The third years survived a second-half scare to book their place in the JMU Journalism World Cup Final with a 4-2 victory over Level 1.
The graduating class, realising they have just one more chance to win an elusive World Cup title, looked to have the game sewn up as they led by three goals at the interval and the freshers were unfortunate that their brave fightback to 3-2 did not take on historic proportions.
For long periods of the first half there was only one team in it and the third years made the most of the IM Marsh slope to pile the pressure on from the outset. Jack Horrocks saw his lobbed effort bounce up against the crossbar and Nathan Potter’s overhead kick from the rebound failed to hit the target.
Potter, whose touching Mother’s Day goal celebration t-shirt stayed under wraps throughout, was then denied by a superb one-handed save from Level 1 stopper Danny Charlesworth. The goalkeeper captain of the first years came to their rescue on numerous occasions but the eventual breakthrough was inevitable.
Chris Cunningham, who picked up a first-half yellow card for his over-enthusiastic challenges, broke free from the first years’ defence to stroke home the opening goal.
Loz Mitchell’s impressive long throw then released Horrocks and the ball eventually made its way to skipper Nick Seddon, who completed the task of finding the corner of the net to double their lead. Horrocks quickly grabbed a third with a crisp left-footed finish and it all seemed so easy at that stage.
When Lewis Price was forced off with a knee injury, Level 1 player manager John Mathews was thrust into the action from the subs’ bench, and his impact on the third years was instant.
Yoga fan Jack Maguire was soon bent over double being sick onto the pitch as he struggled to contain the 45-year-old lecturer, who was then brought down by defender Nathan McCrae in a nervous spell for Level 3.
From the resulting curled free-kick by Michael Henry, Leigh Kimmins rose highest in the box and was unlucky to see his header fly just over the bar.
Lewis Phillips-Calvert also threatened to score before the break and the first years had gained enough momentum to make all of their half-time team talk about an Istanbul-style comeback.
Those dreams took on a nightmarish air of reality for the third years as they squandered countless opportunities to make the game safe and the new kids on the block hit back with a vengeance.
A clever free-kick played short by Kimmins to Conor Allison in space left the Level 3 defenders standing helpless when his centre was volleyed in off the post by Adam Lawrance.
The deficit was then reduced to a single goal after Level 3’s stand-out man-of-the-match Horrocks was robbed by bearded substitute Craig Robertson, who passed down the wing to Lawrance and his pinpoint cross was smashed home by Kimmins.
Level 3 manager Paul McIntyre was lost for words on the touchline as he witnessed his team disintegrate into raw panic, with the resurgent first years searching for an equaliser that had seemed impossible just minutes earlier.
Both sides contributed to a new World Cup record for the number of foul throws and Ryan ‘Giggsy’ Jones caused constant problems for a final year side that looked distinctly rattled.
The tension was only lifted with five minutes left to play when Horrocks stylishly lobbed the outstanding Level 1 ‘keeper Charlesworth to make it 4-2, setting up a repeat of last year’s semi-final against the Alumni.
The third years will be hoping to avenge that penalty shoot-out defeat when the teams meet again in the 2014 JMU Journalism World Cup Final.
Pictures by Craig Robertson. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge the images.