By Matt Roberts
The Men’s Football Floodlit Cup holders, Josephine Butler A team, were knocked out of this year’s competition at the last 16 stage by a dogged St Mary’s A side. The defending champions went down 2-0 on a misty evening at Maiden Castle last Wednesday.
The opening exchanges were promising for Butler – they passed the ball with zip and controlled the tempo of the game. However, for all their early territorial dominance, they lacked ruthlessness in front of goal and failed to test Mary’s keeper Alistair Huse on a regular basis. When they did manage to find the net, the towering header was correctly ruled out for offside.
Mary’s gameplan, which has served them well so far this season, was to maintain high intensity levels and make the contest physical. Yet Butler were certainly on top and in Adam Morely, they had a constant threat down the right and the quick-footed midfielder came close to opening the scoring midway through the first half.
Many of Mary’s problems were self-induced; their inability to keep hold of the ball created pressure and Butler enjoyed periods of sustained possession. On the rare occasions when Mary’s did have the ball in the first half they generally used it unwisely – wasting a couple of set pieces and not troubling Joe Colebrook in the Butler goal.
With thick fog having engulfed Maiden Castle and visibility poor, the first half came to an end with the score still 0-0 and chances at a premium.
The second period had a different feel to it as Mary’s looked to get on the front foot from the very start. On 48 minutes they were rewarded for this newfound endeavour; Chris Rimmer was fouled in the box and captain Rob Wiles, who was originally a doubt for the match with a calf injury, converted the penalty to make it 1-0.
Then, in a frantic period of play, Butler barely had time to regroup before Mary’s scored again. Danny Wilson’s shot was deflected into the path of James Bilton who swept home to double the lead.
A shell-shocked Butler now needed to respond but they continued to be frustrated by Mary’s stanch defence and high pressing game. If anything, Mary’s looked more likely to score and Ryan Hulme rattled the crossbar with a fierce effort from 25 yards out.
It wasn’t until the final quarter of an hour that Butler really began to look dangerous. The holders were not going to relinquish their trophy without a fight and they launched a siege on the Mary’s goal.
However, they were to find Alistair Huse to be an impenetrable wall. The Marian made three astonishing saves to maintain his side’s two goal lead; first he pushed a powerful strike onto the bar, then he acrobatically tipped a shot over and, finally, he saved from point blank range following some goalmouth pinball.
Those heroics surely signalled that it wasn’t to be Butler’s night and, moments later, the referee’s whistle confirmed it. The holders had fallen at the first hurdle. Mary’s, having been knocked out by Butler at this stage in 2013 and 2014, had exacted the perfect revenge.
Alistair Huse, who Mary’s had to thank for his second half efforts, spoke to Palatinate at full time.
“There was a big difference between the first and second half,” he said. “In the first period we weren’t good enough. We were working hard but we were sloppy, giving away fouls in bad areas. In the second half it was completely different, we posed a threat in front of goal, got ahead and then defended solidly.
“At half-time we knew we had the quality to play better, we just weren’t showing it. Rob motivated us and we also made a small tactical change to play with more width and it obviously worked well.”
‘It’s always nice to make a few saves like I did at the end but for most of the match I didn’t have to do too much other than organise the defence. It was a good team performance and the support was great, that helped us a lot.”
In stark contrast to Huse’s beaming smile was the obvious look of disappointment on the face of Butler captain Cameron Wild. “It wasn’t our night,” he sighed. “At least we won it last year.”
Photograph: Matt Roberts