What a day! FC Isle of Man’s inaugural match was a tremendous occasion for all, and it ended just as the Manx public would have wished, a confident victory.
A huge roar greeted the players from the sell-out crowd, as Frank Jones proudly lead the team out. In line with Sporting Club IOM’s club vision, players from both sides took the knee to show their support against all forms of discrimination. Referee, Stuart Kneen got the game underway and what would follow would not disappoint.
FC Isle of Man started brightly and in the 4th min Ste Whitley showed signs of what was to come as he took control of the right-hand side of the pitch, cutting in on his left foot and forcing the first save of the game from the Guernsey FC keeper. Moments later the crowd were out of their seats when Jones sent an audacious overhead kick agonisingly wide of the post. Jones wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down as only a minute later he unleashed a thunderous half volley that crashed against the top of the crossbar that had left the Guernsey FC keeper stranded.
After that bright start from the home side, Guernsey FC started to find their feet and they defended a succession of Whitley’s corner deliveries well and then nearly caused an upset at the other end as a mix up between Caine and Kearns nearly led to an own goal after a misplaced back pass, but thankfully it trickled wide of the post. Experienced centre back Sean Quaye, then popped up at the other end and nearly made himself the unlikely first FC Isle of Man goal scorer as he headed just over from another corner.
Following the drinks break the trajectory of the game carried on in much the same vein as FC Isle of Man continued to be a threat down the Guernsey left side with Sam Caine often bursting forward from right back in support of Whitley. Unfortunately, Caine’s game was short-lived as he had to be substituted after half an hour due to injury to be replaced by 18-year-old Adam Cooil.
After 33 minutes Guernsey FC had their first real chance of the game as a mix up in defence meant that Kearns had to be called upon for the first time and the keeper was on hand to make a smart stop and calm things down again.
Towards the end of the half, FC Isle of Man started to ramp up the pressure. Another teasing corner had the Guernsey FC defence struggling to defend no less than four attempts on goal, centre back Ryan Burns had two attempts blocked, and similarly successive efforts from Jack McVey and Luke Murray were scrambled away. The vociferous crowd were out of their seats as they couldn’t believe the ball hadn’t ended up in the back of the net. Murray, in particular had been a constant threat up front for FC Isle of Man and his work rate eventually paid off right at the end of the half.
A misplaced pass Guernsey pass was intercepted on the edge of the Raven’s penalty area by Cooil. The right back’s long and high clearance eventually came down just outside the Lion’s penalty area and was subsequently contested by Murray and the Guernsey FC GK. The Raven’s striker won the duel of who would react quickest to the loose ball, which by now had located itself in the Channel Islander’s penalty area, only to be bundled over by a recovering defender. The crowd roared as all eyes turned to referee Kneen, as he duly pointed to the spot. McVey was the chosen man to step up and take the spot kick and he slotted it away with nerves of steel. A historic moment as the ground erupted and the Ravens players leapt all over McVey who was the calmest man in the stadium.
A 1-0 lead was no less than the home side deserved, and the lead nearly doubled in first half injury time as Quaye rose highest in the box again only to see his header cleared off the line. The Ravens entered the break with a thoroughly deserved lead.
Whitley had been particularly impressive with flashes of magic on the right-hand side, with goal scorer McVey also putting in a calm yet impressive performance in the middle of the park. The defence looked imperious with Quaye, Burns and Cannell all doing fine jobs of keeping the Guernsey FC forwards quiet. The midfield certainly had won the battle in that area of the park with experienced leaders Jones and Bass Jnr looking ever reliable. Murray and McNulty had also been a constant threat to the Guernsey FC defence with particularly impressive hold up play alongside a tremendous work rate.
Bass Snr decided to use the full depth of his squad and made ten changes at half time. After the restart, it took a little while for both teams to find the flow of the game again, but FC Isle of Man always looked comfortable. Jamie Johnstone, looking bright up front had a couple of half chances and new centre back pairing Al Maitland and Tom Wood dealt with anything Guernsey FC threw at them.
Following the second half drinks break, the home side looked a lot brighter. In contrast to the first half the emphasis of the Ravens’ attacks, they were now being focused down Guernsey FC’s right side as young Jacob Crook and Dan Simpson combined well on a number of occasions to create openings. As the game wore on, the attacks became two pronged and Alex Holden also proved a threat as the game began to be played down both flanks with the Ravens wingers causing constant trouble.
Guernsey FC’s attack has been quiet for most of the half, but with quarter of an hour to go a rare attack resulted in a loud penalty shout following a clumsy defensive challenge left the referee with a decision to make but this time no penalty was awarded.
Sean Doyle replaced Ash Higginbotham for the final 15 minutes and with Guernsey continuing to tire Doyle proved to be a real threat using his presence and deft touch to good effect in the opposition half. He combined well with Crook and Simpson regularly in the closing stages and on 81 mins those three linked up wonderfully to leave Johnstone with a glorious chance to make in 2-0 but he put his effort over the bar.
At this stage of the game, Joe Quayle and Jack Camarda had struck up a good partnership in central midfield with Quayle constantly winning his battles with some strong tackles which left Camarda to dictate the play and burst forward when openings presented themselves. One of his bursts led to FC Isle of Man having two penalty claims turned down in quick succession as the home side pushed to find the killer goal. Doyle, Simpson and Holden all had close efforts in the final stages.
As the game drew to a close it took one final save from goalkeeper Glen Walker as he dived backwards to tip over a looping Guernsey FC header to preserve the clean sheet that the defence had deserved. The defence in both halves had been very impressive with both the experienced men and the youthful players putting impeccable efforts in to keep the Guernsey FC frontline nullified.
That save was the final meaningful action of the game. A historic day for FC Isle of Man finished with a commanding and confident victory in their first ever game and the huge local crowd were quick to acknowledge with a standing ovation upon the final whistle. A day to remember for all and this has only whet everyone’s appetite for more.
By Joe Reid