Thursday, 13 April 2017

12/04/17 Review: Lichfield City vs Sporting Khalsa

Lichfield City 0-3 Sporting Khalsa (J.W Hunt Cup, Quarter-Final)
The McDonald's Community Stadium

Yet again I found myself taking advantage of a night off from work last night, and tonight's action would come from the little old city of Lichfield. After seeing a West Midlands side take down a Staffordshire team last night in the form of Walsall Wood's 4-0 trouncing of Rocester, I would yet again be placing my metaphorical money on a West Mids side to do the business in the J.W Hunt Cup. Sporting Khalsa, whom I saw stitch Stafford Town up last season in this competition, were the visiting side for this game and being from the division above their opponents, they were favourites for the tie. I went in with a 0-4 pre-match prediction, which was mainly inspired (copied) from what I'd seen on Tuesday night. Khalsa are currently 4th in the Midlands Premier, whilst City are a very respectful 7th place in the First Division and were it not for an admin error on the behalf of Lichfield last season, this match would have been a repeat of the 2015/16. Lichfield were booted out of the Cup just before the final due to fielding an illegible player, meaning that Sporting Khalsa lifted the trophy after an entertaining final in which they beat Wolverhampton Sporting Community 3-2 at Molineux.
Today would be a chance at redemption, with home court advantage
One instantly noticeable thing about Lichfield City is that they are indeed sponsored by McDonald's. After Mayor McCheese himself agreed a deal with the club in 2015, the ground was renamed and rumours have it that Ronald has been paying the players in legendary McNuggets since then. As I arrived at the ground ready for the big game, I parked up on the side of the hidden roadway and popped straight into the bar to have a quick pint and watch the last minutes of Borussia Dortmund's 2-3 loss against Monaco. Donning my Khalsa scarf, I sat in and amongst the fans of both sides and soaked in the pre-match atmosphere inside the fairly packed bar. It was great to see the youth teams of Lichfield and Khalsa respectively kitted-up and having a good time, as well as the classic group of Villa fans sat in the corner slurping pint after pint.

My Clubhouse pictures never do justice to how busy it actually was
When kick-off came around I took my mooch over to the entrance, coughed up my fiver to get in, and then took shelter from the suddenly cold winds in the very basic seating area to the left of the gate. Doubting they'd remember me from my trip to the Aspray last season, a lot of Khalsa's owners and representatives had already packed out the seating and a few of them said hello to me as I perched amongst them ready for the game to begin. Note for if they are reading, I will be back to see you next season and I'll be bringing a few mates along to experience the quality ground, great hospitality and awesome post-match curry!

My lodgings for the evening
The game started off well enough, with both sides looking intent on getting the early advantage. Despite a bobbling pitch, Khalsa looked confident in knocking the ball about and they looked to have the edge when it came to possession. Lichfield looked decent on the counter from early-on and Joseph Haines was making some promising runs from left-back, however their first effort on goal after about 10 minutes was straight down the path of Khalsa's number one. At the other end Khalsa had a long-range drive wisp past the posts and a header was nodded wide, but it was Khalsa's left-back who was looking dangerous and as the ball sat up Michael Perks tested his luck on 25 minutes with a thumping 30-yard strike which flew over. With half an hour now gone, the away side were awarded a penalty and had a big chance to take the lead. Despite stepping up confidently, Meese had his spot-kick very well saved by James Lawson, keeping it at 0-0 for now. This memory won't serve long in Lawson's memory though, as the resulting couple of corners eventually led to the opener and it was captain Tes Robinson, the Brummy-born St. Kitts & Nevis international, who rose highest to power home his headed effort. Lichfield 0-1 Khalsa. Having seen the penalty saved just before this opener, Lichfield could ill-afford to feel sorry for themselves and would hope to gain a bit of luck to help them get back into it before half-time. Unfortunately for them though, fortune favoured the Sporting and we were to be treated to an outstanding strike just before the break. With 5 minutes left for City to hang-on, Khalsa's sharpshooting left-back found himself approaching the ball from about 25-yards out. Having already set his sights with an earlier worldie-attempt, he this time followed-through with a beautifully struck volley which headed towards Lawson's goal. The unfortunate keeper guided his way towards his right-hand post as the shot went past him, before the ball rattled off said post, straight at Lawson and then finally bounced into the net. To call it an own goal would be harsh, as it was a truly magnificent strike! Lichfield 0-2 Khalsa.

HT, 0-2 to the away side
Despite being two down at the halfway point in the game, I didn't feel as though the hosts were out of it yet. A set-piece header and a stunning goal were the difference so far, but I'm sure David Langston will have been telling his lads that they can get back in it. Whilst he was doing that, I headed back into the bar to warm-up whilst watching a few HT highlights from Bayern vs Real, and before I knew it we were ready to get back out there for the second-half. Khalsa's executives decided to watch the second 45 from the shelter behind the goal, meaning that I was left alone in the stand with some of the competitions officials. With the second-half lacking in chances and flair, I ended up listening-in to some of the weird and wonderful topics of conversation around me which ranged from 'the six-second rule for keepers' to 'referees wearing pink'. In fairness, tonight's Referee and Officials were pretty much spot-on with most calls and this allowed for a fairly calm second-half. It wasn't a boring one, and Lichfield did give it their all to open the Khalsa door, but it probably won't be one that sticks in my mind long-term. Despite this though, there was to be a final goal in the game and with Sporting refreshing their wings for pacey substitutes, it would be the favourites that got the killer third goal. I thought it was Meese from where I was that had made amends for his earlier penalty failure, however the Khalsa Twitter page suggests that it may well have been Fabrice Kasiama. Either way, a good run on the 77th minute from the right-hand side eventually made its way to someone and they converted coolly. Lichfield 0-3 Khalsa. Fair play to Lichfield as they continued to play decent football for the final ten minutes, and despite looking suspect to conceding a fourth on the break they did almost pull one back as an expertly dispatched free-kick by the number 8 bounced off the bar in the closing stages.

The full-time whistle blew, and it was safe passage into the Semi's for Khalsa
The three-goal victory for Khalsa was comfortable in the end and next up in the Semi-Final will be a tough game against the MPL leaders and almost certain champions Alvechurch, whilst fellow Midland Prem side Highgate United will encounter Wednesfield FC from two divisions below in the other Final Four fixture. For Lichfield City it should hopefully be back to winning ways in the League now, with a home-tie this weekend against Coventry Copsewood. All that's left to say from me is good luck to reigning champs Sporting Khalsa for the Semi-Final- depending on when the final is, I'll make an effort to get to the final at Molineux as it's a much better excuse to make a visit than a Wolves game!

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