Photos: Ruth Gibson
James had spurned numerous chances in the second half before being awarded a controversial penalty late on for a foul on Josh Davis in the area by Halifax defender Gio Pilardes. Davis, James’s chief goal threat throughout the match, was put through on goal only to lose his balance as he was shoved by Pilardes in the area. In truth the penalty was a soft one for the referee to give, as Davis appeared to have shot wide before any contact was made by Pilardes. Halifax could hardly have argued with the result though, with only the outstanding Johnny Sim between the posts coming between James and a higher scoreline.
The first half was evenly contested but, an unfortunate injury to James defender Matt Bainbridge aside, fairly uneventful. Few clear-cut chances were fashioned by either team until around 20 minutes in, Halifax captain Jack Beadle raced clear of the James defence and knocked the ball past the onrushing keeper Toby Owen for what looked like a certain goal, only for Bainbridge, sprinting back, to make an astonishing last-ditch clearance off the line. In doing so Bainbridge smacked his knee against the post and was unable to continue playing, as proceedings were stopped for 25 minutes whilst an ambulance arrived to take Bainbridge to hospital.
When play eventually resumed it was Halifax who looked the stronger team, with the presence of university firsts players such as Beadle, Ash Daly and Alex Reid heavily influencing the match. And yet it was James who came closest to scoring before half-time when Davis charged through one-on-one with Halifax’s Sim and lobbed the ball towards goal, forcing Sim to superbly claw the ball away and to safety. It would be the first of many great saves from Sim, and as the whistle blew for the break it was 0-0.
James should have opened the scoring five minutes after the restart, but midfielder Simon Kreienbaum could only shoot straight at the keeper when presented with a glorious opportunity in the penalty box. Kreienbaum might have come to regret his wastefulness later on, as Ragan brought a diving save from Owen with a sharp half-volley, and then Ash Daly scraped the outside of the post with a drive from distance.
Halifax found themselves unable to create strong chances though, with James’s central defence, and in particular Nick St George and Oscar Lynch, playing out of their skins to deny them chances. Countless attacks were broken up by the good work of Lynch and St George, allowing the likes of the quicksilver James Davis and Freddier Ferrao, impressive in their first outing as freshers, to counter-attack with venom. Ably supported by Ben Cooke and Josh Brownlow, James created chances at ease in the final 15 minutes. A Farrao lob went only inches wide of the post after Sim had been caught in no-man’s land charging out of goal, and then minutes later Davis won the penalty that would settle the match. At 1-0 up Sim was required to make several more outstanding saves to prevent James from solidifying their lead.
This was an assured performance from James, and a more than encouraging start to a new year of college football.
VISION MOTM: Oscar Lynch