words/pics: Garth O'Mara
1993 vs Arsenal, 1995 vs Everton, 1999 vs Newcastle, 2001 vs Arsenal, 2010 vs Portsmouth, 2012 vs Chelsea, 2017 vs Chelsea, 2018 vs Man United… that’s 8! Yes, you read correctly 8 semi-final defeats in a row. An FA Cup record L
So, it was with some trepidation that I awoke to the bright Sussex sunshine this morning contemplating the semi-final of the Vipers vs Albury Griffins.
The ground looked splendid. A quick check in the executive boxes of the West Stand found Emily Smith very excited and ready to go. Questioned on how her brothers might play this morning our resident pundit stated, “I think they will both do as well as each other”.
A quick warm-up for the lads, a rousing team talk and then the magnificent sight of “Commander Cameron” on the field reading specific tactical instruction out to Charlie – watch your backs Paul and Vinny!
The whistle blew, the game commenced, George bellowed encouragement and a very lively encounter started with a lot of activity right from the off. The suspicion was that this level of effort couldn’t be sustained without Coach Paul having a lively substitution strategy. The level of effort was the feature of the game.
Right from the off the Vipers looked dangerous and at the task in hand very quickly. Cam immediately started dominating the midfield using his size advantage, getting his foot on the ball and providing some very clever attacking passing play. William and Raff up front were dangerous from the start also – particularly impressive was the pressing from Raff who was playing the lone striker in the middle as our talisman Jody was missing. This pressing was causing Albury to clear the ball at haste and stifling any rhythm they were trying to get into their game.
Albury were dangerous at this point in the game. A mazey run from their left winger flashed the ball across goal, foxed George and as we all had our hearts in our mouths Cam cleared off the line. The balance of play was shifting though, and the Vipers were looking increasingly dangerous in attack. William had a number of corners, all delivered very well, one in particular flashing across the goal at speed that just needed the smallest of flicks to create a real problem.
Harry and Oscar entered the frame from the subs bench after about 20 mins and this new energy on the field from the pair of them changed the dynamic immediately. Harry continued straight from where he left off last week and decided to play his own separate game of football vs Albury. He maneuvered himself into a dangerous position that resulted in an illegal barge off the ball. Not for the first in the game George Clooney in the middle of the pitch let play go before pulling it back citing no advantage, explained his decision and pulled play for a Loxwood free-kick. Excellent refereeing. The resulting free-kick from Cam was well taken but a brave Albury wall stood firm.
An Albury corner was handled by the trusty back 3 and released to Oscar. With huge energy he ran the length of the pitch and although brilliant play you sensed if it was released that could have been the chance. It wouldn’t be long though…..
The breakthrough came in the 28th minute. Harry again worked himself into space in a fairly congested penalty box and forced a save from the Albury keeper – he followed up and his persistence paid off as the keeper struggled to hold it and Harry poked it past him for 1-0.
Now, we cried, it was time to “keep it simple”. Batten down the hatches and get to half-time at 1-0 and refresh. The Vipers however had other ideas. They pressed hard and there was a barrage of 3 or 4 chances – it was happening so fast it remains undocumented! They say fortune favours the brave and it was a bit of fortune that bought the second goal. William again placing a beautiful cross at speed, this one low to the ground, which clipped an unfortunate Albury outstretched leg and looped over their stranded keeper who really couldn’t do anything about it. Respect shown by the parent contingent who refrained a celebration of note.
Brad Pitt restarted the game and Albury attacked demonstrating that they were still in this but the human stallion then blew the whistle for half-time and Loxwood went in 2-0 up.
The boys came out once again with a very strong start. An initial cross from the right by Harry that Raff couldn’t quite meet. Albury attacked, but this was repelled by Sebby and Harry J. George gained control and our trusty keeper released the ball quickly to provide a route one chance for Harry S that just skimmed past the post.
A short time after though our man mountain Cam had to come off. Oh no! An injury! Was it a hamstring? Was it a metatarsal? A detailed examination determined that he had drunk too much Lucozade at half-time and his tummy hurt! Probably quite good for Cam that Vinny Jones is not our coach J
The front three (Charlie playing a little more advanced now) were starting to cause havoc. Charlie hit the side netting after bursting through. Moments later a cross from Charlie arrived to Raff who placed it to Harry who blasted over. Would the Vipers regret these missed opportunities?
This question was answered in part in the 34th minute. A clearance by the keeper resulted in a very strong directed header in midfield from Charlie that landed in the path of Harry. With the keeper off his line Harry didn’t hesitate and beautifully floated it over his head into the bottom corner for 3-0.
The Vipers had control now but it wasn’t all one way, defending still had to be done as Albury continued to threaten. Harry typified the energy of all the lads when a attacking corner was cleared by Albury who switched to attack. This was broken down though as Harry S was back tracking in a defensive midfield rear guard action.
The Vipers pressure was wound up and the Albury keeper was doing well. He bravely dived at Charlies feet and repelled a stinger from Raff in a 1:1. It took a really sublime piece of skill from William Fielden to get the 4th a put the result beyond doubt (even with 18 mins to go). With the ball at his feet he took one look up and delicately chipped the ball over the heads of the Albury defence for it to land in slow motion in the bottom left-hand corner for 4-0.
Another Albury corner was dealt with and with Cam back on the pitch he raced forward up the left. He worked himself into a lovely position but got caught between a decision to shoot or cross and the ball floated across the goal just past the far-left post.
There were a number of Loxwood corners in this period of the game, one of which resulted in a lovely half volley from Cam just flashing wide. In the middle of the field Harry J showed a sublime piece of skill by twisting and turning two players and walking away with the ball while the opposition wondered where the ball had gone.
Albury heads were down a little (understandably) and in the 52nd minute they didn’t deal with a ball in defence that Harry S leapt on to walk the ball into the net for 5-0. A hat-trick for Harry S!
With the hat-trick completed Coach Paul substituted both Harry S and Oscar who both came off the field to a rousing applause – well deserved lads.
The boys continued though. Raff showing his desire to get a well-deserved to goal by bravely challenging the Albury defence and getting winded. David Beckham halted play and signalled for Coach Paul to come onto the pitch and assist him. The Coach was “having a chat” and missed the signal, but more importantly so did the female contingent – that could have been their moment.
Raff had three further chances however it was his unselfish play at the death that put Charlie through when he could have advanced himself. Charlie had time to think but was very calm as he slotted it past the keeper with his left foot to make it 6-0.
There was hardly time for the restart and as soon as it did Tom Hardy blew up for full-time and the Vipers advance to the final.
Everyone went home happy. Tessa went home in love……..
For this author it’s been a long wait for the semi-final win. Thank you very much lads. It was worth it!
Final word to Coach Paul and Harry Smith with that match ball…..