By Oliver Todd
The College Cup holders came into the match knowing that anything but a win would result in an embarrassing failure to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Cup, leaving the holders in third place and with the small consolation of a place in the Plate. With this in mind Alcuin started strongly, playing a high-tempo game that put the James defence under pressure from the off. James, with a place in the Plate still not guaranteed, looked nervous at the back, and after a series of close shaves Alcuin’s dominance told as the champions scored two in quick succession. Alcuin opened the scoring when Paul Reiss met Paul Desoisa’s corner and crashed home a header into the roof of the net, making it 1-0. James had no legitimate cause to complain given Alcuin’s early superiority, and within minutes the holders went 2-0 up, with Will Taylor set free by a through ball and racing into the area to slot home confidently from a tight angle. James players complained that there had been an Alcuin handball in the lead-up to the goal, however the referee claimed he hadn’t seen it and, much to the indignation of the losing side, the goal stood.
James reacted strongly to the events of the first half, swapping Paul Charnock for George Clarke in goal and pushing Nathan McCusker out of defence and further forward. These changes had no small effect on the game, turning the tide against Alcuin and giving James more impetus going forward. McCusker was proving unplayable in the air, causing havoc in the Alcuin penalty area with his height, and he almost got one back for James on 40 minutes when he hit the side netting with a fierce shot after Ben Cooke had cut the ball back for him. Alcuin seemed to have lose the confidence of their first half display, and it was no surprise when James finally got their goal on 50 minutes, with Jack Fisher getting the last touch in a mad penalty box scramble that saw the ball edge over the Alcuin goal line and make it 2-1.
With five minutes remaining and the goal gaping, McCusker came within inches of meeting a ball flashing across the area with a diving header. Alcuin were on the rocks, with one more goal all that was needed to knock the champions out of the Cup. With the referee about to blow the whistle, James created one last chance. The ball was hoisted into Alcuin’s area for McCusker to knock the ball down towards the onrushing Fisher, who collected the ball and, with half a yard on his marker, was able to shoot from five yards out. The ball was bouncing though and the shot ballooned over the goal, and with that final chance the game ended, with Alcuin scraping through to the quarter-finals but looking far from convincing champions.
After the match James’s captain George Clarke lamented his team’s subdued first half performance, saying: “We had a really poor first half unfortunately, and I felt we really could have won the game in the second half.” Alcuin’s Phil Bowers, visibly relieved after the final whistle, was phlegmatic about his team’s performance, and their chances against an in-form Derwent 1sts in the quarters. “The heat was a killer today, but we did the job and we’re now through to the next round,” he said. “I do think we can beat Derwent, but we’ll just take it a game at a time.”