In looking to reach the final and attempt to retain their title from last year, Worcester fielded a starting line-up that suggested the strength of squad which Lincoln were up against. Ten of the eleven Worcester players had featured on the University football scene, and while Lincoln couldn’t match those statistics on paper, the start of the match was a tense affair with a lack of quality football providing some equality between the teams. The game had added impetus as two years ago these sides had met in the Cuppers semi-final, where a tense penalty shoot-out ending in a Worcester miss led to Lincoln progressing. With this something of a grudge match, the lack of initial crowd for kick-off then was slightly baffling, perhaps due to the amusing European-style early kick-off time, but within ten minutes a solid hundred people had converged on University Parks. This spectator situation was typical of a game where rapid change was the dominating factor; a nervous, battling opening Worcester suddenly scored a salvo of goals from which Lincoln – and everyone watching – never recovered.
Lincoln had already lost one of their best players in Josh Thomas to a recurrent hamstring problem, and although Blue Alex Biggs looked dangerous attacking the full-backs, receiving the ball wide and running around the outside of the Worcester defence, the sudden Worcester goal rout killed off any competitive interest. Blues striker Adam Healy scored two in quick succession, finding himself on the end of Tom Phelan’s lobbed ball to the back post to tap in past the keeper and following up with a strong header in a similar position from a corner. The Worcester spectators celebrated this brace from the Blues striker with a double-performance of their favourite festive chant.
The fact remains, though, that Lincoln suffered heavily during this period due to their poor defence in and around the penalty area from Worcester set-pieces, but the third goal, with Liam Steward-George scoring direct from a corner for the second game in succession, could not be blamed upon that. Worcester centre-back Elliott Thomas then scored a sweetly-struck volley as the ball fell out to the edge of the box, before a Steward-George free-kick forced a Lincoln player to concede an own-goal, headed backwards over his goalkeeper from close range.
All of this carnage occurred within a twenty-minute period of the first half, and when play resumed after half-time the standard of football remained scrappy and frustrating. For Worcester though, this was a perfectly satisfactory outcome, with Phelan in particular providing a strong (and refreshingly sensible) midfield presence. Lincoln had a few chances, with an unmarked header going over the bar, but their several speculative efforts failed to trouble the Worcester goalkeeper. The Worcester captain made several substitutions, with one eye perhaps on their imminent run of games and the form finally developing in the league. The fresh energy levels made it more difficult for Lincoln to attempt a purple patch akin to Worcester’s in the first half, and the game finished with the scoreline an emphatic 5-0.
Asked about the game, Worcester winger Steward-George commented that ‘we came into the game wanting revenge and wanting it done in style’. He expressed excitement at the first floodlit Cuppers final at Iffley this coming Friday evening, and related his plan to ‘love the fans and smash the final’. Take from that what you will, St. Anne’s.
For Lincoln, they will rue a poor period of defensive play spectacularly exploited. Worcester will be confident at Iffley, but with memories of last year’s deadlocked final where they narrowly overcame New College still fresh in the memory, and so too the similarly stagnant second half at University Parks, they will be looking for a performance with more consistent quality. Or simply another quick five.