Ove the years I've watched football at the majority of locations in the CV post code. However, I'll admit that not only had I never been to Hawkes Mill Sports Club before, I was not even aware of its existence until I started looking into this match. Situated to the North-West of Coventry city centre on the periphery of the Allesley district, the club has two full size pitches as well as a couple of small-sided ones. The club house can host parties and events and, from comments on Google seems to be a popular place with Coventry City supporters particularly as club legend Lloyd McGrath seems to have a connection to the club.
The main car park isn't that big, but there is plenty of parking available on grass behind one of the goals, with Marshalls directing traffic on the day to make it easier to find. There's no spectator cover around the ground, although you can watch the game in some comfort from one of the tables situated outside the clubhouse, behind one of the goals, should you so wish. The playing surface, although no 100% flat, looked in superb condition.
The Coventry Benevolent Cup remains something of a mystery. Try as I might, I couldn't much information about the origin or history of the competition. One thing I did find out was that the holders were Bulkington Poppys who beat Folly Lane 3-1 in last season's final. I can't say for sure if either of this season's finalists have won the trophy before or not. Both sides play in Division 1 of the Coventry Alliance League. However, with two games remaining, Stockingford have already secured second place, meaning that they and last season's winners, Bulkington Poppys, will be promoted to the Premier League for next season.
The road to the final for the teams has seen something of a contract. Stockingford have had no problem scoring, beating fellow Division 1 side Fillongley 6-0 and following it up with a 5-4 defeat of Division 2 outfit Craven Athletic. AFC required penalties in both of their matches after drawing 1-1 on each occasion. First of all they saw off Division 2 Yelvertoft 5-4 from the spot. This was followed with a 4-2 shoot-out victory over Bedworth Liberal, also a Division 1 side.
As an indicator, the sides have met twice in the league. Back in October Stockingford won 2-0 at home courtesy of goals from Lewis Commins and Conor McEwan. The reverse league fixture in April also saw Stockingford victorious. This time by a 3-2 score-line with two goals from Vinny Glaznieks and another from Alex Taylorson. Boketshu Bomolo and Ravinder Sandhu replying for Coventry. Just a week or so after this league game there was also an extraordinary Bermuda Cup clash, also at Coventry's Cauldon Castle Sports Centre home. Stockingford ran riot on that occasion with a hat-trick from Kyle Crawford, two from Vinny Glaznieks and further strikes from Lewis Commins, Charlie Cook, Ashley Tandy and Alex Taylorson giving them a thumping 9-0 victory.
Recent history, therefore, was not in favour of AFC Coventry. However, that all goes out of the window in a final.
Thanks to the fourth official who was happy to let me take a photograph of both teams sheets prior to kick-off. Unfortunately, the numbers on the Stockingford shirts did not all match up with the team sheet, so I had to try to work out who was who during the game (mainly by trying to catch players names and then match them to a number). If I get any wrong, please let me know and I will correct the blog.
Following some initial jousting between the sides in the opening minutes, the game started to settle into a pattern that continued throughout the first half. Stockingford taking the lion's share of possession, trying to build attacks through their midfield. Coventry, when they did win the ball back, looked to be more direct, getting the ball forward as early as they could, particularly looking for the runs of the speedy Badru Rajab. they also had Will Pattison's long throw, which looked like it could be a dangerous weapon, capable of reaching the penalty area from not too far inside the opponents half. On 11 minutes, a throw much closer to the penalty area gave him the chance to launch one right into the heart of the Pavilion goalmouth. After a few players challenged for the ball, goalkeeper Jake Bull had to stretch to claw the ball out from under the bar.
Just past the quarter hour mark Brady Middleton was played in by a delightful long through ball. However, AFC captain Harjeet Gosal made up a lot of ground to get in an excellent blocking tackle.
Rajab again had a chance on 20 minutes, this time making it himself by winning possession on the halfway line. He drove towards goal but was unable to get his shot on target, pulling it across the target wide of Bull's left-hand post. Then, two minutes later, just about halfway through the half, Stockingford struck possibly the best goal I have seen this season. A Coventry clearance only made it just outside the penalty area where Josh Ruff met it on the half-volley, showing fantastic technique to smash an unstoppable drive into what is often referred to as the postage stamp. Dirk Dugdale had no chance. 0-1. I hope AFC captured that one on their Veo.
Three minutes later Stockingford almost made it two when they tried the long throw method and almost forced a Coventry defender to head into his own goal. The game was starting to get a little heated in midfield. One or two tackles were flying in, some of which didn't look too clever, although I think most were more badly timed than malicious. AFC certainly weren't going to go down without a fight and were making their mark, in more ways than one, in the middle of the pitch. Thankfully, it didn't boil over.
Just past the half hour mark Liam Stringer and Brady Middleton played a nice one-two down the right side of the Coventry penalty with the former getting clear but not able to get his strike on target. Pavilion did come very close to getting a second before the break when Kyle Crawford latched onto a through ball and rounded the keeper only to be denied by a great goal-line clearance from Gurdeep Kandola.
HT AFC Coventry 0 Stockingford AA Pavilion 1. Plenty still left in this game. Stockingford definitely on top in terms of possession and chances but AFC had shown enough to demonstrate that they could muster chances of their own.
When they did get back under way it appeared the Stockingford had decided to turn it up a notch or two. They were immediately on the front foot, penning Coventry back, a pattern that continued for much of the half. Five minutes into the second period, Dugdale produced an excellent save to keep out what looked like a certain goal for Crawford. The league's top scorer was having one of those night's, already thwarted by a goal-line clearance and a top class save. It wasn't going to get much better for him personally either. However, his team did go further in front just before the hour mark, and once again it was a goal of some quality. The ball was played into the box, to the feet of Brady Middleton. A deft first touch took him past a defender and created a shooting opportunity, which he took very well, driving low to Dugdale's left. 0-2
Stockingford were well on top now although, on 70 minutes, Sandhu did make Bull earn his keep with a full length save. It was AFC's first real opportunity of the half and, despite make a few changes, they were struggling to get a foothold on the game.
In fact, Stockingford could, and probably should, have increased their lead. On 76 minutes Stringer rose well to get a head on a free-kick, seein his effort go just over the bar. A minute later, the luckless Crawford was again denied by a good save from Crawford and then, almost immediately, the same player missed a golden opportunity to put the game to bed. This was followed by substitute Alex Lock driving a shot narrowly wide of the mark.
Credit to Coventry though, they weren't throwing in the towel and, resorting back to earlier tactics, a long bal over the top set Rajab free again, only for the striker to be denied by the feet of Jake Bull, who came off his line quickly to block.
With a minute to go Stockingford did finally finish the game off and it was another high quality goal that sealed it. Substitute, Toby Bartram, got the ball out on the left touchline around the halfway line. He drove down the line, outpaced his defender, angled his run into the penalty area and then hit a controlled finish across Dugdale into the far corner of the net. 0-3
FT AFC Coventry 0 Stockingford AA Pavilion 3. The big difference between the teams was best demonstrated by the fact that Stockingford scored three very well taken goals and that was the difference. The teams were quite evenly matched across the pitch but Coventry just did not have that cutting edge up front. Stockingford, by contrast, are blessed with players who clearly know their way to goal. When you consider that their top scorer (and the league's top scorer by some way), Kyle Crawford, didn't get on the scoresheet, you can see the strength in depth they have in that department. Their second top scorer was not even in the squad. AFC shouldn't be too disheartened though. They showed that they can match one of the top teams in a lot of aspects. They too did not have this season's top scorer in the squad.
That's it for the seaosn for AFC Coventry but you can still catch Stockingford in action before the Summer break. This Saturday they take on Bedworth Liberal in the Semi-Final of the Bermuda Cup at Heckley Playing Fields. Then they complete their league season with two games against Folly Lane. At home on the 25th May and away two days later.
Stockingford AA Pavilion: Bull, Tandy, Gray, Stringer, Bryan, Taylorson, Howey, Mitchell, Ruff, Crawford, Middleton. Subs: Leaney, Jenkins, Lock, Glaznieks, Bartram
AFC Coventry: Dugdale, Pattison, Gosal(c), Kandola, Glover, Gill, R.Sandhu, Bhayat, Dawoud, Sadiq, Rajab. Subs: Balde, A.Sandhu, Jeena, Kherallah, Safi
Ground Number: 366