James 1sts 1-0 Vanbrugh 1sts
THE JAMES 1sts secured the College Cup as they edged the Vanbrugh 1sts in glorious sunshine on the JLD.
On the back of two disappointing league campaigns which saw the Black Swan’s title aspirations scuppered, Manny Sangha’s men will take added satisfaction from their newfound ability to occasionally win ugly during their Cup campaign.
The final was to be an ugly win in itself. It was rather fitting, therefore, that the one moment of raw quality was to decide the fixture. After a frustrating fifty minutes of football in which James struggled to break down the Vanbrugh backline, a powerful effort from Ralph Gill eight minutes from time was required to settle the tie.
The Vanbrugh 1sts will be frustrated by their inability to stretch the James defence, but the absence of Joe Lund, Matthew Potts and Liam Sides from the team made strong attacking impetus unlikely.
The James 1sts had to endure an awkward start to the game, with returning old boy Freddie Ferrao picking up a knock in the opening seconds, and centre-backs Callum Elliott and Dom McCormick both having to nervously clear their lines after some heavy touches.
But the Black Swan eventually settled down and began creating opportunities. Having recovered from his earlier knock, Ferrao looked a danger down the left wing, finding Gill in space deep in Vanbrugh’s half, who in turn laid off Andrew Jopson for a laced effort that was well held by Max Donnell-Ford.
Freddie Ferrao continued to cause problems down the left channel, skipping past Vanbrugh right-back Tom Siddle to reach the by-line and cross for Matthew Singleton, whose lay-off for the onrushing Joe Fox was misplaced.
James continued to struggle to conjure up openings, but whenever they did, they came from Ferrao. Moments before half time, the winger cut inside, marauding through a number of Vanbrugh defenders before the ball fell to Singleton, who manufactured space for a shot which was well held by Donnell-Ford at the near post.
The second half began brightly for James, with Joe Fox’s drilled effort from the edge of the area forcing a brilliant diving save from Donnell-Ford. A lofted through ball then put Gill in on goal, but the Vanbrugh ‘keeper showed courageous improvisation to stick out a foot and rob Gill of the ball.
But Sangha’s men were unable to build on their bright spell, with the frustration epitomised when Singleton was flagged offside in acres of space down the left channel. With Ferrao and Jopson tiring, and Singleton unsupplied, the James front three seemed to be running out of ideas.
The James 1sts, however, have an envious number of goalscorers other than their front three, none more prolific than Ralph Gill. Seeing Ferrao on the ball on the left flank, Gill made a late run forward and was picked out by his team-mate. With one touch to control the ball and another to set himself, the central midfielder then lashed a ferocious effort low into the bottom right corner. Donnell-Ford did well to get a hand to it, but the power behind the effort forced it into the net.
James then had opportunities to put Vanbrugh to the sword. Andrew Jopson robbed the ball from a fatigued Troy Carruthers before playing it to Singleton, who set up Ferrao for a disappointing daisy-cutter in acres of space. Jopson then followed up with an effort which smacked the crossbar.
But the Black Swan would not be made to rue their lack of composure, with a misplaced Adam Lewis header Vanbrugh’s only opportunity in the last moments. At the final whistle, sheer relief was etched on the faces of the James players, who will have feared their season ending unfulfilled.
Despite it being an entirely forgettable Cup final, the James 1sts are surely deserving winners. In the previous two academic terms, we saw a side that could dismantle their opponents at will, but that could also crumble when the stakes were too high. This term, however, Manny Sangha seems to have added grit and steel to his team’s psychology.
Sangha was understandably satisfied with the Cup success:
“[We were] pretty average, and it was a pretty dull sixty minutes. Vanbrugh came here to defend, and hopefully take it to penalties, so it’s hard in those conditions to score many goals.
“I think we controlled the game, we were never really in doubt or under pressure. It’s pleasing.”
Asked how the team can keep improving next season, Sangha gave a stern and simple message:
“If we stick together as a team, and not just be a group of individuals.”
James 1sts Starting XI (4-3-3): Balzan; Sangha (c), Elliott, McCormick, Edwards; Tuite, Gill, Fox; Jopson, Singleton, Ferrao.
Vanbrugh 1sts Starting XI (4-3-3): Donnell-Ford; Siddle, Picknell (c), Dunkley, O’Brien; Tabas, Watkins, Carruthers; Basaglia, Lewis, Knowles.