European Capital of Sport Unity Cup, Cardiff
Friday 13 & Saturday 14 June 2014
Standing: Toussaint, Langford, Wilson, Balestrat, McPherson, Browning, Kehoe, Holmes
Kneeling: Bridges, Ranson, Baker, Hall, Ransom
Village Manchester travelled to South Wales in mid-June to take part in the Unity Cup in Cardiff.
And it was a successful trip for the club as Village were crowned champions after a penalty shootout victory in the final.
The event, which took place in the Welsh capital from 12-15 June, kicked off on Thursday evening with the opening ceremony and draw in Callaghans Bar. The opening evening at tournaments tends to be one of most exciting at each competition and Village were delighted to welcome back Pete Ransom who was reprising his role as a Village legend for the weekend. The club also gave a warm welcome to Ian Kehoe, on loan from London Falcons, who would be making his debut for the club at the competition.
VMFC crowned Unity Cup champions
The action on the pitch kicked off the next morning as Village joined their opposition teams at the sun-drenched and welcoming Pontcanna Playing Fields. However it was a disrupted start for Village as their scheduled opponents, Paris Arc En Ciel, had to pull out at the last minute. It was disappointing that the club had to delay their kick off but a silver lining was found as we were able to secure two of the French players - Jean-Francois Balestrat and Jerry Toussaint – as part of our squad.
Group stage: Village Manchester v Cardiff Deaf
Village finally got their competition up and running at 1pm as they faced Cardiff Deaf. All tournament games were 50 minutes long so it was important that they got off to a quick start. However, due to initial long period of waiting around and the fact there were a few unfamiliar faces in the line-up, Village started slowly and sluggishly and were unable to put a sustained piece of play together. Cardiff Deaf acquired a number of French recruits themselves and they, along with a couple of speedy attackers, caused Village quite a few problems. And it was Cardiff Deaf that opened the scoring as a ball over the top caught Village too high up and an attacker slotted past Baker to make it 1-0.
Manager Hall asked Village to shake off the cobwebs and up the effort in the second half whilst also moving players around so that he and captain McPherson created a familiar combination at the back. Village came out in the second half and played better and they were soon testing the athletic French keeper – who turned out to be quite the shot stopper. There was a moment of worry for Village though as Hall gave away a penalty after touching the ball with his arm. Luckily Baker saved his manager’s blushes as he dived to his right to smother the penalty kick.
Village’s hard work finally paid off with minutes to go as Holmes raced on to a great through ball. The striker expertly judged a possibly damaging bobble to connect with the ball and lob the onrushing keeper to give Village a share of the points.
Group stage first game: VMFC 1-1 Cardiff Deaf
Group stage: Village Manchester v London Titans
Up next Village faced London Titans and it was Holmes again that would be the one to do the damage. The squad was bolstered by ex-player Alex Wilson, who now lives in neighbouring Swansea, joining the squad after finishing work. Village started this game much better than the first and were able to put some good play together which tired the opposition out in the scorching Welsh sun. And Village went one up when Ransom fed Holmes who spun around one defender before dribbling past another to find himself one-on-one with the keeper. The striker waited for the stopper to move before slotting the ball into the far post.
Village doubled their lead and ensured victory when Langford did brilliantly to get on to the end of a deep through ball and delivered a cross for Holmes to glance into the net.
Village could reflect on an unbeaten day which left them in a good position to finish in the top two - a feat that would see them make the final. The club went out on Friday evening for a meal and joined the other clubs in Bar Icon as they saw Holland destroy Spain in the World Cup.
Group stage second game: VMFC 2-0 London Titans
Group stage: Village Manchester v Cardiff Dragons
Village took some inspiration from the Dutch display as they faced Cardiff Dragons the next morning. The team produced a great display of attacking football and passing as they created numerous chances against the competition hosts. However, they were extremely profligate as they missed chance after chance after chance. Shots were flashed wide, over or straight at the keeper as Village failed to convert their possession and control into goals.
It was ironic therefore that they took the lead, and scored the only goal of the game, direct from a corner! Ransom swung a ball in with his right boot and watched on as he saw his cross sail over the keeper into the far corner of the goal.
Group stage third game: VMFC 1-0 Cardiff Dragons
Group stage: Village Manchester v London Phoenix
The win meant that Village had qualified for the final so Hall rotated his team in the final group game so that players got a bit of a rest and any niggling injures were managed adequately. Hall put himself in goal so that Baker could stretch his legs outfield and the American’s enthusiasm and energy caused London Phoenix numerous problems.
And Baker was involved in the build up for the first goal as he passed to Holmes, who in turn found Langford who knocked it past the keeper. The winger doubled his account with a stunning finish as he spotted the keeper off his line and inspirationally smashed a swerving ball towards goal, over the keeper and into the net.
With a record of three victories and one draw, Village made it to the final by finishing top of the group. In the final they faced Cardiff Deaf who had a record of two wins and two draws.
Group stage fourth game: VMFC 2-0 London Pheonix
Final: Village Manchester v Cardiff Deaf
With Cardiff Deaf being the only team to score and take points off Village, the club knew that they would need to be at their best to secure the trophy. And Village started well as they played some calm and measured football.
Toussaint played an extremely important part in nullifying the pace and strength of Cardiff Deaf’s strong and pacey winger and Village were causing problems for the opposition defence at the other end.
It was Cardiff Deaf who broke the deadlock as they finished off an attack at the third attempt after Baker did brilliantly with two saves. Village didn’t take too long to get back on level terms however and it was Kehoe who got his first goal for the club after he pounced on a loose ball from a corner to smash the finish home.
Final: Village Manchester 1-1 Cardiff Deaf
The second half played out with Village edging chances but unable to find a winner.
Notable during this game was the appearance of the international Naked Bike Ride campaign making its way through the park. The campaign to encourage cycling involved a hundred or so naked (or almost naked) cyclists. Both teams managed to stay focussed on the game!
And so it was to penalties. Village won the toss and elected to go first...
Baker made no mistake – unlike his opposition number one who missed Cardiff Deaf’s first spot kick. Langford kept calm and slotted his penalty away and Village saw the cup in their grasp as Baker saved Cardiff Deaf’s second.
Kehoe instilled some doubt however as he smashed his spot kick over the bar. The opposition took advantage and scored their next penalty to make the score 2-1 after 3 penalties each.
Wilson was up next and he found the back of the net – as did the fourth Cardiff Deaf penalty taker. Therefore, it was all up to Ransom to win the competition for Village – if he could find the back of the net from the club’s fifth penalty. And find the back of the net he did as his finish pinged off the inside of the post before nestling in the back of the net. Cue celebrations!
Village were presented the cup and medals from the sponsors – the Cardiff City Supporters Trust – and captain McPherson passed cup-lifting duties to out-going player/manager Hall. After being soaked in beer by gracious runners-up (and winners of the Fair Play Award) Cardiff Deaf, Village did what they did best – went out and painted the town red/pink/fuchsia!
The club would like to thank Jean-Francois, Jerry and Ian for joining the club and for their effort in making the competition a successful one for Village and it was great to see Pete and Alex back in Village kits.
We would also like to congratulate the organisers for sorting out a great weekend of football, socialising and weather!
The final mention goes to Matt Hall who bowed out from managerial duties on a winning note. Matt has put in a lot of effort over the years and his hard work has been greatly appreciated. The club is happy that we could end his reign in the way he has become accustomed – with a medal around his neck!
Yes, halfway through the final the Cardiff Naked bike ride hit Pontcanna Playing Fields. The teams remained focussed on the football. Our photographer didn't.
Third/fourth place playoff not held as Titans and Phoenix wanted to go to the pub. Cardiff Dragons were awarded the Wooden Spoon.