Whistle-stop trip up north ended in cup heartbreak

My first visit to Brooklands ended in defeat. I had high hopes for my North London Raiders team in the Peter Morrison Trophy semi-final but we were second best against a well-drilled Maccabi 1st team.

More than half of the squad travelled up the previous day while I left home at 6.30am on matchday, along with four players who enjoyed reading a programme I had hastily thrown together.

We joined the rest of the squad at the team hotel in Bury where Adam Fegan, my co-manager, looked particularly tense after winger Jamie Wolfson went back for seconds on the full English buffet.

We squeezed into the away dressing room at Brooklands where the facilities made a big impression on me and the boys. However, the pitch did not. It was a bit of a dustbowl, although in fairness you will find many of them around the country at this time of the season, and we struggled to get to grips with the surface. But we will be back.

Manchester are worthy finalists and Faithfold will do well to breach a defence that has conceded just once in 360 minutes in the competition.

We were given special dispensation to play young keeper Jack Smith, who is the No. 2 at Hemel Hempstead. I could tell in the warm-up that he is a quality stopper and he came into his own during the game. It's hard to believe that he is only 17.

While there are a lack of decent young keepers in the Premiership, the Maccabi League is blessed with quite a few. Dan Lee is my favourite for Safe Hands of the Year. He has kept five clean sheet in the league this season and has been one of the key men in Redbridge Jewish Care A's first MSFL success. He has not been beaten in more than 270 minutes on the pitch and Hendon will do well to stick one past him in the cup final at Wingate & Finchley on Sunday.

And then there is Dan Cohen. He has represented several teams this season including Hadley, Montana Boca United and the Raiders. His father, Tony, was also a top cat and it's nice to see that talent runs in the family.

There are also two excellent No. 1s in Division Two with Norstar's Ben de la Fuente and Brixton's Jake Doffman earning rave reviews throughout the season.

The other final at Wingate on Sunday should be an open and entertaining affair. It could come down to the battle of the strikers with Faithfold C's Jonny Blain and Ben Simons up against UJIA's Assi Avital and Ben Nassim. Avital helped Golders Green to Minor Cup glory when they beat Bafana Bafana in 2006 and he will be looking to roll back the years and remind spectators just how good he is.

‚óŹ Anyone concerned about the credentials of Giuliano Grazioli, the new caretaker-manager of Barnet, should ask the Under 14 team at Highgate & Muswell Hill. Graz been coaching the side this season and his winning formula has steered them into the National Cup final at Boundary Park on May 15. I'm hopefully some of his can rub off on the Bees in their bid to escape the drop.

    Last updated: 2:17pm, April 14 2011