Whatever college you belong to and whatever sporting allegiances you may hold, it was very hard not to feel sorry for David Kirk today.
Slumped on the grass outside the JLD, Kirk cut a dejected figure as his Derwent side crashed out of the College Cup on penalties to Vanbrugh 1sts in arguably the tournament’s most fascinating match to date.
As captain faced captain in the shootout, it was the Vanbrugh skipper, James Wilson, who decisively saved his counterpart’s penalty to book a date with either James 1sts or Halifax 1sts next week.
In truth, the shootout was effectively over before Kirk stepped up as Dan Atherton and Alex D’Albertanson produced weak efforts, while John Gill and James Wilson himself scored with conviction.
|David Kirk's side were desperately unlucky against Vanbrugh|
Derwent’s pre-match penalty practice worked no magic, while the intense atmosphere conjured up by the hundreds gathered around the penalty stage seemed to work in Vanbrugh’s favour.
Kirk will also rue the decision made by referee Dan Horsfall to rule out Ollie Harrison’s header for an alleged push on Chris Wignall. The verdict seemed incredibly harsh, and if Derwent had indeed scored then, I think they would have knocked in a couple more before full time.
It takes a brave man to lead a college of Derwent’s size and sporting prestige, and Kirk can be proud of his efforts in coming so close to emulating predecessor Joe Boughtflower in reaching the College Cup Final. He is relatively new to the role, and I’m sure he will be rewarded for his efforts next year.
It is impossible to deny that Derwent were the better team across the whole 60 minutes. Kirk probably should have scored with a simple header from six yards just after half-time, before Wilson produced a save of the highest quality to deny Atherton.
Although Derwent took a deserved lead with seven minutes remaining, they really should have been out of sight by that stage.
And they succumbed to one of the JLD’s most potent weapons – the long ball. It was the type of goal you would rarely see scored on grass because the ball would not bounce so high off the turf.
As it was, Phil Taylor gambled in poacher fashion to reach the ball a split second ahead of Treasure and nod in a sensational equaliser. Had Taylor been a tenth of a second slower, Derwent would be celebrating a place in the Final.
Maybe Joe Boughtflower was right in his interview with me a couple of weeks ago, when he said some of Derwent’s new players don’t understand how to play on the astro turf.
Firstly, though, I think it was simply a lack of concentration in what were hot and humid conditions which sap players’ physical and mental energy supplies. The absence of Tom Brandreth was shown up in brutal fashion, as our Sportsman of the Year surely would have dealt with the situation.
Secondly, the match demonstrated the significance of the finest margins in sport, and their cumulative effects. What if Kirk’s nudge had gone unnoticed; what if Phil Taylor had failed to reach that bouncing ball; what if D’Albertanson sent his penalty a foot wider than he did? It is these key moments which decide matches, and today was Vanbrugh’s turn to be lucky.