We won the battle, but we lost the war

James Sproston reports on the 2016 Stan Calvert finale

James Sproston
8th March 2016
On the attack: goalscorer Olly Walker swings in a dangerous corner | Image: Jack Cryer

For the last time in this year’s Stan Calvert Cup, Newcastle and Northumbria clashed as they looked to finish the competition in style. This year the curtain closer was the beautiful game, and it was Newcastle that took the spoils.

Newcastle’s players would have been filled with confidence having read last week’s preview of the game in the Courier. This fixture rarely takes into account league position and an upset is never off the table. So much so that the underdogs often become favourites just because they’re the underdogs. That’s what Newcastle were ultimately able to capitalise on.

Both teams brought a raucous set of travelling supporters with them from north of the Tyne, providing an electric atmosphere that the majority of Gateshead could feel.

Newcastle kicked off, with Tom Espin rolling the ball to Olly Walker to get the game underway. Needless to say it wasn’t long before the adrenaline was pumping.

Peter Mairs, playing in the right-back position for Newcastle, was the first to get stuck in, before an equally meaty challenge from Northumbria’s Ross Mckeown brought about the first free kick of the match.

Espin took the free-kick, picking out Alex Ames in the middle. Unfortunately the forward couldn’t get the right contact, sending his header just wide.

A dodgy Northumbrian clearance spurred the Newcastle crowd into action, with ‘feed the poly’ and ‘stand up if you know your dad’ ringing out around Gateshead stadium

Ames was then involved again, playing a neat one-two with Scott Huntley before sending the ball onto Walker on the left-hand-side. The striker took on a defender with a lovely pirouette, but attempting a second was slightly too cheeky.

From the following attack, a dodgy Northumbria clearance spurred the Newcastle crowd into action, with “feed the Poly” and “stand up if you know your dad” ringing out around Gateshead stadium.

However the first Northumbria chance of the match came just moments later when a Luke Hannant cross was met by Sam Read, but the defender could only put it wide. Recently elected NUSU president Jack Taylor then floored Nick Green, who’s foot was a little too high for the referee’s liking anyway.

The game continued to be very physical, besides Hannant’s little swan dive in the corner, as Huntley gave Marco Baldelli a friendly shove, and Ames stopped former Sheffield Wednesday man Matty Tumilty in his tracks as he tried to bring the ball out from the back.

Shortly after, Newcastle keeper Stefan Holden was called into action when he had to save Tumilty’s header. The keeper attempted to quickly set Allan Owen free at the other end of the pitch, but Alex Newton in the Northumbria goal did a good job of sweeping up.

At the second time of asking, Holden picked out Ames on the right. Having held up the ball, the Newcastle No.11 looked to pick out a blue shirt in the box but his attempted low cross was cleared well.

In the other box, Northumbria striker Louis Storey had a good sight of goal but miskicked, allowing Declan Stockle to start a Newcastle counter attack. His ball gave Owen the freedom to stretch his legs but his final ball was lacking.

From the resultant turnover of possession, Northumbria constructed the best move of the game so far. Tumilty started the attack, moving the ball along to Mckeown. The ball then went to Green and Baldelli before finding itself back at the feet of Mckeown. The captain subsequently released Hannant, whose attempted one-two with Storey would’ve put him clean through, but Storey’s backheel was intercepted and cleared.

Northumbria looked to capitalise on this momentum minutes later as Green put a tasty looking ball in to the Newcastle box. Tumilty’s miskick sent the ball out to Hannant on the left-hand side, whose pinpoint cross found Baldelli on the far side, yet the midfielder couldn’t trouble Holden in the Newcastle goal.

In response, Newcastle fashioned a chance of their own. A lovely passing move sent the ball to Owen via Espin and Walker, and the forward’s shot was deflected wide. However Walker’s corner wasn’t good enough to reach a Newcastle player.

Up until this point the game was scrappy, with the best of the entertainment coming from the ‘Untouchable; stewards that enforced prohibition in the stands.

Balls between the strikers, Allen Owen and Olly Walker, didn’t come off, and a poor Nick Harrison ball went straight to the feet of Mckeown. The Northumbria defender fed George Dibb-Fuller for a one-on-one but the winger couldn’t beat Holden.

In similar fashion, Newcastle created their best chance of the match; a Mairs throw reaching Walker, whose shot went across goal and wide of Newton’s right-hand post.

Tactically it had become apparent that Newcastle had wanted their three central midfielders to sit deep to protect the back-four. However this had isolated the men up top, proving that the team were missing James ‘Orlando’ Golby. The man who usually plays in the ‘hole’, linking up defence and attack.

Nevertheless, the shots kept coming in at both end, with Owen and Walker for Newcastle and Robbie Spence for Northumbria having shots blocked at each end of the pitch. However these shots were vastly outnumbered by fouls, as Walker, Stockle, Tumilty and Owen were all penalised for unfair challenges.

An enforced injury break then ensued as a late challenge by Spence on Stockle left the midfielder on the ground for a while. Due to that stoppage there were a hefty four minutes added on, with both team having the opportunity to score. First a lovely Walker corner was left uncovered, whilst a Baldelli cross was headed back into the mixer by Ryan Redford, but nothing came of it.

A cagey, scrappy affair in the first half, most of the spectators hoped they were going to see less route-one in the second, but many fans left after the half-time athletics entertainment had concluded. Perhaps because there was no alcohol allowed in the stadium.

Clearly the challenge had left its lasting mark on Stockle, and with first-choice central midfielder Joe Watson not included today, Tom Woodier got a run-out to ensure the team remained defensively tight.

There’s no better feeling than getting one over your local rivals, especially going into the game as underdogs... the heart and desire shown by our boys was first class

An ongoing drama throughout the game was the situation with the balls. Although there were a number knocking about with stewards, the balls were regularly being kicked into touch and not retrieved. Next year there should definitely be an investment into ball boys.

Nonetheless Newcastle gained momentum at the start of the second half. Owen, Walker and Taylor all had opportunities to set up goals, however they didn’t have to wait long for the deadlock to be broken.

A world class touch from Ames gave him ample time to pick out the onrushing Allan “The Black Mamba” Owen. The striker then played a dainty one-two before finding Olly Walker on the edge of the box. The No.10 created some space by cutting in onto his right, before unleashing a shot with pinpoint accuracy into Newton’s right-hand post. Walker may not be quick but he’s the best finisher I’ve seen in university football.

From the restart Northumbria piled on the pressure. Tumilty wasted a free kick after Espin was booked for a cynical trip of Hannant, Storey blazed over a one-on-one, and Dibb-Fuller was stopped in his tracks by a fantastic tackle by Huntley in the right-back position.

Injury breaks for Huntley and Owen followed, with the latter still perhaps feeling the worst of his injuries from Fight Night a short while ago. Jake Salisbury came on to replace the speed merchant, but Huntley decided to continue.

From here on in it was a matter of preserving the lead for Newcastle. Holden got booked for becoming a ball boy on several occasions, but was actually needed when a turn and shot from Dibb-Fuller required an instinctive save from the No.56.

Another Tumilty free kick was blocked, as were the follow up efforts from Redford and substitute Kane White. Two misplaced passes from Espin and Woodier personified the Newcastle midfield’s afternoon, however their defence remained resolute. A double block from Mairs demonstrated this, as did Espin’s shepherding after a lovely little Northumbria move.

As the game drew to a close, Northumbria seemed to run out of ideas. Substitute right-back Jake Armitage kept pumping left-footed crosses aimlessly into the Newcastle box to no avail, and Newcastle could’ve sealed the win on the counter if not for Walker’s deteriorating pace.

Nevertheless, Newcastle managed to hold out for the five minutes of stoppage time and take the win. It shows that it is hard work and commitment that win games, rather that so-called ‘talent’. It may be more competitive to get into the Northumbria team but that didn’t show on Sunday. In the end it was a well-deserved win for a team that fancied it more on the day.

Speaking after the game to The Courier, Newcastle’s Club President beamed with pride for his team. “There’s no better feeling than getting one over your local rivals, especially going into the game as massive underdogs. They had much more of the ball but the heart and desire shown by our boys was first class.”

Taylor added, “we knew if we could keep it tight at the back our flair players had it in them to do something special which is exactly what happened with the goal as a combination of moments of magic from Ames, Owen and Walker resulted in an incredibly well worked goal.”

Despite their heroic victory in the finale, Taylor expressed his disappointment at not winning the overall competition. “It’s a shame we couldn’t wrestle the trophy back off Northumbria but we’re pleased to have contributed in the manner we did.”

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