This Tuesday, the last midweek of May, I was originally planning a re-visit to Hawkes Mill for a Massey Ferguson Cup Final between Craven Athletic and Whitnash Town. However, with neither team appearing to be active on Twitter and having been unable to find out anything about the competition or even if the game was actually on, I was in two minds about heading up the M40. However, I was alerted to another cup final, also in Coventry (thanks to Chris Lampett @lampett_1988 for that). This was also at a previously visited ground, the home of AFC Coventry Rangers, but both sides had active Twitter feeds and I could see that the game was definitely on.
This was my second visit to Coventry Technical Rugby Club. I first visited last January when I witnessed hosts AFC Coventry Rangers beat Coventrians 5-0 in an entertaining game that was much close than the score line suggested. Rangers were on there way to winning the Midland League Division 3 title. (Home On The Rangers).
Since my visit last January, covered standing has been added on the clubhouse side of the pitch but, apart from that, not much else has seems to have changed in the past year.
The Norman Paget Cup was created in honour of a man who was jointly responsible for the founding of the Coventry and District Sunday Football League back in 1962. From all accounts Norman was a stalwart of grassroots football in the Coventry area as well as a qualified referee. Norman sadly passed away in April, aged 93 which meant that this would be the first time the competition Final had been played since his passing.
This year's Final would be between current holders and Division 1 Champions Coventry Empire and Division Two runners-up Gatehouse Tavern. As well as taking the league title, Empire had also recently won the Stockingford Charity Cup with a 2-1 win over Nuneaton & District Sunday League side Ridge Lane.
Whilst Gatehouse Tavern did not win their league, they had already seen a cup victory this season, having defeated the team who won their division with a 100% record, Flanellys, 6-1 in the David Schofield Cup.
Gatehouse progressed to this evening's final by means of a bye in the first round followed by a 7-1 defeat of Division One side Sporting United. They then beat Flanellys once more, 3-2 this time, in the semi-final.
Empire beat fellow Division One side Edwin SOM 8-0 in Round 1 and were then awarded an away against Wheel Athletic Blues. Their semi-final was also a close encounter as they saw off Division Two outfit Holbrooks United 2-1 with goals from Liam Davies and Bradley Jones.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, I only have the Gatehouse team sheet. Therefore, the majority of the Empire team are only identified by their shirt number (unless I managed to pick out names during the game). I'll be more than happy to edit later if someone gives me the names or team sheet.
The Division 1 side, full of confidence, started the game as you would expect, on the front foot. Three times within the opening four minutes they tested Gatehouse keeper Duncan Van Den Top. In the first minute the stopper had to be quick off his line to block from Number 15. In the third minute he was stretched again by a low drive from Number 16 and, a minute after that, he had to stand firm against an effort from number 12.
However, before there was even 10 minutes on the clock, even Van Den Top was powerless to prevent Empire from taking the lead. A through ball split the Tavern defence allowing Number 7 to run on and slot the ball calmly past the keeper. 1-0. Oddly, during the celebrations the goal scorer than switched shirts with Jaggit Aujila who had been wearing the 16 shirt up until that point.
At this point Empire had complete control over the game with Gatehouse struggling to make any kind of impression. On 22 minutes Empire should have been two up when their Number 2 met a deep cross at the far post but could only direct his header straight at the keeper. They did, however, increase their lead after 34 minutes, and what a strike it was! Number 11 took possession some 30 yards out, took a few strides forward and unleashed an unstoppable strike into the top right corner. No chance at all for Van Den Top. 2-0.
HT Coventry Empire 2 Gatehouse Tavern 0. Empire took the game by the scruff of the neck right from kick-off, making it very difficult for Gatehouse to get into the game at all. However, Gatehouse did show some signs, especially in the final 10 minutes, that they could breach the Empire defence. Certainly not completely one-way traffic, but things will need to change quickly in the second half if Gatehouse want to get back into the game.
Just past the hour mark Empire's Ryan Pedley played a lovely one-two before smashing a drive off the far post and it wouldn't be the last time he was unfortunate in the game. A minute after that incident, it did become four and it was Connor Tallet again, converting from a central position. 4-0.
You could see Gatehouse heads drop at this point. Their captain Dan Fraser also appeared to be carrying an injury, but played on (possibly all subs had been made, I had lost count). On 66 minutes Tallet had a golden opportunity to grab a hat-trick but put his effort well over.
The miss signalled a few minutes of complete end to end action. Almost immediately after Tallet's miss, Gatehouse pulled a goal back when Liam Kennedy took the ball in midfield, drove at the defence, leaving a couple of players in his wake and then slotted a curling effort wide of the goalkeeper into the far corner. A lovely goal. 4-1. Whether that goal shook up the Empire defence I don't know, but a minute later they presented Tavern with a gilt-edged opportunity to get another, conceding possession inside their own penalty area. Only a slight deflection of the goalkeeper's put prevented the goal.
Some harsh words from the bench and one or two players quickly got the Empire focus back and any ideas that Tavern may have had about an unlikely comeback were well and truly squashed on 70 minutes when Jaggit Aujila cut in from the left before firing a low shot into the far corner. 5-1. Clearly the number 7 shirt's a lucky number. On the score sheet twice with two different players.
That signalled the end of the goal scoring but not the end of the action. Empire, buoyed by regaining their four goal advantage immediately produced probably the best passing move of the game with the ball ending at the feet of their Number 2, who screwed it wide when he probably should have made it six. Then, straight down the other end, Tavern's big number 9 Craig Hands fired a rasping drive that the Empire keeper did well to acrobatically turn over the bar.
There was still enough time for Empire's unlucky right-back Pedley to hit the post again before the referee drew a close to proceedings.
FT Coventry Empire 5 Gatehouse Tavern 1. A comprehensive and well deserved victory for Coventry Empire. They controlled the game almost from start to finish. Credit to Gatehouse Tavern for continuing to plug away for the entire 90 minutes and at least scoring a great goal of their own.
For anyone interested, the result of the game I originally had planned was Craven Athletic 0 Whitnash Town 2.
Coventry Empire (alphabetical): Blyth, C.Davies, L.Davies, Fesel, Gavin, Pedley, Rooney, Tallet, Aujila, Ludford, Waller. Subs: Billing, Seery, Snape, Jackson, Camwell
Gathehouse Tavern: Van Den Top, Walsgrove, Draper, Winkless, Watson, J.Kennedy, L.Kennedy, McDermott, Hands, Fraser(c), Hawthorne. Subs: Steane, Draper, Tellyn
Ground Number: Re-Visit