The bubble burst in spectacular fashion for Battle Baptist Football Club as it was comfortably defeated in the last four of the competition it won last season.
The reigning National Christian Cup champions never found their usual rhythm at any stage during Saturday’s semi-final in Liverpool as they lost 5-1 away to St Sebastians.
It might be suggested that the loss could be attributed to the 300-mile trip to Liverpool or maybe that the Macron East Sussex Football League Premier Division title challengers were missing several key players in a depleted 12-man squad.
The truth is, though, that Battle just weren’t strong enough and despite a valiant effort by the Sussex representatives, they were beaten by the better team on the day.
Accustomed to starting fast and scoring early, the Baptists looked travel-weary in the opening 20 minutes and immediately found themselves forced onto the back foot.
Battle’s woes increased when the home striker went down under a challenge and, although the referee saw no infringement, his assistant awarded the home team a penalty which was dispatched with a grateful strike.
Ironically, just as Battle began to make their way back into the game, they conceded again as St Sebastians took a two-goal lead.
To their immense credit, Battle fought back and enjoyed their best period of play, Fin Garlick and Dale Vinall scrapping for dominance in central midfield with Joe Brister and Trystan Mayhew making strides down the wings.
The startling skills of Dean Boyd combined neatly with two team-mates to twist and turn through a hole in the home defence before winning a free kick which Vinall smacked in to give small hope to the visitors.
Having now come to terms with the magnificent movement of the St Seb’s attackers, the Baptists’ back four of Ian Rafati, Ollie Jeffs, Sam Loughman and Harry Loates were defending well. At the other end, Boyd saw the goalkeeper stray off his line and curled a 35-yard volley just over.
Happy to come in 2-1 down after a half that was mostly controlled by the home team, Battle had to survive one more scare as a shot came back off the underside of the bar and out to safety.
Shortly after the break Battle had a first-rate chance to equalise - Josh Pickering breaking down the right flank and delivering a mouth-watering cross only to see his team-mate fall a yard short of a tap-in at the back post.
The game was lost and Battle’s hopes were crushed, however, by three well-taken goals in a depressing 15-minute period. Several Vardy-like runs behind the defence saw the home strikers running in on goal.
Although goalkeeper and Medica man of the match Jake Rudwick made some spectacular saves, he couldn’t stop the tidal wave.
Battle showed great resolve to see out the last 20 minutes without conceding further, thereby avoiding a complete landslide.
The trip back to Sussex was made easier for the defeated champions in the knowledge that they are still in the hunt for two further titles and all is not lost.
The Baptists will entertain Macron East Sussex Football League Premier Division title rivals Hollington United in a Hastings & District FA Intermediate Cup semi-final this coming Saturday. Kick-off at Battle Rec is 2.30pm.
Two days later they will resume their quest for league glory with an away fixture against third-bottom St Leonards Social at Tilekiln, St Leonards. Kick-off is 3pm.
While Battle were in national cup action last weekend, Hollington replaced them at the top of the table with a 5-0 victory at home to Crowhurst.
Both teams now have seven league matches remaining and there’s only point between them. They will face each other at Hollington in the penultimate game on Saturday April 28.
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