St Ives Town 0 St Neots Town 2
Huntingdonshire FA Senior Cup Semi Final – 06/02/18
A powerful display from ex skipper Luke Knight was the catalyst to Ives being bundled out of the County Cup at the semi-final stage for the second year in a row. The visitors wrestled control of the all important midfield area early on and thanks to the heroics of Knight ensured they did not lose it right through this tough encounter. Without their route through the centre Ives were unable to bring their speedy wide men into play as much as they like and were forced to go long on to many occasions providing meat and drink to another ex Ives man Liam McDevitt and his fellow centre back the powerful Taylor Parr.
The Saints were so effective in their tactics on this occasion that Finlay Iron their seventeen year old goalkeeper was a virtual spectator for long periods of the game while Ives 19 year old debutant keeper Lewis Todd was kept busy throughout and but for his bravery and athleticism the 2-0 score line could have been even more emphatic.
The game started cagily as both sides tried to come to terms with the heavy pitch and the first time either of the keepers was called into serious action did not arrive until 16th minute when a low cross from the right by Scott Sinclair was cleverly dummied by Nabil Shariff to allow Knight a run on goal. Just as the Saints skipper shaped to shoot he was clattered by his opposite number for Ives Rogan McGeorge. Dylan Williams lined up the free kick from the edge of the D and fired a low drive around the hosts four man wall. But keeper Todd was equal to it getting down smartly to his left and hanging on well.
The next opportunity also went the way of the visitors in 24th minute as Williams combined well with Sinclair on the left and the latter delivered a perfectly flighted ball to the back post where Tom Wood had ghosted in unmarked. But fortunately for Ives Wood failed to hit the target with his free header from eight yards.
The closest Ives came to scoring on the evening was in 28th minute as Peter Clark showed his silky skills in running at the Saints back line before slipping the ball out to Tom Knowles on the right corner of the box. His first time effort lacked power, but caused panic in the visitors defence as it bobbled across the face of goal. McDevitt stuck out a boot and the ball deflected off his studs before bouncing on past an off balance Iron in the visitors goal. The young keeper, and his centre back, were both mightily relieved as the ball rolled on struck the inside of the post and rebounded straight back into the arms of the grateful custodian as he sat on the deck in his six yard box.
If that ball had found it’s way into the back of the net the game could have gone in a whole different way. But by such fine margins are matches decided and only ninety seconds later the Saints went down the other end and took the lead. A cross field ball from Kyran Wiltshire picked out Sinclair just outside the right hand corner of the box. His first time ball back into the centre picked out Shariff perfectly and the silky Saints centre forward’s one touch finish powered past the diving Todd to put the visitors in control.
The hosts then spent the remainder of the first half battling to stay in the game. Sinclair and Shariff combined well in 35th minute. The final ball from the former giving the latter a clear shooting opportunity from twelve yards that he flashed wide. The same player went close again five minutes later as Ives struggled to clear a free kick pumped into their box. The ball eventually arriving at the feet of Shariff who screwed his effort inches wide from a good position. Todd denied the dangerous centre forward doubling the lead only one minute later as he plunged to his left to keep out his low drive through a crowded box.
The resulting corner was delivered into the mix where Todd rose well above the crowd to get a good clean punch away. But the ball landed at the feet of Williams fully 30 yards from goal. He had time to take a touch before unleashing a powerful rising drive that Todd looked to have covered, unfortunately the ball took a big deflection off the head of McGeorge and flew into the corner of the net giving the young stopper no chance.
Having gone in two down it was going to take a monumental effort for Ives to get back into the game and they were certainly going to need a good start to the second half. But they had to be very thankful to the agility and bravery of keeper Todd to prevent them falling further behind with the second period only four minutes old. Sinclair was put clear through the centre and looked certain to score, but Todd closed him down quickly and bravely blocked the winger’s effort at point blank range. His recovery to similarly block the follow up effort as Shariff pounced on the loose ball was even more amazing.
Ives only opportunity to get back into the game came in 63rd minute when a poor goal kick from Iron was headed into the feet of Danny Watson by McGeorge. The Ives centre forward took a touch before unleashing his shot from 20 yards, but he was beaten by a bobble as the ball bounced up off a divot just as he went to strike it and the effort ended up in the car park.
With Saints now in control in the centre and Ives unable to create much going forward the game was really finished as a contest by mid way through the second period. The only other noteworthy efforts in the remaining time all went the way of the visitors. Todd repeated his heroics just after the break with another amazing double save in 70th minute. This time it was Williams who got clear only to be denied by a brave point blank save from the Ives stopper again it looked like the ever alert Shariff was going to pounce on the loose ball, but the athletic Todd bravely plunged in to take the ball off the centre forwards toe.
The Saints should have increased their lead three minutes later as a long ball from Harry O’Malley caught out the Ives back line and Wiltshire took it down well and set off for goal only to be brought down by Miles Smith as he shaped to shoot. Referee Josh Crofts was right on the spot and had no hesitation in awarding the penalty. Williams struck his spot kick well and sent Todd the wrong way. But his powerful effort rattled the crossbar and bounced over.
The final noteworthy action ten minutes from time was a clever back heel from Williams that put Knight clear. But the Saints captain was bundled over by another poorly timed challenge from Smith who following his conceding the penalty only minutes early was perhaps a little fortunate to only pick up a yellow card. The resulting free kick was scrambled away and Saints played out the remaining time without a scare to book their place in May’s showpiece where they will face either holders Eynesbury Rovers, or Yaxley.
Debutant goalkeeper Todd picked up the supporter’s man of the match award for his heroics in keeping the Ives in the game. There were few other contenders on what proved to be a tough night for the hosts. But we wish the Saints well in their deserved final appearance.
Final Score : St Ives Town 0 St Neots Town 2
Goals : none
St Ives team : Todd, Smith, Jarrold, Libertucci (Snaith 21), Groves, Kelly, Knowles, McGeorge (capt), Clark (Draycott 60), Watson (De’ath 75), Baker
Unused subs : Warner-Eley, Moyes
Supporters man of the match : Lewis Todd
Attendance : 103
Report by Nigel Howlett