4-4 draw with Italian Soc.
Trophies and medals will be awarded at the conclusion of the ‘Champion of Champions’ event at the end of week 9, and with great momentum on their side, the English Department will feel they will take some stopping going into the tournament.