It’s not often that a serene weekday evening at the end of March produces a football match for the ages. But then it’s not often that the mighty Kingsbridge Casuals face-up to close rivals 1st Option FC. The leafy confines of Stratford-upon-Avon provided a suitably deceptive location for a thunderous battle between two evenly-matched sides (on paper, at least.) Were it not for the unfortunate lack of substitutes on the 1st Option bench it’s likely that proceedings would have been closer, but after a promising start the match ended a one-sided affair: 15 – 8 to the men in yellow and black.
Much excitement had surrounded the match in the build up to kick-off, with it being the last appearance in Kingsbridge colours of steely midfield dynamo Andy Dagnall before his much-hyped move abroad. He did not disappoint. A constant focal point in the Kingsbridge engine room, Dagnall dictated play with peerless passing and vision far beyond that of his erstwhile colleagues. Not shy of a crunching tackle, the Kingsbridge No. 6 also contributed goals galore, finishing the match with an outstanding double hat-trick to his name. It’s often been said that Dagnall combines the best attributes of silky Italian wine enthusiast Andrea Pirlo and West Ham legend Julian Dicks, but in truth he was in a class of his own here.
Long-serving Kingsbridge captain Zubair Ahmed once again impressed upfront, with his strong hold-up play and intimidating aura recalling Duncan Ferguson in his Everton glory days. Barrelling through the 1st Option defence time and again like a mature, albeit somewhat slower, Romelu Lukaku, Ahmed plundered an impressive four goals before resorting to barking encouragement from a deeper berth in front of the defence after tiring dramatically towards the end of the game.
It was a good night for youth, with the famed Kingsbridge academy producing a few more names to look out for. Wonderkid Ryan Smith made an accomplished debut alongside recent signing Sean Walker, both expertly marshalled in defence by the Baresi-esque Shaun Poole – single-handedly making a mockery of the argument that the libero doesn’t have a place in modern football.
And what of Joey Smith? Once labelled as the future of the English game, Smith has plateaued of late. Fans (and there are many) will be glad to hear that he turned in an imperious performance at No. 10, pulling the strings and dictating the game as he pleased. With Stuart Bell breaking up play with a vigour that would make Nigel de Jong clap with delight, Smith had all the room he needed to thread passes through the defensive holes that remained. Both men contributed two goals apiece, with Shaun Poole putting the game beyond reach with a thumping header that Luca Toni would have been proud of.
Although the date for the return leg has yet to be decided, fans of both sides are already fervently anticipating another clash. 1st Option will surely be itching to avenge their most recent defeat, whilst Kingsbridge will be confident of another win if they can turn in a performance of similar calibre. Check back in on the Kingsbridge blog for our match report.