Birkenhead United 2 ECB 1 played 12/04/2014 at Shepherds Park

It was always going to be a feisty encounter as Bays had won the championship last year on goal difference from Birkenhead. With players in both teams having changed clubs there was going to be some interesting match ups, with the Darkwa brothers marking each other as were Nathan Buswell and Deklan Wynne.


It needed an official with a cool head, not prone to hasty judgements. Unfortunately the game never got one.


Two contentious decisions, at pivotal points in the game, had a major influence on the result and left some questioning the impartiality of the man in the middle.


Birkenhead were quickly out of the blocks, pressuring Bays and winning a penalty within 3 minutes when Emmanuel Darkwa was adjudged to have fouled.

Jack Hobson-McVeigh took the penalty only to see his shot hit the crossbar and bounce over.


Several players seemed to be auditioning for the Commonwealth Games Dive Team as bodies tumbled to the turf at the slightest hint of contact, screaming loudly for a foul and all to often being obliged to by the referee.


Aidan Gwilt  made a couple of excellent saves to deny Elijah Neblett and an inswinging corner as Bays were under the pump for the first ten minutes.


A rare foray forward, won Bays a free kick when Jason McKeown was fouled on the edge of the penalty area.  Luiz Del Monte took the kick and his shot sailed straight through a packed defence into the net, giving Bays the lead against the run of play.


This goal roused Bays and they now got themselves back into the game. A Dillon Barnett run down the right flank saw his cross turned for a corner,  Andre De Jong was just wide following a great passing movement involving a number of players, Mario Hoffman and Barnett had further chances but were off target.


Just before the half hour came the first contentious game changing decision. Wynne went in for a tackle and the Birkenhead player went tumbling. The referee raced over from 30 metres distant, brandishing a red card, without consulting his assistant who had a perfect view of the incident as did I and many others.  It was yellow card tackle, (very similar to one made by Harry Kewell some hours later in the A League which also got a yellow) but an over reaction by the referee who was starting to lose it.


It was now an uphill struggle for the next hour against a team of the quality of Birkenhead, who smelt blood and Gwilt had to save at the feet of Neblett, while Joe Bresnahan blocked Tommy Webb as Bays held out till the break.


The second half flowed from end to end for the first twenty minutes as Bays defended well against Birkenhead who were getting  frustrated in being unable to take advantage of the extra player. Heads were beginning to drop and it looked as if Bays may be able to hold on until the referee stepped in again.

The ball was pumped into the Bays penalty area, a Birkenhead player fell over and once again a penalty was awarded to nervous giggles from the Birkenhead bench.


Hobson-McVeigh made no mistake this time from the spot and Birkenhead were level.


Bays had a chance with fifteen minutes to go when Hoffman beat the offside trap, but his weak drive was easily collected by the keeper.  McKeown was also denied.


Birkenhead attacked, a fine cross from the left found Sam Jenkins and he made no mistake from close range.


Bays were on the ropes, and both Blair Bates and Rory Turner spurned chances to make the game safe. The final moments of normal and stoppage time saw Bays throw everything at Birkenhead. Hoffman miskicked in front of goal and the final seconds saw the ball cleared off the Birkenhead goal line.


It was not to be and the heroic ten men were defeated.


A superb team effort, playing against the odds. One red and six yellow cards were issued, none for diving, it seems no one will be going to the Commonwealth Games.


Team:  Gwilt, Darkwa (Crawford 83), Carpenter, Scopini, Wynne, Bresnahan, McKeown, De Jong (Nakagawa 46), Del Monte (White 50),  Hoffman, Barnett


Scorer:  Del Monte 11


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