Josh Weale’s header and a world-class save by Polish international signing Bart Kalanski proved the difference as Level 3 clinched their first ever JMU Journalism World Cup Final victory at their last attempt, in a narrow 1-0 win against the Alumni.
Weale, drafted into the side after star player Jack Horrocks was ruled out, got the only goal of a tense final at IM Marsh. A stunning late stop by Kalanski to deny Neil Leatherbarrow what appeared to be a certain equaliser will live just as long in the memory.
The Alumni pressed hard to force a penalty shoot-out in the closing stages but the graduating class held on for what could be a double celebration at the end of this semester – if they pass their university course.
Third years’ captain Nick Seddon brought in freshers Matt Crosby and Ryan ‘Giggsy’ Jones to boost their ranks on transfer deadline day.
That strong squad was met by an Alumni side featuring another first year signing – Danny Charlesworth – in goal, freeing up regular ‘keeper and stand-in skipper Dan Burke to lead from the back in a colossal defensive partnership with Irish giant, Hugh O’Connell.
Class of 2008 graduate John Mathews Junior provided the Alumni’s greatest threat with his penetrating overlapping runs down the right flank from the full-back slot.
The Green Machine had marginally the better of a tight first half but they failed to make inroads where it truly mattered, in front of goal.
Burke and Weale both went close from headed corners at either end and as temporary showers swept across the Aigburth pitch, the sides were locked in a stalemate that called for changes in personnel.
The energetic Chris Cunningham had to limp off for the third years, while Gary Maiden made way for Alumni debutant Tom Musk at half-time as Gaz Top’s new electric green boots did not fire any sparks up front.
Doncaster dynamo Sam Bisby came off with the final still goalless and 15 minutes left to play and Alumni player manager John Mathews brought himself on to help influence the outcome.
As substitutions go, the third years must feel this was inspired as they immediately got the decisive breakthrough.
O’Connell conceded an unnecessary corner and when Will Shaw swung a curling ball in, Weale met it firmly with his head and guided it past Charlesworth.
The Alumni came at the third years in waves of attacks and the pressure seemed destined to pay off when Leatherbarrow’s leathered drive from 25 yards out was scorching towards the top corner until it was tipped onto the crossbar by Kalanski.
Even then, Mathews looked favourite to force home the rebound – and perhaps he should have done – but Jack Maguire’s yoga classes paid dividends when he appeared out of nowhere to stretch an extended leg into a desperate yet brilliant clearance.
Sicilian striker Serafino Ingardia volleyed another Alumni effort narrowly over the top but it was Level’s 3’s day and they kept the veterans out to secure a triumph that their dogged persistence has merited.
As the clouds lifted, weak spring sunshine started to break through and Nathan McCrae danced a jig of delight singing about the end of “three years of hurt” at the trophy presentation.
The third years had deserved their moment of glory.
Pictures by Roisin Brehony. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge the images.