Where to begin? With the scoreline, a 5-1 thrashing that, if anything, flattered Mertsfield and saw Worcester ease their way to the Cuppers Final? With Guido Pagini, the Mertsfield ‘keeper, who made more than half a dozen saves before the fifteen minute mark, including a brilliant double-stop from Adam Healy and Liam Steward-George? With Dan Camp, the usually insurmoutable centre-back, outmuscled and outfoxed by Niko de Walden? With Sam Firman, the playmaker, who was so dominated by Tom Chadwick that it was only his yellow card that reminded you he was on the pitch at all? With Tom Mayou, Mertsfield’s top scorer, who was starved of service and spent most of his time playing in Matt Sinnet’s pocket? Or with Eddie Finch, the Mertsfield coach, who was reduced to the role of helpless spectator, his substitutions ineffective and his team beaten and bowed?
It would be fairer to both teams to start with the fact that Mertsfield were – as they have been for most of this season – superb. Their defensive resilience was such that they kept Worcester at bay for almost forty minutes, and their sharpness on the counter-attack was showcased in the manner in which they took the opener, with Robbie Coleman’s superb header putting them ahead with their first shot on target. In almost any other season, they would now be through to the Final, and comfortable favourites for it.
But in almost any other season, they would not face a player of the calibre of Adam Healy, surely the best striker in Oxford. His presence allowed de Walden to play in his best position, just behind a target-man, and his physical strength, eye for a pass, rapid pace and unselfish play galvanised the team. Worcester’s equaliser summed up his contribution perfectly; he muscled through the Mertsfield full-back, Yannick Young, and squared the ball for the incoming de Walden, who had the simplest of finishes to pull Worcester level.
Thereafter, Worcester were ascendant, with Mertsfield offering only a limited threat on the counter, with Benjamin Franz, usually so deadly and a vital part of Mertsfield’s game-plan, nullified by Steward-George. The pair had an intriging and acrimonious duel down the flanks when these sides last met in the league, with the German forward having the better of his English counterpart. It was the winger from Worcester who was left smiling this time. With out the injured Dan Hunter to provide cover at full-back, Franz was continually forced to track back to contain Steward-George. His frustration boiled over into petulant fouling and a confrontation with the referee.
Despite that, Mertsfield still carried some threat on the counter attack, although they never really questioned the faultless Adam Titchen in the Worcester goal. When the Worcester captain, Tom Greene, headed home from a corner, he gave his side a lead they never looked like surrendering. Finch’s substitutions made little difference; the withdrawal of Coleman surrendered the midfield utterly to Chadwick and Greene, who ran rampant in the middle. De Walden thrived in the additional space, and there was a gentle inevitability about his second. To add insult to considerable injury, his replacement, Mike Ward, scored with his almost his first touch of the ball, to add to Mertsfield’s misery. Worcester’s last goal, a wonderful effort on the counter-attack and just reward for the superb Healy, completed the rout. Last time Worcester reached Iffley they went on to lift the Cup. History looks ready to be repeated.