Stephs clinch Knockout Cup

Stephanians Ottery striker Ryan Wildeman, centre, celebrates his goal with teammates.

Die-hard Stephanian Ottery supporters came out in their numbers to witness their team’s 3-0 win against Salt River Blackpool, in the Super League Knockout Cup final.

Stephs supporters got behind their boys and packed the hill behind the goal post at the William Herbert Sports Ground – all dressed in black.

Led by experienced coach Mervin Hawyn – who won the Virginia Cup in his playing days with Stephs back in 1979 – lifting the Knockout Cup was a step in the right direction as Stephs look to revive the club back to its glory days.

Both teams brimmed with confidence as they stepped onto the pitch. Blackpool booked their spot in the final after a 7-2 demolition over Wolverhampton; and Stephanian Ottery got the better over league champions Greenwood Athletic with a 2-0 victory.

On the day, Stephs and their 12th man were relentless from the get-go. Their fans chanted from the first whistle and striker Ryan Wildeman answered their cheers with a goal in the fourth minute of the game.

Captain David Beukes and teammate Brandon Lakay marshalled the centre of the park and allowed Blackpool no time or space on the ball to conjure up any passage of an attack.

Their defence stood firm against the speedy front runners of Blackpool brothers Ganief and Zaheer Stellenboom. And, once Stephs were in possession, they were savage in going forward with left back Warren Jacobs’ overlapping runs down the wing.

For Blackpool, central midfielder Antony Enyange had a tough day in the office as he fought with every drop of blood, sweat and tears to retrieve the ball. Ganief Stellenboom was also forced to drop deep in aid of Enyange – the duo looked to be carrying the team on their shoulders.

At the half hour mark, Stellenboom earned his side the lifeline they needed. His swift run into the 18-yard area resulted in a handball, and the referee had no choice but to point to the penalty spot.

Right back Zahier Fisher confidently stepped up, calm and composed, but his sloppy penalty hit the upright.

Despite the penalty miss, Blackpool found their rhythm and both sides created goal scoring chances.

As the clocked ticked, the Salt River-based side grew from strength to strength, and an equaliser looked imminent in the second half. But, as they say, football is a cruel game, and Blackpool watched their star player, Stellenboom, receive a second yellow card in the 70th minute.

It went from bad to worse for Blackpool as Stephs capitalised on having the extra man on the field. Minutes later, Jeremy Cyster found the back of the net before Brandon Lakay added the final nail in the coffin to secure the 3-0 victory.

“I think the first half was fairly even despite us having the lead. They opted to play the long ball because they got two fast strikers and that was their main game plan,” said Hawyn.

“At half time we looked to counter that by playing a possession game and moving forward with pace. When we had the ball, we were always looking to pass the ball forward quickly to catch them off guard. Once they were down to 10 men, we put the pressure on them even more because we also have a big tall striker,” he said.

Stephanian Ottery’s under-16, second division and over-40 sides competed in their respective Knockout finals, on Saturday – each of them winning gold.

Hawyn’s side finished runners-up in the league behind Greenwood, and were eliminated in the quarter-final of the Coke Cup, after a replay, due to a fourth substitution made in the match.

“I took over the team midway through the season. We finished mid-table at the end of the first round, but we came back strong in the second half of the season. We only lost one game in the second round, but Greenwood was already so far ahead that we couldn’t catch up,” said Hawyn.

“We beat United FC from Bishop Lavis 6-0 in the Coke Cup quarter-final but had to replay the match because of an error. In the rematch we played on a field that was too small for our style of play, and they beat us 2-1,” he said.

Hawyn is in his first season back in the coaching seat after a one year break. His experience over the years as a captain on the field of play and from the sidelines as a coach, was just the missing ingredient Stephs needed in order to fight for silverware.

“I last coached at Ikapa Sporting in the second division, in 2014. And, I also coached Blackpool when they played in the second division,” said Hawyn.

“I played all my life for Stephanian Ottery and winning the Virginia Cup is one of my highlights with the club.

“I had a stint at Woodside FC and when I retired from football at the age of 34, that’s when I started coaching,” he said.

Hawyn said the team he captained back in the day was a formidable one. They won numerous trophies at the district and various other tournaments across the city.

He added that the club has had a slump over the last 10 years, but that they’ve shown a resurgence this season, and will add an extra focus on their junior structures, next season.

“In the past 10 years the club had a bit of a slump, but this season we looked really great and it’s only the start of better things to come next season,” he said.