LIGERS MARCH ON TO SEMI-FINAL
By Neil SINCLAIR
George Lee scores 4 and Gabe Sinclair nabs 3 to see off Panthers
Ligers overcame an early scare to secure their place in the last four of the EBFA Trophy. On a bitterly cold day in Sonning, the U13s met a much-improved Woodley Saints Panthers squad. Ligers convincingly beat a nine-man Panthers outfit on the opening day of the league season but now at full-strength, the Woodley outfit promised to be far stiffer opposition.
Ligers started the game very well, passing the ball quickly and accurately to enable Gabe Sinclair and Dylan Tomlinson to test the home keeper early on. But Panthers had both the slope and the arctic wind in their favour, and a ball over the top put Joe Wallis and Toby Chilvers out of the game for Panthers outstanding player, Korbyn Nivas, to have an easy run on goal. Matt Barrett was too slow to close down the Panthers striker and it was 1-0 to the home side.
Panthers enjoyed 10 minutes of supremacy but it seemed to play the Hearts back-four into the game. Sam Bates, looking increasingly comfortable as a right-back, and Daniel Kubinskyy had outstanding games, while Toby and Joe realised that a degree of physicality was required to put the home forward line off its stride. Daniel and Gabe began to link up well on the left, and Gabriel’s pace was only thwarted by the excellent goalkeeping of Harry Angell. Eventually, it was great play by John Humphrey on the right side that unlocked Panthers, and he swept the ball across goal for George Lee to finish with his usual aplomb.
From the re-start, Panthers swept back up the other end but the remainder of the half belonged to Ligers. Toby, making his very welcome return, seemed to have found an extra couple of yards of pace, and Dylan Tomlinson was becoming the dominant player in the centre of midfield. Gabe was peppering the home goal, albeit somewhat ineffectively, but it was the goal-machine George Lee who found himself free on goal having emerged from a midfield melee with the ball and he made no mistake to put Ligers in front. Archie Pyman finished the half with a near miss for Panthers but it was Hearts who went into half-time 2-1 ahead.
Ligers made their usual raft of changes at half-time so it was to be expected that they started the second-half a little less confidently. James, Kevin and Zak replaced Daniel, Joe and Sam respectively across the back four and they took a little while to come to terms with the strength and speed of their opponents. But with Matt and Toby now imperious, Panthers were soon frustrated and, ultimately, undone. Seven minutes into the half, George Lee completed his hat-trick. Having moved in from the flank to replace a subdued Ilyas Akhtar as George's striking partner, Gabe Sinclair got in on the act and he notched up a 16-minute hat-trick, including running in from just inside the Panthers’ half from an assist from Matthew Barrett’s excellent clearance. George Lee added his fourth goal following a sublime piece of skill while Korbyn Nivas scored a consolation goal for the home team.
It was a wonderful team performance by Ligers against a very strong and initially confident Woodley Saints squad. Several of the Ligers are playing consistently good football in starting positions that they may not have considered before this term. Sam Bates is worthy of mention as a newly-discovered full-back; and George Perez-Medina and Thomas Fondie are increasingly influential in midfield - perhaps without the beanie hats - ed; Dylan Tomlinson is an imposing figure as a defensive midfielder who often gets himself into goal-scoring positions.
With the Christmas break now upon us, Ligers can look forward to a home semi-final in February against either Marlow United or Bracknell Colts, with a cup final now in reach.