College Cup Semi-Final: Halifax 1sts book final berth
Despite putting on a valiant second half display, James 1sts were unable to overcome a dogged Halifax side, whose 2-1 victory set up a final showdown with Vanbrugh 1sts.
The second of the week's College Cup semi-finals was an altogether different affair to the first, as wet and blustery conditions, as well as an immensely slippery playing surface, made for a frustrating afternoon's play.
James started the brighter of the two teams, as Halifax goalkeeper Jonny Sim was called into action within seconds of the kick-off, smartly diving to his right to keep out a James Davies effort from range. Davies continued to cause the Halifax backline problems, as the furious pace of his and Freddie Ferrao's dribbling proved difficult to defend against. Some smart link-up play between the two yielded a golden chance, but James skipper Richard Baxter saw his header flash just wide of the post.
Derwent displayed on Tuesday that a failure to convert chances can prove costly, a fact which was not lost on James, as frustration grew within their ranks after several missed efforts on goal. Another superb point-blank stop from Sim kept the scores level, and it seemed like this might not be James' day.
After a quarter of an hour, the deadlock was broken. Halifax's Matt Mawdesley rose above the James defenders to loop a header in off the crossbar, sparking mass celebration from his teammates. Conceding from a corner is always somewhat of a sucker-punch, but James' misery must have been compounded by the way in which they had dominated the entirety of the game.
The goal clearly settled Halifax, who began to play with more confidence and freedom. Seconds after the restart, Alex Reid was unlucky to see a fantastic effort rebound off the bar, as his 25-yard strike had keeper Luke Bradley well beaten.
James needed to compose themselves, and quickly, but a second Halifax goal scuppered any attempt to regroup. A pinpoint cross from the lively Tom Day was headed in by towering striker Hamish Denham, and Halifax had one foot in the final.
All of James' early good work had been undone by sloppy defending, and an inability to deal with the ball into the box was further exploited by Denham, whose long throws wreaked havoc throughout the James defence. The half-time whistle came not a moment too soon for James, who desperately needed the interval to recover their composure and mount a charge on a game that was swiftly slipping away from them.
To James' credit, they started the second period positively, as Halifax bore the brunt of a strong headwind, and repeated James pressure. Davies and Ferrao once more came into the match, and this time their tricky exchanges yielded a goal: Jonny Sim may feel he should have done better with a James Offord strike that he was only able to fumble, and could only watch as Josh Brownlow was on-hand to nudge the ball in at the far post to half the arrears.
The goal sparked a nervous last twenty minutes for Halifax, whose previously assured defending began to unravel. A James corner found Richard Baxter unmarked at the back post, but the James skipper once again saw his header miss wide by mere inches. On another day, he may well have dragged his side back into the match, but time slipped away, and Halifax were relieved to hear the final whistle.
Shot-stopper Jonny Sim praised the side's businesslike performance: “Very pleased with today's result. We played some great football, especially in the first half and were clinical with our chances when they came”. He also added that the team will be in confident mood when lining up to face Vanbrugh next week, where they will be attempting to defend the title they won last year.