In a game where weather conditions played as big a part as any player on the pitch, it was Boldmere St Michaels that ran out worthy winners after a tense semi-final in the Joel Richards Memorial Cup.
With both sides having won blockbuster quarter-final ties - Boldmere beating Leamington FC 5-3 and Coventry dispatching Stourbridge 4-3 - this game was set up to be a cracker. Under the floodlit 3G pitch at Rugby Borough, Coventry got the game underway in winds that reached up to 25mph and it was the nominal ‘home’ team that made the brighter start, applying pressure down the left flank through winger Samir Muzaffar. After four minutes, the red shirts of Coventry had their first sight of goal as Muzaffar cut in onto his right foot but could only blast his shot high and wide. Boldmere were playing on the counter but were doing it well and almost opened the scoring with nine minutes on the clock as a deflected pass sent their number 9 through, but Coventry ‘keeper Sam Sepo was out well to smother the shot. Boldmere’s number 11 was felled inside the Coventry box minutes later although referee Richard Cutts adjudged there not to have been enough contact.
Boldmere were beginning to get a foothold in the tie as the Coventry pressure became less sustained and less dangerous. Then came the breakthrough. Fourteen minutes in, the Boldmere right-winger won a free kick on the right hand side of the United box and picked himself up to tease in a delicious ball across the near post. With the Coventry goalkeeper in no-man’s-land, the Mikes’ Number 10 rose to nod the ball down into the far corner and give Boldmere an early lead. This was the watershed moment and from this point Coventry never looked likely to claw themselves back into the game. They were reduced to attempting ambitious runs that brought a glutton of free kicks but little else; Muzaffar and Abdul Bambah were particularly impressive at winning these. By the midpoint of the first half, the wind had also begun to favour Boldmere who almost scored directly from a corner by virtue of a strong gust directing the flight path of the ball towards the net. Boldmere wrapped up the contest on 38 minutes. Their commanding left-back read the play well to win the ball back in midfield and embarked on a barnstorming run - the zenith in an all-round monstrous display from the number 18 - beating three players and unleashing a shot towards the near top-corner forcing an excellent save from the Coventry keeper who could only turn the fierce strike onto the bar and away for a corner. The corner was whipped towards the near post where the Mikes’ striker leapt acrobatically to put the deftest touch onto the cross with his heel, sending the ball flying into the far corner to double the Boldmere lead.
There was a feeling that what had looked for a while like a brilliant end-to-end contest would turn into a rout when, just a minute after the second goal, the Mikes won another free kick and Ryan Oka-Zeh almost turned the ball into his own net. However, despite a litany of attacks, heaps of pressure and a booking for dissent, Coventry held firm to see out the half at 2-0 with the chance to regroup and mount an unlikely comeback in the second-half. Occasionally, you play a game of football where everything seems to run against you and, despite not being much worse than your opponent on the night, fortune turns a healthy deficit into an unassailable one. This was one of those nights for Coventry United.
As the teams emerged from the clubhouse for the second half, the howling wind had been joined by a strong rain that soaked players and spectators alike and made fluid football near-impossible. Moreover, United were forced into a change to replace the indisposed Sepo in goal, who had kept them in the game multiple times in the first half. Despite this, Coventry once again came out fighting and began the second period the brighter of the two teams. More often than not, however, they were let down by a lack of creativity and an overreliance on Muzaffar, who did manage to force a good save from the Boldmere keeper on 52 minutes. A string of bookings followed for Boldmere who successfully attempted to halt attacks and pressure in midfield and break up play by whatever means necessary, prohibiting their opponents the space to try to claw themselves back into the match while picking up three second half yellow cards. As the game petered out, having long since ceased to be a contest, the Mikes were gifted a gilt-edged chance when a ball over the top was missed by Coventry’s onrushing makeshift goalkeeper, presenting an open goal to the Boldmere striker. However, he miskicked his shot allowing Coventry centre-back Louie Birtles to recover well and clear the ball.
For all the ease with which Boldmere St Michaels saw this semi-final through, it was not their open-play dominance (through which they in fact created precious few chances) but their aerial superiority that tipped the balance of the game in their favour. For Coventry, they will look back upon a game that could have been so different had they capitalised on their dominance in the opening ten minutes. They will also, rightly, rue the unfortunate weather conditions that swung the game and made the Boldmere lead unassailable.
For Boldmere St Michaels, an epic matchup against Solihull Moors U18 awaits them in the Final of the Joel Richards Memorial Cup after the Moors beat Bedworth United 4-1 in Wednesday night’s other tie.