Phoenix Academy came from behind to beat Nuneaton Academy 4-3 at Park View Road in a Champions meet Champions Play-Off game.
Both sides had won their respective Leagues and were meeting here in an Elimination Round where the winner would advance to the Quarter-Final. Phoenix Academy were very impressive in winning Division G, scoring 100 goals on the way to the title.
Nuneaton showed their defensive strengths when winning Division H by only conceding 7 goals in their 16 games.
The visitors had a tough journey down to South-East London and their late arrival delayed kick-off by 35 minutes. But after a full warm up they were ready and the game began.
The first 15 minutes saw chances shared for each side. Matt Neary went close when he rounded the keeper only to see his effort blocked by the defender. Nuneaton Forward Jamal Adams also had a chance or two of making the breakthrough but hit one wide while the other was well saved by Lewis Watson. Phoenix were playing in their tried and tested 4-3-3 formation with the visitors employing wing-backs in a 3-5-2 set-up. Throughout the early stages the width that was created by those wide men caused a few issues for Phoenix and indeed Nuneaton were to get the first goal of the game as a result of this from the right boot of wing-back Jai Rowe. With the ball switching play quickly Rowe found himself charging towards it with time to unleash a rocket from 30 yards that arrowed straight in to the top corner. It was a beauty of a goal and the team celebrated that fact.
Now with the lead the away side were able to keep their wing-backs deeper and make it tough for Phoenix to break through the 5 at the back. Efforts were to be few and far between and were mainly from distance. The versatile Manny Oshinowd, now playing on the left side of attack came closest but his curling effort from range could only shave the far post.
In the centre of midfield the visitors seemed to have a talented yougster. Charlie Chechlacz is their player of the Season and it was easy to see why. The kid has the gift of finding space and time when there does not appear to be any. Once this campaign is over he will be taking up a scholarship in USA so clearly he is well thought of. And it’s not hard to see why. On 38 minutes he got the ball just outside the area took one step away from the defender and curled the ball into the far corner. Two goals, two beauties and a knee slide to celebrate. Phoenix were in trouble.
Approaching the break and in need of a goal the hosts piled on the pressure and were soon rewarded when Billy Oak broke from left-back and from the corner of the box hit a cross/shot that deflected off a defender and over the keeper into the net. Just what the Doctor ordered. He must have also ordered a rainstorm as the heavens then opened and all were glad that the half-time whistle saved the players from a short burst of awful playing conditions. Nuneaton had the lead and deserved it. Their formation was causing problems but they did require a couple of Worldies to get on the scoresheet and with that late goal back for Phoenix there was still hope left in this one.
The break meant a change of Weather conditions and as the sun began to shine down Phoenix plotted their way back into the game. Early signs in the Second Half were promising as it seemed Phoenix were getting to grips with the visitors formation and had made changes to solve this issue. Jimmy Martin was flying into tackles in the centre of the park while Fred Olafsen was using his size and strength to dictate more of the play. Manny had an attempt blocked and Fred went close when heading wide from a corner, John Walpole also saw an effort clip the post. There was a lucky escape when Dennis Nkrumah hit the bar for Nuneaton but other than that the tide of play was had certainly switched. If Phoenix kept their heads they could get back in to this.
Then Phoenix lost their heads, well just one of them did anyway. Nuneaton were on the attack and in the area but going nowhere when Matt Poole slid in, caught his man and left the referee with the easy decision of pointing to the spot. There was no need to go to ground and now it could cost them dear. Nkrumah slotted the kick away and Nuneaton had a 3-1 lead with 15 minutes to play, surely they would not lose from here. They had only let in 7 all Season from their 16 League games so they were hardly likely to let in 3 in the closing stages of this one.
Phoenix are blessed with a strong coaching team. Jack Parkinson, Alfie Pavey, Rob Saunders and Liam King have bred a winning mentality into these lads, they are not used to losing and however tough this challenge was ahead of them they were going to give it their all.
From then on it was attack, attack, attack from the home side and one of these led to a way back in it. Alfie Aldridge pounced on a defensive slip on the edge of the area, controlled, turned and shot and it was 2-3. Another goal to add to the already hugely impressive Season-long tally for the Phoenix Sports forward.
Into the final 10 minutes and the next attack led to the leveller. A goalmouth scramble gave the ref a decision as to whether the ball crossed the line or not, it looked like it did from my terrible angle and 10 of the Phoenix players appealed for the goal but one of them didn’t. That was Matt Neary, he was too busy latching on to the loose ball and with a swing of his right leg he smashed it into the back of the net. No doubts that this one crossed the line. The game was now level and we still had a few minutes to play.
The momentum was with Phoenix and if it was offered to them Nuneaton would have gladly accepted the Penalty shoot-out right now.
With the next attack the hosts were awarded a Free-Kick around 30 yards out from goal. Fred Olafsen put the ball down in the manner that he would be taking a shot on goal from there. The boy has talent, I had seen him score in a Cup Final a few weeks before for the mens reserve side, but that was with his head. In that game he also got the assist for the winning goal with a flying volley from the edge of the area that was nodded home from close range. But I had not seen him strike a 30 yard free-kick… yet.
Fred stepped up, and just as the wildlife in Danson Park ran for cover, BOOM, the ball flew past the wall, past the keeper and into the top corner! Phoenix were ahead and Fred had scored a screamer to put them there. It was a great goal in a game that had a few of them. From 3-1 down with 15 to go the comeback was complete and now the side in green and black just had to see out the final few minutes.
It was Nuneaton’s turn to attack now. They really went for it and however well Phoenix tried to manage the game Nuneaton kept pushing forward. In the final seconds Nkrumah found a yard on the edge of the box and unleashed an arrow towards goal. Lewis Watson was equal to it though and flew through the air to palm it over. Great shot, great save. The keeper came up for the corner but the cross went over him and on to his team-mates head where it then bounced down onto the base of the post and was cleared. The ref had seen enough and this game was over! Phoenix had performed an amazing recovery against an extremely strong team.
Full credit to Nuneaton, they had a tough journey down then battled well showing character and class throughout. Their Manager Liam O’Neill and the supporters that made the long trip were a credit to the club.
But this was about Phoenix Academy and today we got to see a different side to them. They are so good they usually dominate games from start to finish but here we saw a ‘Never say die’attitude. We saw a belief and determintation to get back into the game when others may have looked for a way out. All these are great strengths that will lead to success both as a team and individually in the future. Well Done to all involved.
The win means Phoenix have made it through to the Quarter-Finals of the National League Alliance Under-19s Champions meet Champions Trophy. Next up they play unbeaten Boreham Wood Blues on Wednesday in what should be another classic encounter.
See you there!
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