Level 2 were expected to clinch successive victories in the JMU Journalism World Cup – and so they did – but the battling third years exceeded expectations, as they pushed the holders all the way before falling to two goals of exceptional class.
The hard-working Level 3 side frustrated and worried the favourites until a stunning 70th-minute free-kick strike by James Farrington – showing precisely why they call him ‘The Bolton Thunderbolt’ – and Evan Fyfe’s extraordinary late missile launched from the halfway line, gave Level 2 their 2-0 win.
Josh Doherty’s tactical decision to set up banks of four and five and a lone striker, Matthew Skelly, came close to paying off for Level 3. It gave the second years problems they struggled to solve, though surely nobody would argue with the claim that the best team emerged triumphant.
Level 2, playing down the tilting IM Marsh slope in the first half, looked threatening from the outset.
Matthew Ramirez and eventual scorer, Fyfe, both went close for the second years, but Level 3 reversed the one-way traffic as they grew in stature.
Australian guest star, Jonathan Griffiths, raced clear on the counterattack for the graduating class only to be denied by a brave save at his feet by Danny Moxon, while Skelly’s lob from the rebound sailed just wide of the post.
YouTube: Post-match interviews with captains Liam Keen (left) and Josh Doherty
At the other end, Ross McAuley’s 20-yard stinger was palmed over the top by Tom Begbie, who later gathered a Fyfe drive safely into his arms… but the Belfast midfielder was to have the last laugh.
With 20 minutes remaining and thoughts already turning towards a possible penalty shoot-out, Level 2 finally broke the deadlock courtesy of Farrington’s sublime left-footed free-kick curler into the top corner, taken from the far edge of the box.
Farrington was convinced he made it two when he swept home from four yards out after L3 failed to clear a corner, but referee, Jake Mullen, correctly called him offside.
Then, with five minutes left, Fyfe – who had been testing Begbie’s resolve all evening – sensationally hit the bullseye with a sizzler from fully 50 yards out that caught the ‘keeper totally by surprise.
The tireless Josh Hodge had a fantastic opening to respond for Level 3, but he was unlucky to see his attempt bounce back off the post, and Level 2 held out to keep a clean sheet for the first time.
In Monday’s semi-final, we reported that the second years won by “smashing the Alumni to pieces”. Tonight, it was the famous JMU Journalism World Cup trophy itself as the presentation ceremony ended in chaotic scenes, and an iconic prize broken in two.
Restoration experts believe they can salvage the remnants of this priceless replica, though investigations are also underway to discover the whereabouts of the original JMU Journalism World Cup trophy, following its mysterious disappearance after the 2012 final.
The history of this tournament has produced so many twists and turns down the years, and Level 2 have now carved their names into it again with a record-breaking demolition job in the semis, leading to a richly deserved successful defence of their title.
Can anyone stop them making it three in a row in 2018? It seems highly unlikely.
Photo galleries – click on a thumbnail to enlarge the images
Match reports: 2017 semi-finals
YouTube: Looking back at the inaugural JMU Journalism World Cup (2010)