Second chances are a rarity in cup football, even more scarce is the right to an immediate reply to a cup final pasting. Clapton have had the last 27 years to discover how difficult silverware is to come by, but now seem to be rediscovering a cup pedigree that had once defined the club for the best part of a century. The intervening eleven months have flown since losing out to Barking in the final of the Gordon Brasted last May, the only reverse in an otherwise perfect run in the competition under Mike Walther.
The Tons were put to work by Wadham Lodge in the semi finals, after getting a pass through the quarters courtesy of Bowers’ FA Vase run. Wadham fought bitterly to get past Clapton, but couldn’t claw back our two goal. The game could’ve easily taken a completely different turn at 0 – 0 had the resulting first half penalty, following Charlie Georgiou’s trademark tumble, not cleared the houses on Margery Park Road; reminiscent of last year’s semi, Clapton again progressing to the Brasted final at the expense of a completely bottled spot kick.
On the other side of the draw Stansted were paired with Hullbridge, who’d just knocked out favourites, FC Romania the previous Saturday. Level on points in the league, it was the Airportmen who emerged from the semi, undoing Hullbridge’s surprise defeat of the free scoring league leaders. Stansted’s route the final also includes wins by the odd goal against Greenhouse and Sporting Bengal, an understated passing through the rounds almost as low key as our own.
The only meeting between Clapton and Stansted this season will be little use to either side in measuring up with the other. The Tons’ bizarre 4 – 3 defeat in Mountfichet last December was essentially decided on who could score more with a gale force headwind at their backs blowing in goals. Clapton, without a recognised ‘keeper on the day, gave up a three goal first half lead, with ‘Turbulent Gusts’ rightfully credited with the assists for all four Stansted goals. A goalkeeper and a neutral venue should even things up a bit, although Storm Katie is threatening to recreate those comedy conditions.
Clapton should go into the final feeling like favourites to lift the trophy. The 3 – 1 loss to Barking on Saturday won’t mean much given the much changed side put out by Mike. Tony Cookey and new signing Sherwin Stanley, already with a debut hat-trick to his name, are both cup tied, though. Miles Hunter will fancy a start after his goal in semis, while Roddy Lemba was given a rest toward the end of the game at Mayesbrook Park. The defence and midfield seem to be largely settled, with most sitting out the defeat to Barking.
More good news for Clapton is that Bradley Joseph, amazingly, looks likely to be on the bench for Easter Monday. Although Mike wasn’t able to confirm whether he’ll be among the substitutes, either way, Bradley making the squad will give a massive boost to everyone following his collapse in Mile End just 9 days previous. The team seems to have clicked lately around a consistent set of players. A winners medal would be a decent reward for all who’ve stuck with the team this season. It’s time for Clapton to start winning Trophies again.
RC’s Score Prediction– An convincing win for Clapton after an initial struggle. Stansted’s game seemed to rely heavily on moaning last December. An unsympathetic ref and The Tons are laughing. 3 – 1.
RC’s Player To Watch – Seth Bucket’s new book needs a punchy opening chapter. The Boy from Brazil coming off the bench to change the game. Think Henrik Larsson for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League Final.
Red Menace Prediction – There’s nothing worse than going into a Clapton game with confidence, it’s too weird. 2-0 Tons
Red Menace Player To Watch – The tide is high but I’m holding on, PAUL BARRY YOU’RE MY FAVOURITE TON.