The JMU Journalism World Cup lived up to its blockbuster billing yet again as the Alumni side claimed their first ever victory to reach the final after beating the second years in a penalty shoot-out.
Defeat was difficult to take for last year’s runners-up as Level 2 came from 3-1 down to make it 3-3 in the closing stages only to lose the semi-final on spot-kicks when Nathan Potter strode forward in his shocking pink socks and missed the decisive spot kick.
Alumni, wearing lucky emerald green, can celebrate St Patrick’s Day in style as they look ahead to the final against Level 3, thanks in no small part to some stellar appearances by loan signings from the first years.
Skipper Chris Shaw came agonisingly close to giving Alumni the lead when he saw his shot tipped onto the crossbar by Nathan McCrae. Calls for goal-line technology to be introduced into the JMU Journalism World Cup were already ringing around IM Marsh even as the ball bounced down on the line and referee Keith Hill rightly waved play on.
At the other end, it needed the combined efforts of Sam Bisby and Jeff McGlinchey to clear a Jack Horrocks cross off the Alumni line. Silver-haired McGlinchey frequently came to the Alumni’s rescue, drawing admiring glances and comments from the second years who could only marvel at the majestic defending of a man twice their age.
It was another guest star who put the Alumni ahead when Mark Halsall raced onto Shaw’s lofted pass and buried his drive low past McRae, and Level 2 perhaps deserved an equaliser before the break when Stephen Corbett’s shot was tipped past the post by Kieran Etoria-King.
The first half came to a dramatic conclusion with battling Bill Evans unfortunately suffering a recurrence of an old cruciate ligament injury and he was cradled in the loving arms of Shannyn Quinn, who could well be the tournament’s most respected WAG after the way she cared for him while waiting for the ambulance.
Evans later emerged from hospital on crutches and immediately asked to know the final score, though he will not have taken any comfort from the answer.
It could all have been so different though, as Level 2’s man-of-the-match Jack Horrocks lobbed in the equaliser soon after the restart and the second years seemed resurgent.
However, a handball by Jack Maguire proved costly and Alumni captain Chris Shaw manfully decided to take the penalty, despite knowing his 100% failure record from the spot in this incredible tournament.
Holding his nerve, Shaw blasted home the penalty high past Patrick Arnold to restore Alumni’s lead and loan ranger Connor Dunn made it 3-1 by finishing off a flowing move from the back with a looped chip taking everyone by surprise.
Horrocks reduced the deficit with a fantastic drive that left Etoria-King helpless and the Alumni boys were hanging on desperately for the final whistle. The graduates couldn’t hold out though and Corbett brought the second years back to life when he finished off a cross at the back post to force a gripping semi-final to penalties.
Making the most of his late cameo appearance, John Mathews scored first in the shoot-out for the Alumni, who also had penalties converted by Shaw, Neil Leatherbarrow and Dan Burke, but Ryan McKenna’s miss put Level 2 under pressure.
Their exit was confirmed as Potter put the must-score spot-kick wide and his pink ‘birthday boy’ goal celebration t-shirt stayed firmly under wraps. His pre-prepared victory dance will forever remain a mystery.
Nick Seddon’s second years can take heart from a brave display and comeback to remember, but it will be the Alumni side competing in their first ever JMU Journalism World Cup Final against Level 3, following their semi-final victory over Level 1.
UPDATE: Final will now be played on Saturday April 20 at LJMU IM Marsh, 11am arrival for 11.30am kick-off