Steve Wilderspin, Head of Football and 1st XI Coach:
This Quarter-Final followed on from the 2016-17 Semi-Final game; more anon. The odds were against us, having already lost to Millfield in the Hudl League, 6-0 at home in early September. Despite this defeat, the team had made significant progress as the season progressed and they were keen to prove people wrong and extract revenge for this defeat. The boys knew that they had to be at their very best against arguably the best and most consistent independent football school in the country over the past ten years. The game-plan had been set in the build-up to the game, with the lads focussing on a number of scenarios they were likely to face when the whistle blew for the start of the match.
Part of the game-plan nearly came to fruition in the first 30 seconds: Charlie Harpin did tremendously well to close down the Millfield centre-back, who under hit his back-pass. Charlie opened his body and tried to place the finish, which was terrifically saved by the Millfield keeper. What a start that could have been.
The next 39 minutes saw the boys defend magnificently. We kept the pitch nice and narrow and we repelled everything that the Millfield team could throw at us; in possession we needed to look after the ball more effectively if we were to cause Millfield problems offensively.
As the second half wore on, we grew in confidence and created a number of opportunities. George Faulkner worked a chance for himself that hit the side-netting, and team created several positive situations. As the final whistle was looming, Nathan Day was sent through, only for the Millfield centre-back to make a terrific last-ditch tackle as Nathan was pulling the trigger to shoot.
As in 2016-17, the game was heading into extra-time. In the 20 minutes both sides created opportunities to get the elusive and probably game-winning first goal. Millfield nearly won it with the last kick of the game, as their wide man hit the outside of the post. Whether Lewis Evans, our keeper, had it covered we won’t ever know, but we all breathed a sigh of relief as the final whistle was blown.
Despite both teams’ efforts, the extra time finished 0-0 and the spectre of penalties was upon us once again. The boys had prepared for this scenario all year, taking a penalty each after every session. However, no one can recreate the pressure of a shoot-out, so we all crossed our fingers that lady luck was going to shine down on us.
Toby Pegge, the team captain, took the first penalty. The keeper guessed correctly and made the first decisive save of the shoot-out. Millfield then scored their first as Dan Humes stepped up to despatch his penalty into the bottom right corner. The Millfield number 10 then stepped up and hit a fanciful chipped penalty that floated over the bar; we were back on level terms.
George Faulkner stepped up and placed his penalty into the bottom right corner. Finn Samson then scored his penalty with a confident strike, before Xavie Clarke went fifth and despatched his. At this point Millfield had to score to stay in the match.
Alas, they did 4-4, so on to sudden death.
Both teams scored their respective penalties to get to 7-6. At this point, Lewis nearly won the game for us as he got a hand diving to his left. The crowd started to cheer as the ball flew up and looked as if it was going to hit the cross bar, only for it to be an inch too low resulting in the ball finding the back of the net.
Lewis then stepped up to take the next penalty. Despite striking it really well, the Millfield keeper, the ISFA International keeper, made a great stop to his right-hand side. Lewis made a valiant effort to stop the winning penalty, but it was too powerful and well-placed. A heart-breaking 8-7 defeat on penalties after a heroic performance, reminiscent of the infamous 2016-17 semi-final that we lost 8-9. Amazingly Millfield have had to take ten penalties in sudden death (from that semi-final at 4-4 to 7-6 in this quarter-final) and not missed one!
You have to give credit to the Millfield lads, who held their nerve. They have taken some unbelievable penalties in our two shoot-outs, but we can still wonder and dream about what the feeling would have been like if we had managed to pull off the surprise of the tournament. Our boys can be justifiably proud of their efforts. Will Hughes and I are proud of the boys’ performance and how they dealt with the huge disappointment of defeat. They couldn’t have given any more for the team, their teammates and the School.
A special mention must also be made of the amazing support that we had from the School community – the self-named ‘Salopian Army’. The team were truly inspired by the support they received. It is at times like these that the very best of Salopian spirit is showcased.
A heart-breaking way to get knocked out of the competition, but it was a day where we can reflect on so many special moments and emotions. It’s been a great cup run that I am sure will ensure the up-and-coming generations of Salopian 1st XI footballers will be inspired to replicate – or go further.