St Sebastians 5-1 BBFC – MATCH REPORT
National Christian Cup semi-final
24th March 2018
Liverpool County FA Headquarters, Walton Hall Park
The bubble burst in spectacular fashion for Battle Baptists as they were comfortably defeated in the last four of the competition that they won last season.
The reigning National Champions never found their usual rhythm at any stage during the game and showed only brief glimpses of the form that won the trophy at Charlton Athletic’s ground last May.
It might be suggested that the loss could be attributed to the 300-mile trip to Liverpool, or maybe that the ESFL Premier Division challengers were missing several key players in a depleted 12-man squad. The truth is though that Battle just weren’t strong enough and despite a valiant effort by the Sussex representatives, they were beaten by the better team on the day.
Accustomed to starting fast and scoring early, the Baptists looked travel-weary in the opening twenty minutes and immediately found themselves forced onto the back foot, unable to hold possession and defending waves of St Seb’s attacks. Battle’s woes increased when the home striker went down under a challenge and, although the referee saw no infringement, his assistant awarded the home team a penalty which was dispatched with a grateful strike.
Ironically, just as Battle began to make their way back into the game, knocking the ball wide and mounting optimistic attacks, they conceded again as St Sebastians took a two-goal lead.
To their immense credit, Battle fought back and enjoyed their best period of play, Fin Garlick and Dale Vinall scrapping for dominance in central midfield with Joe Brister and Trystan Mayhew making strides down the wings. The startling skills of Dean Boyd combined neatly with two teammates to twist and turn through a hole in the home defence and the striker had to be felled simultaneously by the two central defenders, giving Vinall the opportunity to smack in the free kick and give small hope to the visitors.
Having now come to terms with the magnificent movement of the St Seb’s attackers, the Baptists’ back four of Ian Rafati, Ollie Jeffs, Sam Loughman and Harry Loates were now defending well, whilst at the other end Boyd saw the keeper stray off his line and curled a 35-yard volley just over the bar.
Happy to come in 2-1 down, in a half that was mostly controlled by the home team, Battle had to survive one more scare as a shot came back off the underside of the bar and out to safety.
Shortly after the break Battle had a first-rate chance to equalise – Josh Pickering breaking down the right flank and delivering a mouth-watering cross through the heart of the defence, only to see his teammate fall a yard short of a tap-in at the back post.
In a depressing fifteen-minute period the game was lost and Battle’s hopes were crushed by three well-taken goals. Several Vardy-like runs behind the defence saw the home strikers running in on goal. Although keeper and Medica Man-of-the-Match Jake Rudwick made some spectacular saves, he couldn’t stop the tidal wave. As the game reached its conclusion, Battle showed great resolve to see out the last 20 minutes without conceding further, thereby avoiding a complete landslide.
The trip back to Sussex was made easier for the defeated Champions in the knowledge that they are still in the hunt for two further titles and all is not lost. The better team won on the day and Battle will reflect on the experience and hope for a more favourable draw in next year’s competition.