Ok, so it was only a preseason friendly but there was a trophy to be played for and The Ravens secured their third bit of silverware in three months with a dominant victory over Guernsey FC in the Skipton Cup on Saturday.
This was the second version of what it is hoped will remain a vital part of both island-based clubs pre-season preparations. The inaugural competition was held in Guernsey in 2020 and the hosts ran out winners on penalties following a competitive 1-1 draw at Footes Lane. Yesterday’s encounter was a little different as the Ravens controlled the match from the off, and it was quite recognisable that both teams were at very different stages of their respective pre-season schedules.
This was the hosts’ fifth game of a busy six week training and practice program which started in mid-June. Meanwhile, the visitors were playing just their second fixture in preparation for their opening Isthmian South Central Division which starts two weeks later than our own campaign opener next week. In addition, Guernsey FC were missing a number of their leading players, notably their veteran top scorer Ross Allen and teenager sensations Ben Acey and Tin Ap Sion. In contrast the Ravens lined up strongly although they too were also missing key players such as Sean Doyle, Michael Williams, Dan Simpson and Ste Whitley.
From the off, the hosts set up camp in the opposition half and the enthusiastic energy of wingers Lee Gale and Jacob Crook was immediately noticeable as they hurried the Guernsey back four in their attempts to patiently play out from the back. It was to be a constant throughout the first half, with FC Isle of Man pressing relentlessly in the wide areas and when regaining possession largely controlling the game, however it was a half that was mostly devoid of real goalscoring opportunities. Perhaps the best chance came after 20 minutes when Gale chased what seemed a lost cause of a ball down the right flank.Upon gaining passion, he slipped his opponent with a trick and whipped in an angled left foot cross-shot which evaded Addison in the Guernsey goal, only for a covering defender to clear off the line. A minute later Guernsey had what turned out to be their only shot of the half when Chris Bass jr uncharacteristically gave the ball away 25 yards out, and the subsequent piledriver from a Guernsey midfielder whistled just wide of Dean Kearns’ right-hand post.
After these brief flurry of goal attempts it seemed the game was heading towards a half time stalemate. However, after Guernsey had seemingly dealt with a succession of corners as we counted down to the break, one last corner was swung in by Gale. The hitherto reliable Addison missed his punch and Sean Quaye was on hand to cushion the ball into the empty net.
Following the restart, Guernsey maintained their attempts of patient, but rather slow, build up play from the back, but FC Isle of Man who had played with decent intensity in the first period now really upped the tempo. As well the high energy of Crook and Gale, now Furo Davies and Luke Murray upped their game, harrying the Guernsey defenders on the ball, ably backed up by Junior and Jack Camarda in the midfield who were now noticeably playing further up the pitch giving Guernsey even less space to pass into.
Guernsey made a number of substitutions during the first 15 minutes of the half, which didn’t really alter their approach to the game. The Ravens, meanwhile, were really ‘at it’ now. Quaye nearly grabbed his second goal of the game, but saw his header hit the frame of the goal. Gale and Crook were terrorising the visiting full backs with their marauding runs down either flank that were constantly causing the Guernsey centre backs and goalkeeper to defend furiously on what was now a full out onslaught of their goal. Davies was showing great determination and skill in the second half, and one purposeful one-v-one run against a Guernsey defender brought a fine save out of Addison. Next, Quaye went close yet again – the veteran could easily have had a hat-trick in this game. Then came a flurry of attempts, rapid fire shots one after the other from Luke Murray, Crook, and Davies which were all blocked or saved, before the final rebound fell to Luke who seemed certain to score, but sliced wildly wide of the left hand post.
This was the way of the second half as the hosts bombarded the Guernsey penalty area. A Gale header forced another fine save from Addison, which the latter had to repeat minutes later after Crook expertly played in Murray. It was total one-way traffic, but it looked as if the Guernsey goal was living a charmed life, demonstrated by Crook’s seemingly goal bound drive rebounding back off the frame of the goal again! However, with ten minutes to go Gale applied the Coup d’Grace with the clinching second goal. This time the move developed from deep in the Guernsey half as the Ravens midfield fed Jacob Crook once more down the left side. The winger’s expert cross was missed by Davies but Gale was placed perfectly on the back post to steer the ball over Addison to clinch the game.
There was still time for Crook to hit the bar again, this time with a beautifully flick header, before the referee blew time on the 2022 Skipton Cup.
This was a very fine performance from all of the Ravens with Gale and Crook, in particular, both absolutely outstanding. Manager Chris Bass was delighted, especially at winning another trophy, but also how the whole of the pre-season preparation had gone. Now it’s on to the real thing, and the NWCFL Premier Division beckons this week as we look forward to welcoming Lower Breck to the Bowl. We hope to see you all there too.
FC Isle of Man Team:
Kearns – Clarke, Maitland, Quaye, Cannell (Burns) – Gale, Camarda (McDonnell), Bass jr (Batty), Crook – Davies, Murray (Higginbotham).