Real Life's Eddie Lewin reflects on the JC Barry Goldstein Minor Cup win over Heath Banta.
Ah, the taste of winning. We'd forgotten it. Finally, Real Life won a game. And while the nerves were jangling at the very end, neutrals would be hard pushed to deny Real deserved it.
They key to the victory was how Real started the game. This week, no mucking around putting nets up. A proper team warm up. You could feel the preparedness of the squad.
Real were bright, alert and hungry. David Tropp, playing at centre-back was exemplary all game. Early on, he intercepted a Heath Banta through ball, looked up and played a delicious 50-yard pass into Charlie Bernstein's path. The forward is now in a rich vein of form, finished emphatically leaving the keeper no chance. Five minutes gone, 1-0 Life.
The second goal game from a curiuosly familiar pattern of play. Tropp, again expertly reading the play and then executing another raking pass over the defence. Andy Wisnia latching on the ball on the left was allowed to carry the ball toward the Banta goal area. When some may have expected a cross, he bent the ball superbly passed the keeper into the far corner. 2-0 and there was a Real bounce to Life now.
Banta started to asset themselves on the game and pulled a goal back halfway through the half. But the Life immediate response was to launch another attack up field. Bernstein was brought down 25 yards from goal, central. Paul Franklin, playing in the middle of the park, took aim from the free-kick. He got the ball up over the wall and down into the top corner. A very difficult skill, a very class goal from the player who made a big difference coming back into the Life side. Whilst his wife has been having a baby, Real have missed Franklin's guile and skill this season - he put in a wonderful shift in centre-mid yesterday.
The rest of the half saw Life pushing forward to kill off the game. Chances came. Bernstein, running through, hammered the ball which looked destined for the roof of the net. The Banta keeper made a wonderful save, tipping it on to the bar. The effervescent Jon Bruck found himself through on goal but his shot was blocked. And new arrival David Selby had a beautiful curling effort clawed out of the top corner by the excellent Banta keeper.
The game was set up for a great second half either side of half time. Banta broke down the left and crossed to give a tap in to their right winger for 3-2 - and a few minutes in to the second half, they equalised with a disappointing goal which caught the Life backline flat-footed.
This season we have been used to RLFC crumbling in such instances. But yesterday they stayed with it. Battled to a man. The fresh legs of manager Jamie Beaumont, making a comeback after injury and of Ben Cahn on the right certainly helped. With 10 to go, it was still 3-3. The neat passing of the first half had somewhat eluded the team but the threat of Andy on the left was still clear and the backline was playing superbly to limit the Banta threat.
In the 82nd minute, Beaumont found himself with room to drive down the right side. He carried it 30-40 yards and at exactly the correct moment he put a low cross into the corridor of uncertainty. The hapless Banta full-back could only divert the ball into his own net, with Bernstein ready to pounce for a tap in.
The last 10 minutes was nail-biting. One great chance seemed certain to ruin RLFC's day but the forward from six yards out could only pass the ball back to the Life keeper Will Martyn - again excellent in goal.
And so the victory was RLFCs. A long time in coming - and they'll need some points in the league before Beaumont will be satisfied. He said after the game: "We’ve had that in us all season, we just haven’t believed it or produced it for 90 minutes. It wasn’t JLGB or Zig-zag out there, it was a team [Heath Banta] competing for promotion in our division. We’ve now played them twice in quick succession, drawn once (when perhaps we should have won it) and then beaten them. We have to carry that with us now for the rest of the season."
Debate around MOTM for RLFC. The whole defence, Martyn, Ben Kfir and Rob Greene, Kenny Markeson and Tropp were excellent. Bernstein was a handful up front as was Andy on the left. Paul Franklin superb in midfield gets many people's vote. But mine, author's perogative, goes to the evergreen Tropp. Superb in defence, two assists and the spirit that RLFC will need for an uplifting journey to the end of the season.
The Minor Cup is proving a major and welcome distraction for Real Life.