I’m not sure many of us expected the be back at the bowl so soon after last month’s play off final victory, but thanks to a cup run that’s gone slightly under the radar, we found ourselves back watching the Ravens. And it wasn’t just any old game, there was a place in a cup final at stake.
Chris Bass was able to name a team with a nice blend of experience and youth. In goal was Dean Kearns, and in front of him was an unchanged back four from Monday night’s victory.
Ash Higginbotham started at right back, with Jacob Crook filling the left back position. The centre half pairing would be the vastly experienced Karl Clark and Jamie Corlett. In the engine room there would be the combative Ronan McDonnell and alongside him was the youthful Sam Baines. Exciting winger Charlie Higgins would play on the left wing with Adam Cooil taking up his position on the right. That would leave Ste Whitley to play just off 16-year-old Luca Moretta in attack.
Holker Old Boys (HOB) started brightly and had their first effort after only 30 seconds. Samuel Joel sent a shot flying just over the bar, which was a warning for the Ravens backline. FCIOM’s first opportunity came minutes later when Whitley sent a teasing delivery in that just evaded the onrushing Moretta.
The Ravens looked at their best when going down the left, with Crook in particular impressing when on the ball. His cross would again find Moretta who headed just wide this time.
The home side then got a wake up call when Higginbotham played a back pass short but he was let off the hook with some help from Crook. The Ravens would have one more chance before the tide would begin to turn. After Higgins had won a free kick with some flickering footwork, Corlett rose highest from the resulting set piece but couldn’t keep his header down.
HOB then started to get a foothold in the game and really began to test the Ravens. Clark had to be on hand on two occasions to execute slide tackles which saved the home side from some potentially dangerous situations. Goalkeeper Kearns also had to be alert to punch clear a corner after the visitors pulled off a cheeky routine. Moments later Kearns then had to save with his feet as the away side struck a low effort from the edge of the box.
FCIOM had already been warned about HOB’s corner routines and this time they would pay the price. After the ball was played short into Joel’s feet, he fainted left but went right, sending two Ravens players the wrong way. He then drove into the box and his cross-shot could only be deflected in to give the away side the lead.
HOB would have one more opportunity to double their lead before half time. Hodgson found himself through on goal with only Kearns to beat and when the ball looped up it tempted him to try and lob Kearns but he could only direct the ball into the gloves of the keeper.
The sides went in at 0-1 at the break and this prompted Bass to shuffle his pack. Two changes were made which saw Nathan Cardy and Luke Murray come on to replace Adam Cooil and Luca Moretta.
FCIOM continued their good play down the left after the interval, as Crook would again go hunting and sent in a fierce delivery that required a last ditch block from a HOB defender to prevent a sight of goal.
Bass made his last throw of the dice by putting Jack McVey on for Baines and it would be only minutes later that this change would bring a reward. McVey was switched on and his quick thinking saw him rapidly take a free kick which found the feet on Whitley. He sent the ball across the box and Corlett was there to poke home into the top corner to get the Ravens back on level terms.
The away side had lost the control they had in the first half, and this showed as they picked up a couple of bookings in quick succession. This wouldn’t knock their spirits though as they managed to send their striker through on goal. He looked destined to score until Higginbotham came out of nowhere to produce a goal saving slide tackle which was greeted with a huge cheer from the home fans. This wouldn’t be the only time Higginbotham would prove to be a last-ditch sweeper as moments later he pulled off a similar intervention to help his side keep the visitors out.
HOB had a few more opportunities late on. Kearns made a smart stop low down to his left after a shot came in from outside the box. Crook also made another good tackle to prevent a possible late sucker punch. This wasn’t to be the only late drama of the evening though.
After the away goalkeeper had come rushing out his box to clear a ball, McVey saw the opportunity to send the ball back into an empty net but his effort was headed clear. From the clearance the ball then came back out to Higgins who flashed a dangerous ball across goal, which was just begging to be touched in.
With time ticking on and a penalty shoot-out looming, FCIOM produced one more moment of quality. A nice move saw Luke Murray being slipped through by Higgins on the edge of the box and he kept his composure to slide the ball across goal and there was Cardy to steer the ball home and send the Ravens faithful delirious.
The Ravens managed extra time well and there were huge cheers from the 2,151 fans inside the stadium when the referee brought proceedings to an end and sent the home side into next week’s cup final.