City of Liverpool lift the Reusch First Division Cup
Mon 1st May 2017 | First Division Cup | By Ian Templeman
City of Liverpool are the new holders of the Reusch First Division Cup, after a first half goal from Jamie McDonald sealed a 1-0 victory for the Purples over Sandbach United at a sun-drenched Millbank Linnets Stadium.
The club born just over 12 months ago by a group of enthusiastic supporters celebrated their coming-of-age in front of an all-ticket sell out crowd of 1263, and departed from the outskirts of Runcorn with the trophy tucked away and accompanied by the sounds of a noisy and boisterous reception from their supporters still ringing in their ears.
The Purples support had turned out in force to back their team, and with the covered enclosure behind the top end goal rocking exuberantly throughout the afternoon, it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that it would be a celebration party that was likely to continue long into the evening, as cars and coaches made their way back across the Runcorn Bridge and onwards to their end destinations.
It was, in truth, a victory that was hard earned but deserved against a spirited Sandbach side whose commitment never dropped over the course of the 90 minutes, but for both sides, as the dust settles on the day's proceedings, there now needs to be a sharp refocussing of minds towards the not insignificant matter of their respective play-off semi-finals this coming Saturday.
Both sides settled into the game quickly, and chances arrived at both ends inside the opening three minutes.
Within 60 seconds of the start City of Liverpool won a free kick midway inside the Sandbach half, and when skipper Chirs Lester hoisted a cross into the box, Allen Weston just failed to connect at the far post after timing his late run perfectly.
Sandbach responded moments later after winning a free kick on the edge of the box, and after Jamie Morgan's first effort was blocked, he laid the ball wide left to Aaron Knight, who darted into eth box and tested Stephen Longrigg with a shot that the City of Liverpool keeper gathered safely at his near post.
Play was flowing from end to end in the early stages, and on 12 minutes City of Liverpool again posed an aerial threat when Matthew Williams heaved a long free kick into the box, and Danny Dalton rose above the Sandbach defence to power a header over the bar.
The pace of Boris Melingui and Aaron Knight up front for Sandbach was asking questions of the City of Liverpool defence, while at the other end the predatory Jamie McDonald and David Forbes were always alert and ready to pounce when balls were played through the middle or down the channels.
But the deadlock was finally broken in the 27th minute when City of Liverpool scored what proved to be the decisive goal.
Once again, the Sandbach defence failed to deal with a cross into the box, with Danny Dalton rising to meet a Matthew Williams corner kick with a fierce header that thumped off the crossbar.
The ball landed at the feet of David Forbes, whose shot hit the inside of the near post and rebounded into the path of Jamie McDonald, who tucked the ball into the bottom corner of the net from close range to give the Purples the lead.
Four minutes later, the threat from corner kicks almost produced dividends again for City of Liverpool, with Weston meeting a Williams corner perfectly on the volley, which was blocked in the six yard box.
The Purples ended the half on the front foot, with Joseph Camozzi having an effort blocked and Kevin McEllin trying his luck from long range as half time loomed.
Within eight minutes of the start of the second half, Sandbach made two substitutions, a tactical one when Dereece Gardner replaced Aaron Knight and an enforced one when Jake Chadwick replaced the injured Kris Stockton, but it was City of Liverpool who increasingly enjoyed the best of the territory and possession as the half wore on.
There was a chance for both sides as the midway point of the second half approached, with firstly Matthew Williams curling a delightful free kick over the defensive wall and just over the bar from 25 yards out , after a foul on John Connolly.
At the other end, Sandbach responded with a neat flick from Boris Melengui setting Matthew Pearson up for a run into the penalty area, but although he rounded the advancing keeper Longrigg, he was eventually crowded out on the goal line by City of Liverpool defenders without managing to get a shot in.
As the game entered the closing stages, City of Liverpool began to run down the clock and play the bulk of the game in the Sandbach half, and they had another chance with seven minutes remaining, Joseph Camozzi finding time and space down the right flank to speed into the box, but with options to cut the ball back available, he elected for the more difficult option of getting a shot on target, and hit the side netting.
The Purples did have one final scare deep into stoppage time, when Sandbach launched a free kick into the penalty area, and Boris Melingui hooked the ball across the face of goal which Jamie Morgan met with a diving header that flew wide of the target.
But moments later, the final whistle sounded and the purple-clad supporters began their celebrations, with opportunities for photos and selfies taken up with enthusiasm as the trophy was presented and then paraded round the pitch by the City of Liverpool players.
City of Liverpool manager Simon Burton: "I don't think we played well on the day. The pitch was a bit bobbly and a bit sticky as it was so dry, so that made it a bit difficult to play.
"But I felt that we were always in control, and we were positive, and can't really remember Longy (goalkeeper Stephen Longrigg) making a save.
"The main thing for me was that the lads worked hard and grafted for 90 minutes. Sandbach are a well organised side that work really hard, and that was the first thing we said to them, we needed to go out and match them, and I felt we did that today and that we edged it and deserved to win.
"We could have played better football but it's the result that matters. I'll take 1-0 every time.
"The support was unbelievable. In all my time in non-league football, I've never experienced something quite as phenomenal as that. It's hairs on the back of the neck stuff, and their support throughout the game was fantastic.
"They never shut up for 90 minutes and you can't ask for much more".
Sandbach United assistant manager Paul Simmons: "In the first 45 minutes we didn't play well, didn't get the ball down, but you can't take anything away from them (City of Liverpool), I think they were the better side on the day.
"It was a bit of scrappy goal, but they reacted quickly when the ball came back off the bar, and scored, and I think that was the story of the first half.
"Our team talk at half time was to say 'listen, we're lucky still to be in it at 1-0 here', and the second half was a lot more even, although it was a scrappy game as cup finals tend to be.
"Overall, they edged it, certainly in the first 45 minutes they were a yard quicker than us, although we were still in it right up to the last minute, and I don't think either keeper has made many saves.
"But we would have taken this at the start of the season, getting to a cup final, we'd have snatched your hand off. Now we'll have a training session this week, pick the lads up and go again".
City of Liverpool: Stephen Longrigg, Christopher Lester (captain), Francis Foy, Kevin McEllin, Daniel Dalton, Allen Weston, Joseph Camozzi, Matthew Williams, Jamie McDonald, John Connolly, David Forbes (Elliott Nevitt 65). Substitutes not used - Daley Woods, Declan Gregson, Christopher Dykes, Barry Moore.
Sandbach United: Ryan Moss, Matthew Pearson, Jamie Morgan, Bradley Cooper (captain), Kris Stockton (Jake Chadwick 55), Martin Evans, Josh Lane, Christopher Jackson, Boris Melingui, George Riley (Alfred Hammond 74), Aaron Knight (Dereece Gardner 52). Substitutes not used - Kieran Gardner-Knapper, Connor Sutton.
Referee: Liam Marshall
Assistants: Alex Beckett, George Allison
Fourth Official: Edward Duckworth
Photo courtesy of John Rooney.