A first-half blitz including a stunner from Kaylem Weadock crowned a brilliant performance and saw LSBU take home the cup
The game could not have been more appropriately matched. Of all the teams in the competition, the final came down to what was statistically the best two. Kings had won every game this season whilst South Bank had won every game since their opening day defeat against Suffolk. Both teams overcame tough semi-finals to get here. Kings had to rely on the drama of a penalty shootout to overcome St George’s. LSBU had to wait until the 86th minute to breakthrough against Imperial 4ths. It seemed destined, right up until kick off to be both teams tightest and most competitive game of a long season.
So, it was a huge surprise that, after half an hour the game appeared all but over. LSBU ran out expecting to face King’s second team, only to find out that their opponents had bussed in a bunch of their first team contingent, including the manager. For clarification, the King’s first team are in the 3rd tier, whilst South Bank are in the 6th. None of this should distract from the brilliance of LSBU who bombarded their opponents who simply could not contain what they had been confronted with.
The warning signs for King’s were there in the first couple of minutes, the first corner of the game led to a free header at the back post for Connor Burrows but his effort went harmlessly over. Almost straight after that, the ever-dangerous Ismail saw his shot deflected wide for another corner that this time came to nothing. All this excitement in just the first five minutes would then culminate with a contender for goal of the season in the biggest game of them all.
In what has been nothing short of a spectacular, goal-laden season, with the fair share of bangers to boot, it should no longer be a surprise when Kaylem Weadock manages to smash the ball home. He got his 19th goal of an incredible season after making a masing run down the left wing. On the very edge of the box, where the position was perfect for a cross, only a shot came to mind. The second the ball left his foot, it was destined to nestle right into the top corner of the goal. That’s exactly where it went, the keeper had no chance and no choice but to stand and admire.
South Bank didn’t have long to wait for their next chance. Ismail, operating just behind the main striker of James Leyton, picked the ball up in middle of the King’s half. Spotting the run of midfielder Matt Clarke, he dinked a perfectly timed ball through to him, with a little bit of space in front, Clarke sent his volley goalwards, but it swerved just wide.
Another corner presented LSBU with their next chance. Failing to properly clear the first ball in, Weadock had slipped unmarked to the rear of the pack, he sent his fierce volley into the pack of players, but it missed them all, going just wide of the right-hand post in the process.
The pressure was intense, and it wasn’t long before the rickety King’s dam burst again. Intercepting a poor pass from the King’s right-back, LSBU’s left-back, Clive Sarireni, both got in front of his man, and got his pass off to Leyton. Holding the ball up like he has done so well this season, Leyton picked his moment to release the ball back to marauding Sarireni who hadn’t stopped after winning the ball back. A lovely clipped pass into Sarireni’s feet was controlled and moved onto his trusty right foot. As the King’s centre-back put in a desperate lunge, Sarireni had already gotten his shot off. It was by no means the cleanest of strikes, but it completely wrong footed the goalkeeper who had anticipated a shot to his left. The ball however trickled into the opposite corner giving Sarireni his second goal of the season, not a bad time to get it either.
It had taken going two goals down for King’s to show any kind of attacking promise. Their first chance both came and was denied thanks to LSBU keeper Joe Cook. Originally failing to properly claim a deep free-kick into the box, he then made amends, first by leaping on the loose ball to deny a strike and as the ball went loose again, he stood up well to push the resulting strike wide of the goal after the ball had deflected off of one of his own defenders.
In between King’s chances, Weadock found himself one on one after being released by an excellent lobbed pass from Clarke. Sensing the keeper was off his line, he attempted an ambitious long-range lob but caught it all wrong and the ball ended up rolling safely wide. At the other end. Cook pulled out a trademark save, standing up well to the King’s attacker that has powered his way through down the left. Making his body as big as possible, he narrowed the angle, meaning the ball had nowhere to go other than straight at him. LSBU survived again as King’s finally began to realise they were playing a cup final.
Before King’s had another chance to score, the game was all but put to bed. Having already started and finished the second goal. Sarireni then turned provider. Deep in the King’s half, Sarireni launched a cannon of a throw in from the left. The King’s keeper should have had a routine catch but the ball simply flew through his hands and bounced in the six-yard box. Making its way to the back, the ball sat up to be nodded home by Brian Yego and he duly obliged, heading home from little more than a couple of yards to give LSBU the simplest and softest of three-nil cushions.
King’s were now on the ropes, and like all dangerous animals. They started to look their most threatening when they seemed down and out. After tussling back and forth with King’s attacker, only a brilliant, last ditch leg from Burrows prevented a simple one on one. An almost certain goal-saving tackle. A piece of individual brilliance shortly afterwards from Leyton almost culminated in a spectacular solo goal. Weaving in and out of every defender that came his way, Leyton worked the ball onto his right foot and from the edge of the box, attempted to curl his effort into the top corner. However, it curled just that little too much and allowed the King’s keeper to push it away.
With the last effort of the half, King’s should have really pulled one back. Again it was both created and then rectified by Cook. His kicking was not at its usual high standard, not helped by the quality of the pitch that differed so much from the usual Burgess Park astro. His attempted clearance was charged down and fell to a King’s player on the left side of the box. He gave it straight back to the man who had charged down the kick. He turned sharply and booted an effort that was destined for the bottom left corner but Cook threw himself to his right and pulled off a stunning save to keep his clean sheet intact and his team firmly in control as the referee blew for half-time.
The second-half was one of complete contrast. South Bank offered little going forwards although there was a good chance for Leyton at the start, receiving another excellent pass from Clarke, he found himself with his back to goal but with a free header than he could only drop straight into the keepers midriff.
Whilst LSBU did not really threaten, neither did their chasing opponents. The chances that did come their way were not exactly golden. A well hit strike from the edge of the box was straight at Cook and was gathered easily. The game was starting to drift. King’s were dominating possession and inside LSBU’s half, so it was by no means a walk in the park for South Bank, their defence and midfield was working incredibly hard to ensure no more clear cut chances came the way of their opponents.
Indeed South Bank continued to carve out the odd good chance here and there. Three substitutes combined., first Amin Martinez laid the ball off to Pol Bass-Pinol who played through Mo Gani on the right side of goal. He galloped forward before unleashing a rasping drive goalwards. The keeper was at full stretch but couldn’t reach it, however, the shot flew just wide of the left-hand post.
There really was nothing else of note, every time the ball approached the LSBU defence it was either won back or dispatched to safety. Potential attacks were being thwarted in midfield with the wingers assisting in defence when needed. A through team performance was rewarded as the referee blew the final whistle sparking cheers and cries of delight from South Bank players and fans alike. Hands on heads and fist pumps flew about everywhere. A game that started with an attacking masterclass was firmly shut out by defensive brilliance. A long hard series of cup games had culminated in brilliant triumph. What began with a hastily arranged game away at Brunel in October when it should have been played at Burgess saw LSBU rely on a late goal in extra-time from Martinez ended here. That journey of six games has seen them play five teams in a higher division. After Brunel came Roehampton and Essex, both comfortably dispatched. A quarter-final against Chichester was tight in score-line but never was the result really in doubt. After seeing off Imperial, King’s should have proved the toughest of tests. With nine wins out nine in their league and a promotion to division four already assured before this final. It would be fair to assume that King’s would be regarded as favourites. But in what has been a golden season for South Bank, with a settled team bristling with talent, goals and resilience. All have been called upon at crucial moments this season and every time, they have delivered. On the biggest game of them all. They all shone brighter than ever before.