By Joe Green, Sports Editor
Bristol Men’s 1st XI’s hopes of lifting silverware this season remain very much alive after the side emerged victorious in a seven-goal cup classic against Hartpury’s 1st XI.
Bristol took the lead on three occasions only to be pegged back each time by a resilient Hartpury, before a last-minute winner from striker Joe Taylor finally secured Bristol’s passage to the next round.
The 1st XI had come into the game hoping to build on several impressive performances in recent weeks including a 2-0 away win against local rivals UWE at the end of January, while also defeating the same opposition 3-2 in the previous round of the cup back in December.
Bristol certainly started the brighter team despite both sides failing to retain possession for extended periods in the opening minutes, until an excellent team move saw Bristol break the deadlock after just 5 minutes.
An excellent pass from halfway by captain Pat Gibbs was followed by some quick passing around the edge of the box that put Jack Bilbruck in the position to clinically slot the ball in off the right-hand post from ten yards out to give Bristol an early lead.
The game remained fairly even without the visitors posing any real threat on goal, and a Hartpury corner gave Bristol the chance to counter-attack after an accurate clearance from Taylor looked to have put Bilbruck in a promising position, only for Hartpury to recover defensively.
A firm challenge from a Bristol defender on the edge of the box prompted a strong reaction from Hartpury and saw them awarded a well-positioned free-kick by the referee despite the centre-back seeming to get the ball as well as the man.
Thankfully the free kick was blasted well over but it wasn’t long before the Gloucestershire side were causing Bristol’s defence more problems, after a long punt from their keeper put Hartpury’s no. 9 only to collide with Bristol’s recovering last man.
The incident went unpunished however, and Bristol’s high pressing continued to force Hartpury into giving the ball away, while several well-worked moves from the home team down their right flank maintained momentum without creating any tangible chances.
The long ball from Hartpury proved to be their most dangerous weapon in the first half hour with the tactic winning them another free kick on the edge of the box after their striker was brought down, although they were again unable to capitalise.
Bristol’s success at winning the second ball ensured much of the first half was played in Hartpury’s half, but they would come unstuck ten minutes before halftime when Hartpury were given the space to cross in from the left wing and their forward was able to direct a glancing header into the bottom right corner and tie the game.
The equaliser was not entirely against the run of play but was Hartpury’s first opportunity on goal that hadn’t come from a set piece.
Bristol would have several half-chances in the final minutes of the first half with several dangerous deliveries from Pat Gibbs unable to be converted.
Hartpury started the second half the brighter team but it was Bristol who would retake the lead in spectacular fashion six minutes after the restart, after a Hartpury defender’s attempt at clearing a bouncing ball twenty five yards out inexplicably looped over the Hartpury keeper’s head and into the net following considerable pressure from Alex Lindley. It was unclear whether Lindley got the final touch but his efforts were certainly enough to restore Bristol’s one-goal advantage.
The lead was short-lived however after Bristol were finally punished for their ill-discipline on the edge of the penalty area, with Hartpury converting a close-range free-kick at the third attempt to make it 2-2 with sixty minutes played.
A low-driven effort to the side of the wall caught the defence off-guard leaving keeper Jack Dennehy with no chance to prevent the ball from reaching the net via the bottom right corner.
In a game of unique goals, there was none more impressive than Josh Gordon’s excellent finish after seventy minutes, as the left-back curled the ball perfectly from the left edge of the penalty area into the top right corner, with the Hartpury keeper rooted to the spot.
The midfield pairing for Bristol started to take more control of the game in an attempt to avoid letting yet another lead slip, while Gibbs also continued to create chances after a wide free kick nearly found its target at the back post only to be put out for a corner.
Bilbruck continued to be a bright spark, stretching the Hartpury defence with his pace and linking up with Taylor on a number of occasions to keep their opponents under pressure.
At the other end of the pitch, Bristol’s No. 2 ensured the increasingly impatient Hartpury were kept at bay by making a last-ditch tackle after another long ball stretched the Bristol defence and threatened to put the Hartpury attacker through on goal.
However, Bristol were again unable to hold onto their lead after a long throw-in from Hartpury with just five minutes remaining failed to be cleared, with the ball falling favourably to Hartpury who were able to poke home from close range and tie the game at 3-3 as normal time neared its conclusion.
With extra time looking likely in order to find a winner, Bristol largely relied on counter-attacking in the closing stages as Hartpury came closer to taking the lead.
But it was the persistence of Taylor in the final minute that proved to be the difference between the two teams, after Hartpury’s last man was forced off the ball by Bristol’s no. 9 who then slotted home past the keeper into the bottom left corner to make it 4-3 and seal the victory.
Pat Gibbs nearly extended the winning the margin with the final kick of the game after his free-kick looked set to nestle in the top-right corner only to be brilliantly tipped over by the Hartpury keeper.
Bristol certainly had to work for this cup victory with the momentum of the contest ebbing and flowing between the two sides throughout, although the home team generally played with more of a rhythm and were able to force several key errors out of the opposition thanks to their workrate.
Featured image: Joe Green