Devon County Youth League Cup FINAL

Played at Coach Road, Newton Abbot

Tuesday, 19th May 2015

Willand Rovers 3 Apollo 2 (HT 2-2) Bickle, Gibbins, Antat

Another Tuesday, another final at Coach Road, another trophy. We could get used to this!

With 32 seconds of the final left to play, referee Brian Holmes blew his whistle to allow JJ Vittles to receive attention for an injury incurred when he landed a little awkwardly after competing for a header, and dislocated his right knee. Ouch!

Mindful of the threat presented by Apollo’s excellent lone forward, Willand changed tactics and played a 4-5-1 formation in a bid to stop the opposition midfield feeding him high through balls.

As the final settled down, so Willand took the game to Apollo down both flanks with Ben Bickle and Tarji Jones prolific on the right and Alex Wright and Sam Johnson hardworking on the left. Nathan Antat played in the hole, alongside Jordan Bastin and Reece Kingdom.

Clear chances were scarce but the endeavour was apparent and so were the reactions of the Apollo ‘keeper who was doing well. Twice Alex Gibbins was presented with great chances but couldn’t connect properly.

After 15 minutes though, a breakthrough. Ben Bickle’s corner deceived everyone at the near-post and went straight in. 1-0. Maybe the team would settle.

After 28 minutes, it was 2-0. Reece Kingdom wriggled to the goal-line and put over an inviting cross which Gibbins powerfully headed back across the keeper for a great goal.

As Willand’s early exertions began to tell, so the teams concentration dropped. Jez Cross was called to make an important intervention after several ricochets ended in an Apollo player getting a sight of goal. But he could do nothing after 39’ when another long clearance from the Torquay side’s ‘keeper bounced twice and sat up invitingly for their forward to simply nudge the ball over the advancing Cross.

For all their possession and football, Willand were in danger of throwing their advantage away. And they did. In first half injury time, Apollo’s terrific striker got away from his marker and then struck a sweet low shot past Cross’ right hand into the far corner. 2-2. On balance of pay, perhaps not fully deserved but this is the beauty of the game we play.

Into the second half, Reece Browning replaced the injured Wright at left back. Willand looked increasingly jaded, like they lacked energy and inspiration. Half chances came and went while at the Willand end, Cross had to be alert but otherwise his good hands dealt with most threats.

Jake Tillet came on for Sam Johnson who had worked well on the left and Jack Rawlings came on for Tarji Jones. Suddenly there was energy and new ideas as the pace and direction returned to the side. Antat was becoming the star of the show in a deeper role where he collected the ball and would start to pull the strings of successive attacks. Then he found himself free on the right and drifting into the penalty area, he unleashed a terrific low drive which had the keeper beaten before he could react. 3-2.

Sam Rawlings came on for Nathan Antat shortly afterwards and Joey Vittles replaced Gibbins as Willand looked to hang on to their lead this time. JJ had a powerful header go narrowly wide before an exchange of passes almost set him free on goal. But his knee gave way…..

When the game restarted, Bastin was the star as he collected the ball and ran into the Apollo area and out again while the clock ran down.

Massive credit to Gary Zinc’s Apollo who have closely contested all the game with Willand this season. Well refereed to Mr Holmes too.

The presentation and celebrations were curtailed due to the late hour (it was almost 10:45pm!). Well done to the League’s committee for arranging the final at Coach Road too.

Most especially though, let’s hope JJ make s a full recovery. He was in a lot of pain and on the way to hospital when the game restarted.

Still, the treble was won and the team should be very proud – and rightly so. Jez Cross was unanimously declared the Man of the Match with Nathan Antat a close second.

They have played the best football and they have played it the right way. The only time they were genuinely stretched was at Torquay United’s academy, and even then they were the best side in the first half.

Bravo lads! Bravo!