Garforth spanked by two-goal Birch

May 10, 2022

Thorpe United Under-16s 4 Garforth Villa Under-16s 1

Thorpe United Under-16s eventually got their hands on the Barkston Ash Cup at the third and final attempt thanks to a devastating opening ten-minute period in which they scored three quick fire goals which left Garforth Villa stunned.

Having been beaten finalists in 2018 and then having reached the final again in 2020, only to have it cancelled due to the Covid pandemic, Thorpe were determined not to let this final chance pass them by and they had prepared well for this Bank Holiday fixture at the Fairfax Plant stadium, the home of Selby Town. Despite missing the influence of midfield maestro Harvey Forrest due to injury, Thorpe were confident of a positive result given the strength and depth of the squad that they had, with Harrison Fairhurst and Alfie Purcell being welcome additions having missed the final stages of the league season. Thorpe were quick out of the blocks and determined to make a strong start, the attacking partnership of Matthew Stephenson and Harry Birch combined well inside the opening minute when Birch won the ball just inside the Garforth half before laying the ball into the path of Stephenson but his first time show went narrowly wide of the upright with the keeper at full stretch.

An early let off for Garforth but they were not so fortunate just a minute later when Stephenson won the ball out wide but his cross into the area was initially cleared but only into the path of Justin Ascough. He shrugged off the challenge of two Garforth defenders before spotting the keeper just off his line and curled an inch perfect shot just over the outstretched reach of the keeper and into the back of the net, much to the delight of the bumper Bank Holiday crowd. The perfect start was made even better just two minutes later when Thorpe doubled their advantage, this time Ascough turned provider for Harry Birch who was relentless in his efforts to chase down every loose ball. A long clearance downfield from keeper Henry Holder was headed on by Ascough into the path of Birch, he cut inside his marker into a more central shooting position and slotted the ball into the bottom corner with the Garforth keeper wrong-footed.

Garforth were shell shocked by the blistering start and struggled to get any sort of grip on the game, Thorpe were dominant all over the pitch with George Spooner and Andrew Watts combining well down the right flank and Jake Brittain and Kai Parker likewise down the left. Harry Caisley began to assert his creative style on the game and the Garforth midfield were helpless to keep up with him and his range of passing. With just under ten minutes on the watch, Thorpe added a third to seemingly put them in an unassailable lead and it was that man Birch again who punished Garforth with a clinical finish. Thorpe were defending a free kick on the halfway line which Calum Green won in the air and cleared up to Stephenson who despite being closely marshalled, turned his marker and unselfishly spotted the angled run of Birch on the cusp of the offside line. However, Birch timed his run to perfection and raced clear of the trailing defenders and coolly slotted the ball past the advancing keeper. With the cushion of an early three goal lead, Alfie Purcell was introduced into the game with team captain Kai Parker making way.

Purcell had missed part of the season due to injury but despite his lack of game time, he was keen to get in on the action and use his pace on the wing to good effect. With Garforth now on the ropes and with barely ten minutes played, the game could have runaway from them. However, they were given a vital lifeline midway through the half when Thorpe conceded a seemingly harmless free kick just inside their own half. The Garforth defender struck the ball really well and the flight of the ball deceived everyone and sailed high over the crowded penalty area and despite the efforts of Henry Holder in the Thorpe goal, there was nothing he could do to reach the ball and it dipped just under the crossbar to reduce the arrears.

The goal definitely lifted the Garforth side and buoyed on by the vocal support from the terraces they set about getting a foothold back in the game. In contrast, Thorpe were slightly panicked by the goal and were more cautious going forward than they had been initially, in fear of leaving spaces for Garforth to exploit in their attempt to add a second goal. The remainder of the first half definitely belonged to Garforth as they fought for every ball and closed down every Thorpe attack. Josh Phoenix and Calum Green were superb at the heart of the Thorpe defence and were first to every ball whether aerially or cutting out the through balls. The Thorpe cause wasn’t helped when they lost Matthew Stephenson in the final stages of the first half when he fell awkwardly on the hard ground and sprained his wrist. A slight reshuffle in formation with Harrison Fairhurst replacing Spooner on the wing and Spooner filling in for Stephenson in the striker’s role.

A great first half performance which Thorpe would hopefully consolidate and possibly build on in the second half, but wary of the threat posed by Garforth due to the way that they ended the half. After a positive half-time team talk, Thorpe started the second half much the stronger of the two sides as they controlled the ball and maintained possession better than they had before the break. Despite the greater share of possession, they were given a scare on a rare attack from Garforth but had keeper Henry Holder to thank for keeping them at bay. A hopeful ball forward onto the edge of the area fell kindly for the Garforth striker but he did well to gain a couple of yards of space to drill a low shot on target which seemed destined to nestle into the bottom corner of the net. But Holder produced a brilliant instinctive save down to his right to palm the shot round the post and deny Garforth what seemed a certain goal.

Thorpe took control of the game at this point and shored things up with George Spooner dropping back into midfield leaving Birch having to work a little harder on his own in attack. This had the desired effect and Garforth rarely advanced over the halfway line for the remainder of the game, such was the work rate and movement from Thorpe. Birch thought he’d secured a deserved hat-trick midway through the half when he latched onto a great through ball from Purcell, but despite beating the keeper to the ball his chipped effort crashed off the bar and was cleared away to safety.

However, just seconds later that fourth and crucial goal eventually came to kill off any hope of a Garforth comeback and this time it was Birch with the assist. He dropped deep to win the ball just inside the opposition half and flicked the ball over the defensive line. Harrison Fairhurst gambled on the run and beat the advancing keeper to the ball before chipping it high into the unguarded goal for that vital fourth goal. The players and substitutes went wild and ran to mob Fairhurst, such was the relief of the goal. Harry Caisley almost added a fifth just moments later but his brilliant Le Tissier style curling free kick beat the Garforth keeper but cannoned off the cross bar just as it looked to be dipping under, before being headed away to safety. Fairhurst had valiantly played longer than he was expecting to and was given a deserved rest and replaced by Kai Parker wide on the right. Thorpe dominated the remainder of the game and as they restricted Garforth to very little possession and there was just one final moment of note as the clock ticked down. The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for crowd favourite James Dawson as he came on for the final few minutes.

Dawson has had a fantastic season for Thorpe but was unable to play the full game on medical grounds, but all the Thorpe players and supporters cheered him onto the pitch which was a great touch for a great lad. Celebrations at the final whistle for Thorpe as they finally won the silverware that their years of work and effort have certainly deserved, but Garforth were gracious in defeat and certainly played their part in a thrilling cup final. Justin Ascough’s superb performance in midfield saw him voted the Man of the Match by the Barkston Ash FA committee members and defensive kingpin Calum Green was voted the Garforth man of the match by the away team management. A perfect and fitting way for Thorpe to round off their ten-year journey from U6 to U16s and sadly this was the end of the road for the team. This was the final game for the boys and management team for what has been a fantastic experience throughout. All that was left was for team captain Kai Parker to step forward to receive the trophy and start the jubilant team celebrations in front of the Thorpe fans and parents. (05-05-735 SU)

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