FC Isle of Man crest

Report: FC Isle of Man (1) vs (0) Cammell Laird (First Division Challenge Cup Final)

By Hook or… by Crook

And so, the end of the season is finally upon us. Ten long months culminated yesterday with the Ravens winning their first official trophy, the NWCFL First Division Challenge Cup, following a hard fought 1-0 win over perennial cup final opponents Cammell Laird 1907.

Earlier in the season when the two teams met in the league at the Bowl it was one of the tightest games of the season. On that day it turned out to be a tense goalless draw, and for long periods of yesterday’s final the same result seemed on the cards.

Manager, Chris Bass, has deliberately played a young and inexperienced team in this competition, but the youngsters, with the help of a smattering of veterans, demonstrated they were quick on the uptake in taking the team to the final. There were a couple of enforced changes from the semi-final line up though as Ash Higginbotham switched to left back, meaning that Adam Cooil reverted to the right full back position, with Lee Gale taking Cooil’s place on the right side of midfield. Jacob Crook was pushed forward to left wing, in what was to turn out to be an inspired move. Other changes included Kyle Watson partnering Ronan McDonnell in the midfield and Furo Davies captained the team from the lone striking position.

The visitors started brightly, forcing Dean Kearns in the Ravens goal to a smart save in the opening minute that earned a corner, yet despite the seemingly quick start to the game, the opening exchanges were full of endeavour but with neither team looking threatening. Just before the quarter hour though, Davies took the ball in his stride just outside the Cammell’s penalty area and embarked on a powerful run down the left side of the box. Furo’s subsequent cross expertly picked out Luca Moretta on the near post, but the pace of the centre seemed to catch the youngster off guard and he could only direct the ball away from the goal when it seemed he must score. Five minutes later, a peach of a cross from Gale found Jacob Crook charging into the penalty area. However, the winger’s spectacular diving header somehow sailed over the bar.

Crook in fairness had been the best player on show during the opening period, constantly turning his direct opponent inside out and it was a performance the young winger, playing in his more natural position, was to maintain for the remainder of the game. Despite Jacob’s efforts there was not a lot to get excited about during the first period with neither ‘keeper being seriously challenged, and the first half meekly petered out at 0-0.

The early exchanges in the second half didn’t really offer too much inspiration for the sun-baked 3,018 crowd either, and Bass made two early substitutions, endeavouring to make a difference and spark the game into life. ‘Man on Fire’ Sean Doyle came on for his first appearance in the competition to replace Moretta, while veteran Chris Bass jr replaced Kyle Watson.

The changes very nearly paid dividends immediately. Crook, still tormenting the Laird’s full back, again gave his opponent a ‘twisted blood moment’ and crossed for the newly arrived Doyle on the near post. However, the striker’s resulting header went wide of the post and into the side netting. After that brief flurry of activity, the contest again reverted back to a sort of stalemate, with lots of hard work from both sets of players, but no real moments of quality to raise the crowd.

Despite Doyle’s earlier header, the Cammell’s had looked the slightly (only slightly) more menacing side in the second period and most of the game was being played in the host’s half, and while the visitors forced a number of corners, they never really troubled the Ravens defensive set up. Then with just under 20 minutes to go, someone lit a match and the game fired into life.

That man was Cammell Lairds Ryan Smith, whose 71st minute 25-yard piledriver nearly snapped Kearn’s crossbar in two and bounced back into play. The Ravens struggled to clear the ball as Lairds sensed blood, and that blood started to boil over seconds later as what looked like a dangerous challenge on Adam Cooil brought both sets of players into confrontation. Thankfully Cooil, while in some discomfort, was ok and was able to resume and the referee calmed down the players. The two incidents however, injected some much-needed urgency into the game. Especially for the hosts. Now Sam Caine (who had replaced Furo on 64 mins) was probing down the right, while Crook continued his harassment of the visitor’s right side. Doyle and Gale were now running in behind the visitors back four with purpose and McDonnell was now biting into his tackles, assisted ably by the veteran Bass.

With ten minutes to go, the Ravens forced a corner. Bass jr expertly delivered the ball right under the bar, a melee of players from both sides jumped in anticipation, but the man who got the vital touch that turned the ball over the line and into the net to give the Ravens the lead, was fittingly, Jacob Crook! The youngster was ultimately and deservedly voted Man of the Match for his overall contribution to the contest.

It was to prove the last moment of real action and the final ten minutes was well managed by the home team and, despite there being what seemed an inordinate amount of stoppage time, the young Ravens easily hung on to win the first trophy in the club’s history.

And so ends a fairy-tale of an inaugural season for FC Isle of Man. Promotion and a Cup Final triumph have been magnificent achievements for the club on the field.

Off the pitch we have received magnificent support for each, and every game resulting in an average attendance that has been in excess of 1,600 for the season, which has been truly beyond our wildest dreams. In addition, we have received widespread recognition from national and international media outlets that have helped put the club on the football map.

It really has been a fantastic journey, and it all starts again in just six weeks’ time!