Another step in the right direction for us today, both in the cup and in our progress, through the early part of the season. We have now won four games in a row with each that bit more challenging that the last. Zion beat us twice last season and in a cup semi the season before so we knew it wouldn’t be easy: they are a competitive side who play good football and have one of the league’s best players. With Ben Smith only watching (half marathon tomorrow in Brumagem) , Nathan Hylton giving his latest knock an extra week and Brad only fit enough for the bench, we were once again testing the strength of our squad and also our tactical nous. It was Mark’s innovation this week to have centre back Chris Staien sitting in midfield to ret and restrict Leon’s impact on the game. Chris played well today as did his player-manager just ahead of him, who belied his veteran status.
Meanwhile we continue to have a threat left, right and centre and playing up the hill we took an early hold of the game, which despite Zion’s best efforts we pretty much maintained. Christie had already sidefooted wide from a Cartin cross when a sliced clearance from their keeper precipitated a handball on the edge of their box. Fowler, with two hat tricks already this season, initiated his third by driving through both wall and keeper. Tom Cartin was causing considerable consternation on the right and when he was fouled Fowler, this time, turned provider as his pin point cross was met by Southall’s bullet header. Zion were playing decent stuff but their threat was limited largely to set pieces, where great delivery and committed headers of the ball proved a problem for us all match. From one such a towering header from their excellent centre back set up a close range finish and 2-1.
We were taken aback having been on top and further frustrated when great work from Christie provided a gilt-edged chance for left back Josh. Josh found himself on the edge of the six yard box with a largely open goal but a poor first touch saw it slide away. Luckily our persistence did bring a reward and slice of fortune when a great run by Tom was spotted by Ben but his drilled pass deflected from a defender right into the path of Christie with only the keeper to beat: 3-1. There was still time for a scare though and Lee made an excellent save to stop them going in at 2-3.
With the slope second half we knew it was ‘more of the same’ that was needed but although we had plenty of the ball, Zion remained in the game. Haydon went on for another energetic performance on the right in front of the ever-reliable Matt Stanton. I was relatively mellow on the side but not for long. What looked like an imprecise cross was left by Lee only to drop in off the post with still twenty-five to go. It became a little end to end. Ben waltzed past a couple only to roll it wide and we survived a disallowed goal. Then Fowler settled our nerves with a couple of beauties just after their keeper had saved one. In the end it was everything we’d hoped: I got all five subs on and we played the game out. All the best to Phil and his lads.