Article: Jay Rowland
A soaking wet evening marked the long overdue return of fans to Hind Heath Road as England University Sport won 3-0 over the hosting Sandbach United.
The ever-present defensive duo of Brad Cooper and Declan O’Riordan both kept their places in the starting eleven, with a tough ask of keeping out the best talent English Universities have to offer. However, the heavy rainfall and sodden pitch seemed to provide an adequate leveller to the playing field as both teams started cautiously.
The first real noteworthy attack came from Sandbach, as creative midfielder Sean Moscrop drove into the box and tenaciously won a corner, which the visitors cleared and countered. However, Cooper won the ball in the nick of time; a sight all too common for the Sandbach faithful.
As England University began to camp outside the Ramblers box, it was O’Riordan’s turn to produce a stunning moment of defensive quality as he cleared away a wicked cross from the feet of the striker. Following that attack, Sandbach goalkeeper Eric Merner produced an outrageous reaction save to prevent a goal before Cooper yet again put his body on the line to turn behind a rebound shot for a corner.
In the 29th minute, the Sandbach resistance was broken in some style. A free kick from no less than 30 yards was curled beautifully into the top left corner by Zak Drew, and left Merner with no chance. The Ramblers keeper then produced another moment of top goalkeeping a few minutes later as he pounced on a deflected cross at the feet of Drew before he could convert.
In the second half, Sandbach looked to find a way to level the game and saw a good Moscrop shot blocked behind for a corner. The game became quite bogged down due to the treacherous conditions as the game wore on, and few chances were afforded for either side. Around the hour mark, the game was marred by a nasty injury to defender Kieran O’Connell, who had to be replaced by Callum Chapman.
The visitors then doubled their advantage in the 77th minute when a corner was only cleared to Ryan Beckinsale 16 yards out. He turned away from a Chris Rowntree challenge before curling an unstoppable shot into the top right corner past substitute keeper Danny Hamlett.
Two goals became three almost immediately from kick off, when an excellent threaded pass found Jamal Stewart after the striker timed his run perfectly to beat the offside trap. He approached Hamlett before slotting the ball past him to put the game almost out of sight for the Ramblers.
Jacob Rowe then almost replied instantly after excellent offensive work from Chapman, but he just fired his first time shot over the crossbar. Tom Wakefield then brought down a fantastic Callum Evans pass superbly to run towards goal, but he fired a powerful curling shot narrowly wide of the far post with the keeper beaten.
The game then petered out from there, and the rain subsided just as the full-time whistle was blown. Sandbach now look forward to their St Luke’s Cup final against Winsford United on Saturday 29th May.