Two goals in either half by Stephen Dickinson and a sensational solo effort by Neil Leatherbarrow proved enough to send the Alumni back to the JMU Journalism World Cup Final as they beat the second years 3-0 in an entertaining game.
The graduates, who lost last year’s final on penalties, can make amends for that disappointment when they face either the freshers or the third years in the showpiece match on April 6 after comprehensively defeating Level 2.
Dickinson opened the scoring by driving home from close range following a short corner, with Ben Matthews unable to prevent his shot from crossing the line.
Level 2 skipper Josh Kelsall thought he had equalised before the break when he curled in a free-kick without realising referee Keith Hill had signalled that it was an indirect set-piece and therefore disallowed.
Man-of-the-match Kelsall covered every blade of grass on the massive IM Marsh pitch and deserved more for his endeavour, but one shameless penalty appeal following a highly theatrical dive took some of the gloss off his impressive display.
Alumni’s man-made mountain of a goalkeeper, Dan Burke, was rarely troubled despite the tricky nutmeg skills of Dan O’Sullivan and the energetic Luke Holliday. Connor Dunn warmed up for the tournament by running the Liverpool Half-Marathon beforehand but the second years could not find a way back into the semi-final despite his second-half appearance.
Brandon Cross produced a memorable performance for the Alumni, finding the net only to be ruled offside and also getting booked for charging down a free-kick in extraordinary fashion.
A fabulous team goal doubled the Alumni’s advantage after the interval when Danny Masters passed to John Mathews, who skipped past one challenge and released Gary Maiden, who cut the ball back for Dickinson to clip his second in off the post.
The Alumni, who hit the crossbar twice via Chris Shaw’s header and Leatherbarrow’s 20-yard drive, eventually wrapped things up in style with five minutes left to play.
World Cup veteran Leatherbarrow claimed one of the best individual strikes of the tournament by flipping the ball over the defence then lobbing goalkeeper Kieran Etoria-King and steering in a classy third.
For the Alumni ‘Green Machine’, who will be without several key players in the final, it was a day to remember as they recorded their first ever win in open play, on the fifth anniversary of this illustrious event.
Pictures by Roisin Brehony. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge team photos.