Under 21s make Hampshire Cup Final
by John Walkerdine on February 23rd, 2013

Mill Road Athletic  3 - 3  Crofton Saints U21

Crofton Saints Under 21s win 4 - 3 after extra time
Crofton Saints, a founding member of this year’s experimental Hampshire FA Under 21 League under the guise of the City of Southampton Adult League, fought out a tough semi-final battle to make it through to the Junior C Cup Final.
 
An interesting season in the Under 21’s league has been embellished by involvement in three adult Cup competitions. The long road to the Totton final has involved playing adult teams from: Portsmouth, Gosport, Bournemouth and Southampton, non harder than this encounter against Mill Road Athletic. Playing on a recovering heavy surface at Brooker’s field, the pitch was on the small side, against a towering opposition, which wasn’t a good mix for a Crofton team who like to keep the ball down and stroke it around the pitch.

The first half was a balanced encounter with Mill Road coming on to Crofton and effectively disturbing their game. Crofton’s game suffered as they tried to play Mill Road at their game. Most of the play was kept down the centre of the pitch whilst Crofton’s normally busy wingers were given little to do. Mill Road’s wiley tactics closed down Crofton’s play and much of the ball was pumped around the pitch in the air, where Athletic mastered and controlled much of the game. Twenty minutes in Crofton suddenly woke up to the tactics and played the ball out of defence down the left to winger Lee Anthony. Having had his head up before receiving the ball he chose to switch play over the heads of the two advancing forwards in the middle of the pitch, taking out three defenders to the right winger, Joe Broadway who took it on the volley. From 30 yards the bullet travelled across the stationary keeper hitting the underside of the bar, rebounding off the defender and rifled into the net. With revitalised confidence Crofton’s performance improved to their more normal passing game as they began to ping it around with ease. This culminated in doubling their lead in style with a corner from Lee Anthony’s left side where Paul Watson’s movement left the Mill Road’s sizeable defence for dead as he nodded home. Having had little possession in the first half and 2 nil down with 10 minutes to go before half time Athletic came back at Crofton by playing to their strengths and optimising the ball in the air. Two well-made headed goals, the latter in the closing moments of the half  ruthlessly set up the second half.
 
As the second half wore on, Mill Road played more and more ball in the air with every; throw in, corner or set piece pumped in to the Crofton area. Crofton didn’t win a single one, as the size of the Athletic players intimidated the tiring and strangely demoralised Crofton. So it was with surprise when Crofton broke the deadlock with an amazing well-made goal from the back. Gathering the ball from an Athletic attack, right back John Davis travelled out of his area, looked up and slotted the ball on the ground between the recovering left winger and advancing left back to his Captain who had with stealth moved in behind. Taking the centre backs by surprise he travelled at speed and passed the ball in to the corner of the net leaving the keeper with little chance. Believing this was an ideal spring board for Crofton to control the remainder of the game, Athletic stepped it back up and came back at Crofton to score a headed equaliser and reach full time very much in control of the fixture.
 
The Crofton manager ‘hairdryered’ his lacklustre, defeatist youngsters, as with disbelief he remarked on the fact that they had been beaten down by one overbearing tactic and let themselves be intimidated by the opposition’s size. Dented pride took the Crofton lads back out on to the pitch for the first period of extra time. With immediate effect they took charge again, speeding the game up to their normal tempo and moving the ball with fabulous passages of play. It wasn’t too long before they released Captain Nick Jackson again for him to lead by example with the deciding goal. Crofton didn’t stop at that with attack after attack, hitting the bar and missing 3 one-on-one chances on goal, throughout the remainder of the half. With the final missed chance the crowd could have thought that that could have been an omen for fate to take its hand in the second half of extra time.
 
Although the crowd didn’t pay anything, they did get their monies worth because true to form the second half began with the prophesied reversal of play. Mill Road continued to pushed on and Crofton dropped deep. Ball after ball were pumped in to the Crofton area for the big guys to nod in however an ever tiring Crofton kept the brave and tenacious Mill Road at bay to take the honours.
 
As the Ref and allocated Assistants reflected afterwards, ‘they would like to see Crofton play on a flat pitch’, which suggests that a muted Crofton quality was evident although felt it had failed to show on the day. They now look forward to improving pitches and opportunities to play the passing game.


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