It was the first time that I had been to see Unite MK (formerly Wolverton Town) but not my first visit to Manor Fields. My previous visit had, oddly enough, also been for a Buckingham Charity Cup match just as it was today. It was also a United Counties versus Spartan South Midlands clash, just as it was today. However, last time out it was an all Step 6 clash between Buckingham Town and Winslow United (http://www.botp.co.uk/blog/next-round-robins) whereas today it was a semi-final second-leg between Unite MK (Step 7) and Olney Town (Step 6). Olney held a 5-3 advantage from the first leg so, as a neutral, I was hoping for an early onslaught and goal from the home side to make it an interesting tie. As it happened though, that was not to be the case.
Manor Fields, part of the Bletchley Irish Centre complex, has not changed at all since my last visit, so there is little point in describing the ground. The sides were coming into this game in very much contrasting form. Unite, sitting 15th in the Spartan South Midlands Division Two, have not won since a 3-2 victory over Hale Leys in late November. Olney, meanwhile, despite losing the Boxing Day derby with Buckingham Town on this very ground, are currently third in the league with just 4 defeats all season.
Whilst hoping for and expecting Unite to start on the front foot, it was actually Olney who went for it from the first whistle. Clearly wanting to get this game settled early, they attacked from the first minute and caused some consternation in the Unite defence with their pace up front. Their Number 10 (sorry, no team sheet), in particular, was getting in behind the home backline on numerous occasions. On one such foray, 10 got clear and chased down a through ball which the Unite keeper just about managed to get to first. 10 threw himself to the floor in an outrageous attempt to win a penalty which, quite rightly, angered the Unite players. The referee, who I must say had a good game throughout, brandished the yellow card to the Olney forward.
The goal from Unite, which would have made the tie much more interesting, never really looked like it would happen. Then, with just under 15 minutes played, Olney got the opener. Initially what looked like a sure-fire goal was averted by a superb last-ditch tackle from Unite's number 5 but when the ball was played back into the middle it was tucked away by Nick Bines to make it 0-1 (3-6 on aggregate). Eight minutes later and the tie was effectively over. A deep cross was controlled by Olney's front-man who spotted Bines running into the box. A neat lay-off was comfortably finished by the midfielder to make it 0-2 on the night and 3-7 on aggregate.
At this point the game died off a little. With a four goal deficit, there was really no way back for Unite and Olney knew that they didn't have to press for more goals. Unite, to be fair, didn't lack effort and the pace of Ben Dickens up front was always a bit of a threat to the Nurserymen. Unite did manage to rattle the Olney bar at one point but, inevitably, it was the away side who completed the first half scoring. This time the ball dropped to Lucasz Filipiak, who applied a neat left-foot finish from inside the box to make it three just before the half-time whistle.
HT Unite MK 0 (3) Olney Town 3 (8).
Five minutes later substitute Aaron Murrell burst through the home defence and calmly slotted home number five for the visitors. 0-5 (3-10 agg.).
To compound their woes, Unite were then reduced to 10 men when Dickens, who had looked their biggest threat until that point, pushed the ball too far ahead of himself and lunged for it in an effort to retrieve the situation. Unfortunately, he missed the ball, catching an Olney defender and earning a straight red. Nothing malicious in the tackle, but no argument from Unite.
To rub things in, Olney went up the other end and manufactured an opening for Bines to grab his hat-trick and make it 0-6 (3-11 agg.).
Olney's one man advantage, however, did not last too long. Having made all their substitutions at half-time they had no-one to come on when Mason Childs limped off with over half an hour to play.
Then just on the hour, Unite substitute Constantin Popa, struck a left-foot shot to get a consolation for the home side. 1-6 on the night, (4-11 agg.). I doubt that there were any thoughts of a comeback but, just to ensure that, Olney made it seven after 65 minutes with Murrell getting his second of the evening. 1-7 (4-12).
Not to be outdone, Popa hit back almost straight away to grab his and Unite's second goal. 2-7 (5-12). Once again, though, Olney went straight up the other end and restored their 6-goal advantage on the night with Murrell getting his hat-trick. 2-8 (5-13).
Now, sometime between this point and the final whistle I must own up and say that I lost count of the goals flying in. A combination of the sheer amount of goals combined with me trying to answer a couple of work related emails meant that I miscounted somewhere along the line. What I can say is that Aaron Murrell ended up with five goals to his name, Christian Small bagged a couple and Unite substitute Popa completed his hat-trick with a late penalty for the home side.
The final score was a whopping Unite MK 3 Olney Town 13 (agg 6-18) (thanks to the Olney twitter account for putting me straight on this).
One final thing to add and that is to commend both sides. Olney set about this game in a highly professional manner and, even with the game won, still approached it in the right way. Unite, despite being massively outclassed for large portions of the game, never let their heads drop and battled away until the final whistle.
Unite MK - @unitemkfc
Olney Town - @olneytownfc