I hadn't been to Burnham FC's 1878 Stadium for a good few years until this season, and now I've been back twice in a matter of 6 months. It was a damn sight warmer this time than at my last visit back on a icily cold December afternoon just before last Christmas, when I witnessed Abingdon United Women keep up their title challenge with a 2-0 win over hosts Wycombe Wanderers Women (Two Wil Do For The Yellow & Blue).
Obviously, the stadium has not changed since December.
The cup is run by the East Berkshire Football League and they produced a small programme for the occasion, priced at £1.00. The front and back pages were full colour and glossy, with eight black & white internal pages featuring a welcome message, pen pics of both squads along with club histories for both teams.
As I said, one of the reasons that I was drawn to this fixture was that I knew very little about the competition. It appears to have been around for quite some time, but I am yet to discover much about its history. In fact, I can't even say who were the current holders or if either of today's teams had won the trophy previously. I'd be really interested to learn more if anyone can point me to the information.
What I did manage to learn from my research was that this evening's final was to be contested between two sides who had already been very successful in their respective leagues this season.
Stoke Poges were coming into the game on the back of winning the East Berkshire Division One title by some distance. Until last weekend, they had a 100% league record and had already captured the title when they went down 4-1 to second placed Sandhurst Town. With a cup final four days away, the result probably did not reflect their season. They could also boast four players in the league's top ten scorers list, including their own top scorer Sam Manton who had 29 goals in 25 outings.
Meanwhile, Rapids also won their league, Thames Valley Division Two and, in a mirror of Stoke Poges, had also lost their last league outing, 5-2 at home to SB Phoenix Reserves. As with Stoke Poges, the league title was already in the bag at this point. Top Scorer Joel Burton also finished as the league's top marksman with 25 goals in 25 games.
The road to the final for Stoke Poges started at Maidenhead Town "A" where they won 3-0. This was followed by being awarded an away win against Taplow United Reserves. The semi-final was against Cressex which Stoke won by a score of 5-3. Reading began with a 3-2 win at Hambledon Reserves, then trounced Eton Wick 9-1 before beating Mortimer Development 3-0 in the semi-final.
Many thanks to fourth official Alan Higgs and referee Nick Phipps for getting the team sheets for me before kick-off. Very much appreciated.
Stoke Poges, in their all green kit, were kicking towards the car park end in the first half and it was they who got of the first shot in anger when Ross McGarvie fired a third minute effort well over Kieran Lamb's crossbar. Despite the first corner of the game going to Rapids in the 8th minute, it was Stoke Poges who appeared to have settled the better of the two teams. On eleven minutes they really should have gone in front. A delightful ball played between the centre-half and full-back set Tai Maddox free on the right flank. He sent over a low cross aimed at the unmarked figure of Sam Manton inside the penalty area. However, with Lamb struggling to get across his goal in time, Manton could not make any significant contact on the ball. A massive let off for Reading.
Four minutes later Stoke came even closer to going in front and again the threat came down their right side. This time McGarvie did brilliantly to hold onto the ball before hitting a shot across Lamb, only to see the ball rebound off the inside of the far post before being hacked clear. Another inch to the right and the ball would have ended in the net.
Stoke could easily have been two goals up within the opening half of the first period and you just knew that they would live to regret missing the chances. The two close shaves seemed to finally raise Rapids from their slow start too. Jordan Sawyer had their first effort on target after 24 minutes, straight into the arms of keeper Mitchell Cumber, but a sign of their intent. Sure enough, two minutes after that, and against the general run of play, Rapids took the lead. A corner from the right was swung towards the back post where captain Tom Clark muscled his way past his marker to powerfully head past Cumber. 1-0
Just before the half-hour mark a second set piece almost put the red & black stripes two up. Again it was their captain Clark, this time drilling a free-kick narrowly wide of Cumber's right-hand post. The goal for Rapids had completely changed the dynamics of the game and whilst Reading were visibly more confident, Stoke seemed to have lost their way somewhat. Passes were going astray and the threat they posed early one seemed to be diminished.
A stoppage in play early on had led to quite a large amount of added time and it was just as we approached this that Stoke almost shot themselves in the foot. Playing out from the back, they needlessly gave the ball away well inside their own half and were very lucky to only concede a corner. They did, however, have the last say of the half, producing their best move of the game which concluded with Manton getting a trike on target only to find that Lamb had got his positioning spot on to save comfortably.
HT Reading YMCA Rapids 1 Stoke Poges 0. A classic example of how a goal can turn a game. Although it was relatively even for the first 25 minutes, Stoke were edging the game and had had the two best chances. Then Rapids scored and suddenly were on top.
Rapids looked much more confident on the ball now and had managed to push McGarvie deeper, nullifying his probing passing that had caused a few issues in the first half. The Greens were being restricted to longer range efforts, typified by Maddox's shot just before the hour mark, which sailed over Lamb's bar.
With just over twenty minutes left on the clock, Stoke again gifted the ball to Rapids inside their own half and this time were made to pay for it. Joel Burton spotted that Cumber was off his line and lofted the perfect lob over the keeper from all of 40 yards. 2-0
Stoke tried to respond. George Flynn's 72nd minute header was on target but straight at Lamb. Ten minutes later Sam Manton also got a strike on target but again straight into the arms of Lamb. It was difficult to see where a Stoke goal was coming from and Reading, since the second goal, had managed the game well.
There was still time for Stoke to curse their bad luck once more though, Ryan Manton's free-kick beating Lamb but coming back off the post.
FT Reading YMCA Rapids 2 Stoke Poges 0. A game that really showed the difference a goal can make. Stoke were arguably the better side until Reading went ahead. From that moment on, despite all of the Stoke efforts, it always felt that Reading were in control. Yes, Stoke hit the woodwork twice and can certainly count themselves unfortunate in that respect. If their early strike had gone in, who knows what would have happened. Overall, however, Rapids did enough to deserve their victory.
It's been a great season for both teams. Rapids did the double of League title and Maidenhead Norfolkian Junior Cup. Their first team also won the Berkshire Trophy Centre Senior Cup. Stoke Poges, I am sure, will be more than happy with their Division One title and an excellent season in which they out scored everyone and conceded fewer than every other team.
Reading YMCA Rapids: Lamb, Hathaway, Clark(c), Froude, Tucker, Burton, Robinson, Sawyer, Kitching, Harrison, Goodchild. Subs: Rees, Porter, Churcher, Stephens, Woodrow
Stoke Poges: Cumber(c), Pugh, Flynn, Rocha, Gartside, Maddox, Hammond, S,Manton, R.Manton, Barker, McGarvie. Subs: Meyer-White, Kennedy, Ensby, Gibson, Dyer
Ground Number: Re-Visit