|15/05/2016||2:00 pm||Sam Cornish Cup||2015/16|
Aberystwyth Exiles 1sts secured the clubs first silverware in the Sam Cornish Cup final against RAFA on a warm afternoon at the Cardiff City Stadium. Exiles manager James Naik had several tough choices for selection following a string of impressive results from the Seasideweres.
The starting line-up showed two changes from the 6-2 semi-final win against AFC Gabalfa, Chris Jeacott continued in goal, Mike Temple and Will Brown returned at centre-back alongside James Everett with Matt Davies dropping to the bench and Rhodri Charles-Williams moving back to his regular wing-back role. Iolo Tomlinson played down the other side. Keirnan Pedder moved into midfield alongside regulars Dan Poole and Scott Phillips with Rory Wigmore ruled out following a burst appendix days before the game. The front two remained unchanged with top goalscorer Will Eastwood partnered by Mark Lewis. Naik replaced himself on the bench, with Alan Dowell, while Tomos Davies, a returning Tom Richards joining Matt Davies and Kieran Patel.
The Exiles settled quickly looking to impose their style of play on the bigger and better quality pitch. They spread the ball around well with Phillips lashing one over from the edge of the box. It didn’t take long for the Exiles to take the lead though. In the 5th minute the ball was played to Eastwood on the edge of the box and his jinking run bamboozled the RAFA defenders and he smashed his shot past the keeper into the bottom corner to the delight of the majority of fans in the stadium.
Spurred on by the confidence of the early goal the Seasideweres looked to press home their advantage with some good passing and movement coming from midfield and it wasn’t long before the lead was doubled. In the 15th minute the ball was worked to Eastwood who fed Tomlinson inside the box. He dug the ball out from under his feet and slotted it into the bottom corner. It was a great finish from one of the stars of the season for the Exiles.
The lead was soon reduced to one however as RAFA, determined to make a game of it, pulled a goal back. A ball was played to the back post and Peter Harrington shot back across Jeacott who was wrong-footed and despite Tomlinson’s best efforts he was unable to clear it before the ball crossed the line. Jeacott was disappointed with his part but it was his only blip in an otherwise impressive performance. Not to be deterred by the immediate response the Exiles continued to play the better football breaking quickly whenever RAFA’s attacks broke down. Eastwood nearly restored the two goal lead after selling the defender a most outrageous dummy, he then turned and curled the ball narrowly wide of the upright. Jeacott then made up for the goal in superb fashion. A ball was whipped across the six yard box and from point blank range he somehow kept out the strikers blasted finish with Temple and Tomlinson completing the clearance.
The game turned scrappy with both teams giving away several free-kicks. The better chances however were falling to the exiles with Eastwood and Tomlinson both denied further goals by some good saves from the RAFA keeper.
The Exiles were forced into their first change after 37 minutes. Following a Poole corner, Pedder tried to stoop to head the ball in but ended up being kicked in the head drawing blood. Following a couple of minutes of treatment the Ref decided he couldn’t continue and the returning Tom Richards was introduced into affairs. Pedder’s energy in midfield had been a key factor in the performance so far and was given a standing ovation by all in the crowd.
The change didn’t take anything out of the Exiles however as a late flurry of chances with Richards adding some extra creativity eventually led to the third goal. After Lewis had gone close twice and Tomlinson had seen a chip tipped over the bar by the keeper, Eastwood capitalised on some indecisive defending on the edge of the box and buried his second goal of the game, choosing his moment well to send the keeper the wrong way. There was barely time to restart as the ref blew for halftime.
The second half started with the Exiles again showing their intent right from the start. Having been awarded a free-kick, Poole whipped the ball to the back post and unselfishly Lewis caressed the ball back into the path of Eastwood who made no mistake to clinch his hat-trick and put the Exiles in a commanding position. Rafa battled on and the challenges became more and more ferocious, the referee having no choice but to start showing a few cards. Eastwood had another half chance letting fly from 25 yards but was only denied by the inside of the post this time. Temple then came to the Exiles rescue. Jeacott had forced the RAFA striker wide but the ball was worked to the edge of the box and had beaten the keeper only for Temple to arrive in the perfect position to clear off the line. Moments later a horrific challenge on Richards that had no place in football was punished only with a yellow card with the crowd baying for more. Nerves kicked in for the Exiles and they started dropping deeper and deeper, captain Brown urged his men up field but the second RAFA goal came in unfortunate circumstances. A ball played in from the right looked harmless enough but a sliced clearance from Temple gave the keeper no chance and it went in for an own goal. Brown rallied his troops, determined not to concede what could be a vital 3rd RAFA goal. Naik brought on fresh legs in the shape of Alan Dowell for Charles-Williams and Tomos Davies for Scott Phillips who had started to cramp up having run the midfield on a big pitch. Jeacott made another vital save from a free header six yards out diving down to his right hand side to palm it out.
With the final whistle approaching frustration spilt over from some of the RAFA players with some unsavoury off the ball incidents. The constant barrage of the Exiles box was being dealt with magnificently by the tired Exiles defence with even the match winner Eastwood sprinting back 50 yards to make a tackle. After what seemed an eternity the final whistle was blown and the exiles were champions! After the formalities were done, the trophy was handed to Brown and the celebrations began. The game was a brilliant advert for local football and both teams deserve full credit for the effort they showed right to the final whistle.