By John-Paul Kesseler
Gay football league leaders the London Falcons’ FC dreams of a league and cup double were well and truly put to rest at Sparrows Lane over the weekend.
A resurgent Manchester team succeeded in gaining revenge for their last minute defeat to the Falcons in the league by not only winning 1-4 to book a place in their first ever GNC final but by dominating a lacklustre and underperforming Falcons side, who never looked like coming away with the victory.
Having seen his team limp out of the gates and never really get into gear Falcons’ captain Ian Kehoe was characteristically candid when asked for his thoughts after the game.
“Manchester totally outclassed and outplayed us today,” he said.
This view was echoed by Falcons’ chairman and midfielder Tom Price:
“The best team won on the day, we were outplayed all over the park.”
They were both right.
Working the ball around with a confidence and skill that belied their lowly position in the league, Manchester time and time again were able to break through a shaky Falcons defence, who were seemingly obsessed with playing the offside trap regardless of the situation.
Jaime Feldman, playing his first game with Manchester for a while, normally plying his trade with Stonewall FC, was very impressed with his teams strong start, which saw them two goals up within the first 15 minutes.
“We seemed to settle very quickly for a team that hasn’t really played together before as a starting eleven and going one nil up was a help. From there we never looked back.”
The scorer of those two early goals was Stuart Johnson.
Feldman was full of praise for the diminutive striker, commenting that he was like “an energiser bunny upfront.”
No doubt he was giving the Falcons defence all sorts of problems, latching onto passes from Marc Shaw and then Rob Ingle to give Manchester that early lead.
Falcons’ manager Craig Randall has had a lot to smile about this season as his team has risen through the ranks in the league, but on this occasion he wore a forlorn expression, wondering just what had happened to his team for them to be playing so badly.
Any semblance of continuity and calm had left, replaced by a panicking team constantly looking for that perfect long ball over the top.
Their hurried play and lack of concentration let Dan Shapiro through to score the third and make it 0-3.
The nature of the goal was particularly tough on Falcons’ keeper Aaron Jameson.
After making two incredible saves with the score still at 0-2 he was caught out by Shapiro scuffing his shot and was only able to help it on its way into the back of the net.
The start of the second half did offer some hope for anyone searching for it.
While not the standard of football they’ve shown they’re capable of through the season so far, the Falcons were able to keep much more of the ball and put Manchester under some serious pressure for the first time in the game.
Problem was, as soon as they headed into the final third the Falcons play invariably broke down, bad decision making being the biggest offender.
Shooting when a pass was the better option, passing or taking that extra touch when an opportunity was there, they could not have done more to stifle their own play.
Even when on the odd occasion they were able to create an opening they were being wasted.
The worst offence was from Lewis Marshall.
A good ball from Rob Hyde had Marshall one on one with Manchester keeper Craig Leech but he drove his shot straight at leech who only managed to parry the ball which bounced up nicely for Marshall who should have slotted home instead of ballooning the ball over the bar.
With 25 minutes to go Marshall made up for that horrible miss by sweeping home the ball from five yards with his left foot after the hard working Hyde’s shot was saved.
This goal was to elicit a strong reaction from the crowd who started to believe that for the second time this season they were going to witness and incredible cup comeback.
Alas, it was not meant to be, with Feldman bundling the ball in past a despairing Luke Tuffs after a looping cross from the right.
He later admitted that he had handled the ball into the net, which in other circumstances might have been the spark that lit the fuse but it was too late, Falcons were demoralised, heads down and openly shouting and bickering at one another.
The final whistle was to arrive soon after and Manchester’s players and fans erupted with the knowledge they had booked their place in the final.
So joy for Manchester and pain for Falcons, but Price was being philosophical.
“Obviously we are disappointed to go out, but proud of all our efforts to reach the semi-finals in our first season,” he said, before graciously adding, “We wish Manchester all the best in the final.”
In that final they will be playing surprise finalists the Leicester Wildecats, who came from behind in the last minute of normal time to force extra-time and eventually beat the Yorkshire Terriers 3-4.
While not wanting to be drawn on his team’s chances for the upcoming final, Feldman did have a message for the management team at Manchester.
“We are all looking forward to the final. Hopefully the management will pick the same squad of players who made the long journey down to London and we hope to pick up the trophy on May 4th.”
As for the Falcons, the eyes are now firmly set on the league and their next game, away to Birmingham on March 2nd.
“Our next game against Birmingham is now critical in what is now an uphill battle to salvage our season,” said Kehoe.