Images: Philip Mourdjis
Alcuin will have no idea how they lost this game 3-1. It was a game they dominated from start to finish, but opportunistic finishing from the Black Swan allowed them to grind out the win. The start of the match was inherently sloppy. Alcuin found themselves carving out a couple of half chances, with Andy Fernando firing harmlessly over the bar, but nothing clear cut. Luca Nazzicone was particularly impressive, making a couple of game saving tackles in a display of no-nonsense defending.
Alcuin dictated the play for the majority of the match, and by playing their own game, they were able to create a couple of clear cut chances towards the end of the first half. Both chances were spurned by the profligate Alcuin winger Sarin, who in spite of impressive agility, when played in by striker Hinchcliffe, saw his dink over Balzan cleared off the line.
If you could forgive him a goal-line clearance, there could be no such sympathy for the second miss. Sarin danced around Balzan following a great burst of pace into the box, and with an open goal at his mercy completely neglected to shoot. He twisted, he turned, he tried to do far too much, and in the end Balzan smothered the effort.
James were well-oiled in midfield, winning the ball from Alcuin with consummate ease. They just seemed incapable of creating anything themselves, so all were surprised when they took the lead at the end of the first half.
For the first time in the game, Alcuin lapsed, giving Joe Fox a free header to flick on to Ralph Gill. The big man made no mistake, driving a powerful shot past stand-in keeper Harry Smith to give his side the lead.
In the second half, Alcuin continued to play their game, and by finding winger Ben Bugeja they fashioned an opportunity for Leonidas Kanonis, who latched on to Bugeja’s reverse pass, jinked past Callum Elliott, but could not find a shot to beat Balzan.
Alcuin finally found their deserved equaliser when a well-hit Nestor free-kick found Kanonis unmarked at the back post. He unselfishly cushioned a header into the path of Luca Nazzicone, who drilled the ball past Balzan from point blank range.
Though Alcuin continued to dictate the play, with another powerful run from Kanonis creating an opening for the indecisive Sarin, and a goalbound acrobatic hook by Bugeja well saved by Balzan, James took the lead against the run of play.
A high ball into the Alcuin box permitted Ralph Gill to tower above the Alcuin defence and cushion a header neatly into the path of Callum Elliott. The centre-back’s header nestled in the net for 2-1.
Alcuin’s Achilles heel had always seemed to be defending from set pieces, and it was this sloppiness in terms of man marking which cost them the game.
There was just time for that man Nestor to bend a brilliant freekick towards Balzan’s top left hand corner, just to see it glance off the outside of the post, before James grabbed a galling third.
This time the goal was cheap, and one which typified the plight of a team of Alcuin’s ilk but certainly not of their morning this time around. A harmless looking flick into the area should have been gathered comfortably by Smith, but his indecision allowed James Edwards to beat him to the ball, and he toe-poked home for an easy goal.
James captain Ralph Gill was a relieved man following the contest. He told Vision “I thought we were absolutely dreadful today. We were very resilient though, and had Joe Fox not dominated the midfield, I feel we would have lost that game. The important thing was to grind out the win when not playing well. That’s what good teams do.”
Alcuin captain Greg Fearn remained upbeat in spite of his team’s defeat, telling Vision “That was absolutely crushing. Everyone hates to lose, but when you’re the better team, play the better football and deserve the win, it’s even worse.
“If you don’t score, you don’t win, but the performance was promising and shows what we’re capable of.”
JAMES (4-3-3): Balzan, Sangha, Elliott, Axford, Alhasan, Wheldon, Fox, Gill, Edwards, Baker, Jopson
ALCUIN (4-4-1-1): Smith, McConnell, Kennick, Nazzicone, Petrides, Kanonis, Fernando, Sarin, Nestor, Bugeja, Hinchcliffe
Subs: Harget, Fearn