Football Cuppers

St Hugh’s: 4, Pembroke: 2

St Hugh’s overcame some treacherous playing conditions and a shambles of a start to advance to the next round of Cuppers after an intriguing tussle with Pembroke. In the last half hour their class told, as they were able to hit two goals and secure a 4-2 win. Few could argue with skipper Ross Wheeler’s assessment that “our quality finishing sealed it”.
A game fascinatingly poised at 2-2 after an hour was won by a side with the edge on fitness and skill, though this had not always been apparent. The Hugh’s substitute Daher made a key difference after coming on. Pacey and tricky on the wall, his fine dribbling skills added a new dimension to the Hugh’s attack.

A cross from the impressive Mark Schiebler was turned in from six yards by Vaughan Edmonds to hand Hugh’s a 3-2 lead. Pembroke’s defence looked shaky throughout the game. This was reaffirmed by the killer goal ten minutes from time. Pembroke proved unable to cope with a hoofed ball over the top, allowing Schiebler to sneak in for his second goal of the game. With eight goals in just nine games so far this season, his finishing ability is established as one of Hugh’s most important attributes.

However, few would have predicted such a result when Pembroke started in superb fashion, Joshua Harris-Kirkwood striking within the first five minutes. After a header from David Dickford, ponderous defending from ex-captain Thomas allowed Harris-Kirkwood to snatch the ball and slot it into the net. But it was nothing more than the respective performances merited. Hugh’s, struggling for any fluency in their passing, were consistently beaten to the ball by ferocious Pembroke commitment, and things could have been much worse but for their outstanding keeper David Hinton. Pressing St Hugh’s hard, Pembroke’s skill on the ball was also such that no spectator would have guessed that they are in the JCR Second Division, whilst Hugh’s are in the First Division.

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But football is a ruthless sport, decided not upon balance of play but ultimately on quality in front of goal. Hugh’s were slowly improving but still looking inferior. However a nightmarish ten-minute spell for the Pembroke keeper changed everything.

The first goal may have been a little unfortunate. A speculative shot from thirty yards by Schiebler took the keeper by surprise, though it must be acknowledged that the ball’s bounce was nightmarish. Perhaps trying overly-hard to compensate for his error, as is human nature, Pembroke’s keeper went on a desperate charge for an exquisitely placed long ball from Thomas, with ten minutes of the first-half remaining. But he missed, leaving Geoffrey Taunton-Collins an easy finish to put St Hugh’s ahead. The match’s momentum completely altered, Hugh’s finished the half the stronger. Had Dominic Clark’s shot gone in instead of hitting the bar, they could have virtually finished the game off.

To their immense credit, Pembroke did not fall apart. They came out reinvigorated for the second half. A few minutes in, Harris-Kirkwood’s superb, instinctive and opportunistic strike from the edge of the area levelled the score at 2-2. Though ultimately beaten, Pembroke’s was an admirable performance, marred only be a tendency to lose concentration at the back. They will be greatly encouraged by the debut from Richard Prizeman in central midfield. They have a good enough strike pair to aim for promotion. They are a far better team than their position of seventh in the Second Division would suggest.

One issue that needs to be raised concerns the timing of the game and visibility. To make life easier for the referee and players alike, bringing the game forward by at least half an hour would have been sagacious.