The Warwick Men’s first team went into their Midlands Universities League (MUL) Final on Friday 13th May on the back of one of the most successful seasons in the club’s recent history. They comfortably won their league (and with it, promotion), while a hard-fought encounter against local rivals Coventry University brought forth a victory in the Varsity Finale. So they went into the game against Nottingham full of confidence.
The first half started superbly for Warwick and would set the tone for the rest of the game. A free kick on the edge of the box was swung in by first-team captain Dave ‘Ginge’ Holmes and only a goal line clearance after some disorganised defending stopped the home team taking the lead. Derek Quaye, who would turn out to be at the centre of the game’s key moments, was dominating the left wing with flair and a penchant for step overs, bamboozling Nottingham’s right back on several occasions.
Benji Thompson and Simon Olsson were also linking well together up front, as Warwick looked to be in the driving seat. The two strikers were a constant threat, with Thompson frequently winning the first ball and Olsson using his strength and pace to latch onto them through Nottingham’s defence. Warwick’s dominance was highlighted by the high number of corners they won and the newly introduced ‘charging’ tactic sent the Nottingham defence into chaos from set pieces.
Although Nottingham showed occasional flashes of resurgence, thanks to Warwick’s midfield they were reduced to a long ball game, which the robust aerial presence of central defenders Chaz Gans-Larty and Chris Padfield easily dealt with, suffocating Nottingham’s rare attacks. Warwick were spurred on by a large home crowd, boosted by the arrival of many ‘Old boys’ who arrived a day early before the annual Old Boys tournament.
After around 60 minutes, Holmes was forced off, struggling with the recurrence of an old injury, making way for the new Club Captain, Lewis Treacy, who brought pace and fresh legs to the Warwick midfield. 20 minutes from the end of normal time, the only international on the pitch, Malta’s Andrew ‘Minky’ Amato, made a dashing run into the box and was adjudged to have been unfairly brought down by one of Nottingham’s defenders.
This decision sparked much outrage from the Nottingham bench, especially from the Phil Mitchell look-a-like that was the Nottingham coach, who launched a verbal tirade towards the referee. With the Holmes off the pitch, Derek Quaye took over penalty duties and coolly stepped up, but was denied by a fantastic save from the visiting keeper, keeping honours even. As the 90 minute mark came up, Benji Thompson made a darting run into the box and did well to get his head to a cross, but luck escaped Warwick once again as his effort rebounded off the woodwork.
With Warwick not being able to break through the visitors’ defence, extra time was needed which, once again, Warwick dominated and, like the rest of the game, had Nottingham camped within their own half. Towards the end of extra time, all of the hard work put in by the Midland’s 2A champions was starting to take its toll with cramp setting in on a couple of players. Dom Easter was brought on to refresh the team and his industry kept the Nottingham defence occupied.
Having defended doggedly for the majority of the game, Nottingham finally created a couple of decent chances in the final five minutes of extra time, one of which was fortunate to go over the bar after Lewis Treacy performed a fantastic last ditch block.
So after 120 minutes of football, all of Warwick’s dominance had come to nothing and it was down to the lottery of penalties to decide who would be going home with the trophy. After a good save in the game from his earlier penalty, Derek Quaye bravely stepped up to take the first penalty of the shoot-out. Lightening would unfortunately strike twice for Derek and Warwick.
Although Quaye placed the penalty well to the keeper’s left, the keeper guessed correctly once again, managing to get across to brilliantly tip it round the post. Despite Amato, Easter and Treacy all slotting home their respective penalties, Nottingham went onto clinically score all of their penalties, thus crowning them champions of the 2010/11 MUL League.
However, there were many positives to take from the game. During normal and extra time Warwick had dominated the game, outplaying Nottingham, who were strong contenders in the Midlands 1A league. 1A is the league that the Warwick first team has just been promoted into, proving that next season, Warwick will be able to hold their own in their new division.
Although the result didn’t go the way Warwick had hoped, the team did themselves and the university proud. The final drew to an end an extraordinarily successful season for not just the first team, but the entire Men’s Football Club.