Level 1 produced one of the most impressive debuts ever seen in the JMU Journalism World Cup as they ended the campaign of last year’s beaten finalists, Level 3, in a 5-3 victory at IM Marsh.
The scoreline should perhaps have been more emphatically in favour of the new boys, who showed quality throughout the team to catapult themselves from rank outsiders to tournament favourites in the space of just one semi-final.
Training together since February paid rich dividends for the first years, who dominated the opening spell and large periods of the game, while the third years did well to battle back into the match late on before succumbing to the exuberant youth of their counterparts.
It was something of a mystery how there failed to be an opening in the first half, as both sides threatened but could not make a breakthrough. Twinkle-toed Evan Fyfe went closest for Level 1 after dancing his way through to fire at goal, but Matthew Toker comfortably saved his shot. At the opposite end, a Lewis Phillips-Calvert header seemed dangerous only to drift harmlessly past the post after an inviting cross by Leigh Kimmins.
It took just four minutes after the restart to produce the first of eight goals, though not before a scare for Level 1 when captain Liam Keen’s pass back was picked up by goalkeeper Samuel Hall and the indirect free-kick inside the area was blasted goalwards by Kimmins but Ed Baldwin stood firm to block it.
The first years eventually got in front after James Knowles fouled James Farrington in the box. Referee Danny Moxon rightly showed no hesitation in awarding a penalty and Bolton wanderer Farrington picked himself up to drill home from the spot.
Two strikes within a minute approaching the hour-mark further underlined Level 1’s superiority.
Baldwin led a counter-attacking charge and the ball broke to Gibraltar star, Matt Ramirez, who slipped it in at the near post with the third years waiting for an offside flag that never came. Belfast’s Fyfe made it three soon afterwards with a powerful drive from 20 yards.
Knowing this was their final chance to lift the JMU Journalism World Cup before graduation, the third years rallied and pulled one back when Matt Crosby released Michael Henry, who bundled it home past Hall and defender Tim Spencer-Tanfield at the second attempt.
Oli Fell restored the three-goal cushion by cracking home from the edge of the area after an energetic break down the left flank by fellow substitute, Jack Butler.
The Crosby-Henry combination offered hope once more for Level 3, when the former’s glorious pass picked out the Ulsterman who converted from a tight angle after his initial effort was blocked.
Fyfe thought he had made it five only to watch Toker tip his effort onto the crossbar, before he then denied Sam O’Hara by producing another excellent save.
What appeared to be the makings of an unlikely comeback surfaced in the dying stages when Nathan Burgess’ spinning effort was bundled in off a post to make it 4-3, but moments later Ross McAuley set Ramirez free for the first years and he calmly delivered the killer blow by scoring a fifth.
It remains to be seen whether the first years can handle the pressure of living up to their new-found favourites tag, but when they take on JMU Journalism World Cup holders – the Alumni – next Thursday, Level 1 will attempt to become the only debutants to emerge victorious since the maiden tournament back in 2010.