Central Wolves had to call on all their skill and experience to claim Marlborough football’s Knockout Cup at A and P Park on Saturday.
They fought their way to a 2-1 victory in the final, taking three quarters of the match to get the better of gritty clubmates Central Buccaneers, who led 1-0 at half time.
With a steady breeze at the backs Buccaneers struck against the run of play after 10 minutes. The ball fell to the feet of striker Thom Hall who calmly sent it into the top corner of Wolves’ net from 25m out.
Registering an early lead seemed to lift confidence among the Buccaneers, who frustrated their rivals with a series of timely tackles and crucial interceptions, not allowing Wolves to settle.
Winger Shane Evans looked most likely to score for Wolves, three sweetly-hit shots being blocked by keeper Hugh Straker.
As the half wore on both sides created several opportunities to alter the scoreline but, when the halftime whistle blew, Buccaneers continued to hold a single goal advantage.
After the break Wolves, with the wind at their backs, pressed further forward and were rewarded with an equaliser after 15 minutes when Scott Wilkinson pounced on a loose ball at the edge of the box and drilled it home.
Five minutes later they went ahead. A high-bouncing ball in the Buccaneers’ box was inadvertently handled by a defender and Steve McCaa stepped up to convert the resulting penalty.
Although some half chances were created at either end, neither side looked likely to add to their score before the final whistle blew.
The much-improved Buccaneers side can be proud of their efforts. Hall ran hard all day up front and scored a stunning goal, he was well supported by Nate Lovell, Scott Hannan and Ryan Palmer were skilful in midfield while Marina Doncevic, Jake Rounthwaite-West, Jake Arnesen and the uncompromising Jamie Gilbert defended manfully.
The Wolves’ seasoned back four of Paddy Stephens, Andrew McCaa, Nick Rayner and Richie Marsden were also well-organised, restricting Buccaneers to a minimum of scoring opportunities. Keeper Amon McGregor made a couple of handy saves while directing his troops constantly from the back.
Matt Stretch, Wilkinson, Jono McCormick, Sam Boyce, Evans and Steve McCaa all played their part in midfield and up front, holding the ball up cleverly when required and producing probing passes on occasion.
The scoreline probably represented the flow of the match, Wolves having the lion’s share of possession, and taking their two chances well, but being unable to completely shake off a feisty opponent who battled to the very end.
Wolves’ spokesman Jono McCormick said his side “made a slow start, but persevered after going down 1-0 early”.
“We looked to our bench early and that made a difference, while Scotty Wilkinson’s hard running was a factor, keeping the boys’ heads up, along with our strong backline.
“It has been a good season. We incorporated players from two teams [to make the Wolves side] and once we learned to play together it all began to fall into place.”
Score: Central Wolves 2 (Scott Wilkinson, Steve McCaa – pen) Central Buccaneers 1 (Thom Hall). HT: 1-0 Buccaneers.
KO Shield – Rangers Masters 5 Trojans Spartans 2.
KO Bowl – Rangers Clubs of Marlborough 4 Rangers Development 1.
KO Plate – Picton Crow Tavern.
Meanwhile, also at A and P Park, the top two sides in the Nelson division one women’s league turned on a thrilling encounter.
BV Bullets hosted Richmond Foxes, runaway league leaders, and although the visitors prevailed 2-0, the home side made them work throughout for their victory.
BV produced some superb passages of passing and creative flair, which went unrewarded throughout the first half and were unfortunate to concede just before the break.
Foxes took a shot at goal which keeper Taz Gilbert initially saved, but she was injured in the process and, when the ball came loose, Foxes’ Jenny Harvey slipped it over the line.
Bullets had their chance early in the second stanza, a flying shot from Lauren Sloan whistling past the mouth of goal, followed soon after by a strike from Tiana Williams which flew just wide of the mark.
However, Foxes fired back and a beautifully-weighted shot from Annie Brown nestled in the net to make it 2-0.
Undeterred, Bullets continued to attack, Tess Hyland and Destiny Aires going close as both sides showed 100 percent commitment and physicality.
BV coach Ian Thomas said, “we played a better passing game, a better strategic game, but were unfortunately unrewarded.”
He singled out Erin Mustey at the back, Aires on the left wing and Eliza Bickerton for special mention.
Despite the loss BV remain the highest scoring team in the division – with 62 goals under their belt, and three games still to play.
At Athletic Park on Saturday Rangers AFC continued on their merry way in the Nelson division one men’s league.
The unbeaten leaders registered a 4-1 win over Nelson Suburbs, scoring twice in each half.
Carl Connor-McClean got both first half goals, the second from the penalty spot after he was fouled in the box.
The visitors clawed one back against the run of play just before halftime and could have had a second but for a good save from keeper Dan Diamond.
With the wind at their backs in the second spell Rangers pressed forward and were rewarded with goals to Tana Connor-McClean and Martin Delgado, who scored with his first touch after coming off the bench.
Youngsters Josh and Liam Clamp made their first team debut late in the match.
Next up for Rangers is a trip to Nelson next weekend for a meeting with Tahuna, knowing a win can wrap up the league title with two games remaining.