Central Pirates made it back-to-back Knockout Cup wins when they downed Rangers AFC 2-1 in the final at A and P Park on Friday night.
Pirates turned in a disciplined, composed performance to take out the Marlborough Football Association’s major elimination competition for the second year running.
Playing under lights after the match was shifted from its usual Saturday date, they took an early lead. After just five minutes a free kick from a central position was parried away by Rangers keeper Arthur Morel but only as far as Pirates’ winger Shane Evans who made no mistake, guiding the ball into the left hand corner.
Rangers immediately lifted their game, finding space on both flanks through Scott Denmark and Sam Pearson, but were unable deliver enough quality ball into the centre to allow prolific striker Adam Rose a chance to equalise, although he did draw a good save out of Pirates keeper Amon McGregor midway through the half.
The experienced Central back four of Dave Turner, Andrew McCaa, Matt Goldsworthy and Nick Rayner were organised, energetic and efficient, denying their rivals space and time in possession.
Trailing by just a single goal at the break Rangers were quickly into their stride and pulled the scores level after 50 minutes, picking up a similar goal to their rivals’ earlier effort. McGregor was unable to hold a stinging shot from the left and Rose strode forward to bury the rebound.
With the match tied up, both sides pushed forward looking for the winner and it was Central who made the breakthrough 15 minutes later. A superbly-flighted corner kick from Jordy Columbus on the right dipped and curled into the top of the Rangers goal, slipping through the keeper’s hands and glancing off the head of Rayner into the back of the net.
Perhaps surprisingly, Central did not sit back and defend for the final quarter, instead pushing forward in pursuit of a third goal, with hard-running striker Chris Turkington finding more space as his opponents pressed at the other end.
With Sam Boyce and Columbus bustling and busy in midfield Pirates were able to deny vital possession to an increasingly-frustrated Rangers side, who began to push hopeful passes as the final minutes ticked by.
Martin and Julian Delgado, Connor Endersby, Pearson, Rose and George Bond toiled hard, especially after the loss of Ollie Saunders with a hamstring strain early depleted the Rangers’ strike force.
Unfortunately for Rangers, there were to be no last-gasp heroics, leaving Pirates worthy winners on the night.
Their big-match experience shone through, providing clear decision-making mixed with solid, no-frills football.
Central spokesman Andrew McCaa was happy to bag a second consecutive Knockout Cup, suggesting his side’s more physical approach paid dividends.
“We really wanted the 50/50 balls a bit more. We had a really good game plan where we sat and let them come at us … and then we broke and scored a couple of really good goals.”
Although Rangers were able to level the scores early in the second half, McCaa felt his side were generally in control.
“I still though we were playing alright [when they equalized]. They didn’t get many opportunities and, although they took the one they got, I felt we had the best defence on the day … we felt secure at the back and it didn’t feel like they were going to break out at any stage. Guys like Dave [Turner] and Nick [Rayner] have played thousands of games so they have been-there, done-that before. It’s great to go back-to-back.”
Scores: Central Pirates 2 (Shane Evans, Nick Rayner) Rangers AFC 1 (Adam Rose). HT: 1-0 Central.
Due to bad weather, the other Knockout finals due to be played last Saturday were deferred. The KO Shield match will be contested at 6.30pm, Thursday, while both the Bowl and Plate finals will be played at 12.30pm on Saturday.