The Ravens’ qualify for the FA Vase first round proper after a convincing performance against NWCFL Premier Division’s Avro FC on Saturday.
Despite the knockout element of this game, manager Chris Bass didn’t tinker much with his team setup from the previous league game.
“We’re looking to play the same system, as we feel it has suited us better [in previous weeks]”, He explained. “It’s very exciting to play a team that is playing a division higher than us. Nobody ever knows what happens in cup ties, but we’re confident, so we should create chances.”
As the mist and drizzle disappeared and the sun came out at Avro FC’s Vestacare Stadium, the referee blew his whistle to start FC Isle of Man’s first ever cup game.
If there were any pre-game nerves with the prospect of facing a higher ranked opponent, they certainly weren’t apparent as the Ravens started brightly attacking with speed and purpose from the off. Williams and Whitely combining well on the right flank to cause Avro to take notice early on.
It only took ten minutes for the breakthrough to come. A lovely switch of play from Sam Baines found Michael Williams on the edge of the “D” whose quick shot was deflected over the bar. The resulting Whitely corner was curled in with pace towards a melee of players in the six-yard box, and it was captain Jack McVey who got the telling touch to knock the ball over the line. One-nil to the Ravens and a dream start to our first ever cup game.
Minutes later the lead was nearly doubled when Ste Whitely’s dinked ball into the box was met by Murray whose looping header lacked power and could only bounce agonizingly off the top of the bar and out for a goal-kick.
There was no time to dwell though, as within seconds the ball was, somehow, in the back of the FC Isle of Man net. Avro worked the ball out from the back, crossed into our box and, unfortunately, last week’s hero Ash Higginbotham was seemingly caught in two minds as the ball cannoned off him and past the unsuspecting Ravens ‘keeper Dean Kearns. A goal apiece after just 14 minutes.
Now began a period of ten minutes of breathless back and forth football, with both teams probing on the wings trying to find a decisive final through ball. The Ravens defence however stood firm and prevented any real moments of danger arising for Avro.
On 25 minutes, a period of relentless Ravens’ pressure finally took its toll. Cutting in from the left, Dan Simpson took a neat through ball in his stride and broke through the last line of Avro defence, easily outpacing his man and tucked the ball assuredly past the Avro ’keeper into the bottom corner. 2-1 and FC Isle of Man had their lead back.
Unlike earlier, the Ravens seemed determined to ensure there was no immediate reply from Avro, confidently snuffing out most attacks. The home side seemed to switch tactics slightly in this period and tried to move the FC Isle of Man players around with quick switches of play. One in particular in the 38th minute found their man open and in acres of space on the right of the Ravens’ area. Driving into the box his hard-struck effort looked as if it would trouble Kearns but the ball struck the outside of the post.
There was just time before the half-time whistle for Luke Murray to fight off a shirt-pulling defender and play in Michael Williams inside the box, but his shot was blocked and that was that for the first half.
The second half began much like the first, with the Ravens probing across the width of the final third. A succession of free kicks in dangerous areas for FC Isle of Man constantly heaped pressure on the home side who were struggling to threaten Kearns during the opening period of the half.
This sustained dominance deservedly brought the third goal for the Ravens. A 52nd minute corner on the left was swung in from Whitley and Sean Doyle rose magnificently and confidently to head home from eight yards to make it 3-1 and provide a very welcome two-goal cushion.
With the game an hour old, Bass made his first change of the day bringing on Adam Mealin to replace the hard working Michael Williams. This slight change in shape appeared to allow Avro back into the game however, as more of their passes began finding their target leading to a handful of half-chances for the home side.
On 67 minutes, Ryan Burns, struggling with a knock, was replaced by Jacob Crook and just two minutes later on 69 minutes Furo Davies replaced the goal-scoring Dan Simpson for the final twenty minutes.
Even at this stage, on a muggy afternoon, the pace of the game showed no signs of slowing down. The Ravens continued to press dangerously, while down at the other end, Dean Kearns had to stay alert, tipping a rare rasping Avro shot on target, up and over his goal.
The host’s frustrations began to rise, and Avro’s Kai Haigh literally saw red on 77 minutes following his very late challenge on Sam Baines. There was no question as to the severity of the challenge, and the referee rightly sent him walking. Thankfully, after some treatment on the pitch, Baines was helped to his feet was able to carry on.
The resulting freekick was floated into the Avro box, and as the ball dropped to Luke Murray time seemed to stand still. His first-time volley was sweetly struck and looked like it was heading in, but the ball crashed off the bar and back into play.
Even during the last ten minutes, and despite the nerves on the sidelines beginning to jangle, the Ravens’ players kept on pressing Avro with a series of incisive runs and through-balls into their box from Whitely, Mealin and Davies.
As the clock ticked past 90, Jack McVey won a foul on half-way, for which Avro’s Martin Pilkington was booked. Everyone took a breath, checked their watches and as the ball was swung in toward the box the referee blew the final whistle.
Game over and the Ravens marched on into the next round of the FA Vase.
After the game, captain Jack McVey was happy to win to our first ever cup game.
“Everyone’s over the moon” he said “we didn’t expect to win quite so comfortably, but we played really well and nullified their challenge, so we’re happy with the result, happy with the performance. We’ll take every [cup] game as it comes, but it’s good for the club and the players to keep getting the wins.”
So, onwards and upwards and there’s no rest for the Ravens now as we’re back on the road to face New Mills in the League on Tuesday.
Avro FC: 1
- 14’ Higginbotham (OG)
FC Isle of Man: 3
- 10’ McVey
- 25’ Simpson
- 52’ Doyle