The U9s travelled to the MCFC Academy to participate in the annual Christmas Tournament, to compete amongst seventeen schools from across Greater Manchester. The standard was set in the opening game when Bridgewater met eventual winners St Anne’s, Stockport. Both teams went at each other for the win, with Alfie testing the keeper from distance on several occasions. A series of corners and free-kicks led to the opening goal from St Anne’s that was to prove ultimately decisive in the outcome of the tournament overall. A lucky ricochet from a Jackson clearance flew into the back of the Bridgewater net to put Bridgewater behind, but not down. The team rallied and it was another Alfie thunder bolt that proved too hot to handle and to ensure both teams took a point each from the game.
Game two became a must win game in the group stages and Bridgewater went about their task vigorously. A flowing move involving Josh and Tommy resulted in a tremendous goal from Luca B who drilled home a shot from the edge of the area. A hand ball from a Josh shot gave Alfie the chance to double the lead from the penalty spot, whilst Anton tapped home from close range from a Luca B cross to give Bridgewater a comfortable 3-0 win over Marton C of E Primary School. However, despite the great result and performance it was the missed chances in the game that would prove costly, as the top team from the group would now be decided on goal difference.
Knowing a win by more three goals was needed, the team put in a tremendous showing to dominate possession and beat a tough opponent in the final game of the group stages. Josh opened the scoring early on and another Alfie piledriver put Bridgewater 2-0 up against The Devine Mercy C of E Primary School. As the team pressed for more goals, disaster was averted at the other end, when keeper Luca C produced a fabulous flying save to preserve the lead. With the last kick of the game Alfie fired in a wonderful free kick that unfortunately hit the outside of the post and away to safety.
The result put Bridgewater into the tougher half of the draw, having to play only the winners of the other groups from here on in. Stamford Park were the opposition in the quarter-final and the team had to be at their best to beat a very stubborn side. Jackson and Toby had little to do at the back, as Josh, Alfie and Luca B controlled the game in midfield. The chances came and went for Bridgewater, with Tommy, Anton and Alex all being denied by the in-form Stamford keeper. Another spectacular save from another Alfie strike seemed to have destined the game to go into extra-time, until Josh hit a dipping, swerving shot that even two goalkeepers would have struggles to save. The team was now only one step away from the final with St Catherine’s of Didsbury standing in the way of an eagerly anticipated re-match with St Anne’s.
The semi-final ebbed and flowed early on, until Bridgewater gradually asserted their authority on the game. Tommy had a great chance to open the scoring, before Luca C pulled of another fantastic flying save. However, following the save, the ball was given away to the St Catherine’s striker, who slotted home to give them a surprise 1-0 lead. With time running out, Alfie went on a Messi style solo run to score the goal of the tournament and take the game into extra-time. Both teams pressed for the winner and Jackson stepped into midfield to create a chance for Josh that was pushed away and the game went into the dreaded penalty shoot-out for a place in the final. Alfie, Josh and Jackson all converted their spot kicks, whilst Luca C got his hands to one of the penalties but could not prevent sudden death kicks. Unfortunately, Tommy scraped the post with his penalty and St Catherine’s converted theirs to go onto the final. It was a true football style ending to the tournament for Bridgewater, who will understand the heartache suffered by many an England team over the years! Well done to every player and I look forward to more exciting games in the New Year!