By Nick Friend
In the biggest game of the college football season so far, the premiership’s top two sides played out the first of the Floodlit Cup semi-finals.
Although narrowly ahead in the league with a title-deciding fixture between the two colleges still to come, Hatfield were by no means the favourites to beat a side packed with University players.
Aided by a fantastic turnout from supporters from both colleges, the game began slowly with both sides fearful of making a mistake.
With both teams so good defensively, the first goal was going to be crucial.
Will Bates will think that he should have given Collingwood the lead on two occasions but shot over when well-placed.
In his defence, he had earlier in the day completed ninety minutes for the University in a game in which he scored twice.
This was as close as Bates would come, however, with Hatfield centre-backs Chris Drakeford-Lewis and Will Wimmer keeping the forward quiet for long periods.
Their perseverance paid off when Hatfield’s own University man stepped forward to give his side the lead.
James Gooder’s 20-yard strike took a large deflection before creeping past the despairing dive of the Collingwood goalkeeper and into the corner.
Then, midway through the first half, in spite of the game’s even nature, Hatfield were almost home and dry.
George Brown, bursting clear of the offside trap, slotted home to give the Bailey college a two-goal advantage in what was a half of relatively few chances.
The second half began in a similar vain to the end of the first.
Hatfield were beginning to dominate proceedings with Drakeford-Lewis heading over before Robbie Heald could only convert Gooder’s cross onto the woodwork.
At the other end, the Hatfield ‘keeper saved well at the feet of Bates to maintain his side’s two goal cushion.
As the game wore on, Collingwood created their best spell of sustained pressure with DUAFC pair Josh Addinall and Jack Shiel finally beginning to burst through from central midfield.
Yet, just as it looked as though a grandstand finish may be in store, substitute Nye Williams converted Joe Wykes’s cross to send Hatfield’s supporters wild on the touchline.
Afterwards, Hatfield right-back Elliot Charles pinpointed the “nullifying of Addinall and Shiel in the middle” as well as George Brown’s “non-stop running” as central to his side’s victory.
In what appears to have been a hugely popular view, Charles also described the game as the “highest standard of match that [he’s] ever played in”.
While Hatfield will now look forward to a final against either St Cuthbert’s or Josephine Butler, Collingwood must now turn their attention to their league campaign that could still go either way.
At 10:45 on 15th March, the rubber crumb will see the same two teams go head to head in a game that will settle this year’s premiership title race. Only victory will do for Collingwood, who will know that they must up their game if they are to match a Hatfield side who have, with a strong nucleus of freshers, have led the table since day one.
If it’s anything like Wednesday night, it is not to be missed.
Photograph: Chris Dearnley