Semi-final: St John’s v Priorsfield St John’s WON 4-0 (Tait, Yien, Bishop, Cornish)
Final: St John’s v Cranleigh St John’s WON 2-2 (Yien, Whitworth)
Penalties 4-3 (Hyde, Yien, McCutcheon, Tait)
Last Monday, St John’s won the county U18 cup for the very first time after defeating Cranleigh 4-3 on penalties. To put this achievement into perspective: Cranleigh won the national U16 tournament last year and ended runners-up in the U18s. They stand as one of the favourites to win the title this year. For St. John’s to beat them just a few years after turning co-ed is a phenomenal effort.
Neither side had been tested in the competition up until the final and both sides sailed through their semi-final: Cranleigh eased past St George’s 3-0 and St John’s made short work of Priorsfield thanks to two goals from Maya Yien and a goal apiece for Sophie Tait and Jasmin Cornish.
Into the final and from the off Cranleigh showed their class. The pace they played at was far quicker than anything John’s have faced so far this season and it took some time for The Eagles to acclimatise. In the first six minutes they relied on some outstanding goalkeeping from Louisa Bray to keep the game level with several fine saves until, eventually, Cranleigh’s star player scored from a penalty corner. But St John’s were not to lose faith. Now with nothing to lose, the nerves disappeared, passes started to stick and the game evened out. For all Cranleigh’s neat stick-work, John’s looked every bit as dangerous and they were unlucky not to score when they rounded Cranleigh’s keeper only to see Sophie Tait’s goal-bound shot blocked by her own player.
It was enough to give them belief that a comeback was possible and in the second half Cranleigh found it difficult to break through the full press. Increasingly they trusted in hopeful long balls and individual dribbles while St John’s trusted in the team-passing game that has served them so well this season. Cornish and McCutcheon were breaking up play in the middle of the park and protecting the solid back three of Hyde, Vanstone and Yien. Moving forward: Bishop and Whitworth were finding space on the flanks and Tait remained a threat throughout. After a lively stint from Sanne Senior, Chrissie Georgiou returned to the fray with dramatic effect. She was put through one-on-one with the keeper only to have her stick hooked from behind. It surely should have been a penalty stroke but no need to worry as Maya Yien’s flick from the resultant corner was just too good for the opposition keeper and St John’s were level. A minute later and Georgiou was at it again, driving from left to right before unleashing a strike towards the far corner. It looked destined to hit the post but the tireless Anna Whitworth was there to deflect home and to give St John’s the lead with less than five minutes on the clock.
To their credit, Cranleigh reacted as expected and the final moments saw St John’s scrambling in defence. Despite a few errors they looked to have done enough until, with seconds on the clock, Cranleigh were awarded a penalty corner following an innocuous tackle outside the area. With the luxury of all ten players in attack, Cranleigh worked a neat routine and snatched the equaliser that would take the game to penalty strokes.
It was a blow to St John’s and onlookers would be forgiven for thinking that momentum was now with Cranleigh. But Louisa Bray in goal had other ideas. Having lost in a number of shootouts in the younger age-groups, this was to be Bray’s time to shine. Mel Hyde and Maya Yien scored their flicks but after Lucie Bishop narrowly missed, Bray was needed to pull out a wonderful save diving to her right to bring the scores level. Macy McCutcheon and Sophie Tait then nervelessly scored leaving Cranleigh needing to score their last to take it into sudden-death. This time Bray had little to do as a weak push landed at her feet and St John’s could celebrate a famous victory.
Team: Louisa Bray, Maya Yien, Nicole Vanstone, Mel Hyde, Jasmin Cornish (c), Macy McCutcheon, Anna Whitworth, Lucie Bishop, Lara Sibley, Christina Georgiou, Emily Roe, Sanne Senior, Ruby Breakspear.