The 2018-19 season kicked off in dramatic fashion for the University of Liverpool Football 1st Team as two late goals completed a remarkable comeback against local rivals Liverpool Hope University on Wednesday afternoon.On a beautiful autumnal afternoon at Wyncote Sports Grounds, goals from Sam Steele, Ross Phillips and a brace for Ed Simon saw the Blues produce a stunning second-half performance to take all 3 points on their opening match-day. It also marked a spectacular introduction to university football for new coach Fran Alonso, who took charge of the team for the first time after arriving with strong pedigree as a former coach at Everton.
The match started terribly for UoLFC, after a sloppy pass was pounced on by a Hope striker and converted well after just 7 minutes. Both teams quickly settled into their styles of play, though, with the Blues seeing a free-kick go just wide of the post after a quarter of an hour. Despite dominating possession for the majority of the first half, UoLFC struggled for movement and creativity and weren’t doing a lot with the ball, with their passing in general being very poor all round. Hope capitalised on this wastefulness on 32 minutes with a counter-attack from a Blues free-kick, which ended with a sweeping finish into the roof of the net.
Hope could have further extended their lead with several more good opportunities, and coach Alonso made his feelings clear by venting his frustration on the touchline. Phillips was unable to turn home a Simon cross in UoLFC’s only clear-cut chance of the disappointing half.
Alonso made two changes at the break in an attempt to salvage something from the game, and his decision was almost instantly rewarded when a 30-yard speculative strike from Steele flew over the Liverpool Hope keeper two minutes after the restart. The Blues were back in the game but still had to remain alert defensively, with a last-ditch block preventing a Hope third not long after. Nonetheless, UoLFC were the team in the ascendency, and an equaliser soon followed on the hour mark when Simons found himself in acres of space in the box after an incisive pass, and the striker rounded the keeper the tap home.
UoLFC pushed desperately to find a winner, with a series of chances narrowly missing the target. The main catalyst of this was the impressive link-up play between Simon and his strike partner Billington, which caused the Liverpool Hope defenders trouble all afternoon. An overhead kick from Billington with 5 minutes to spare seemed to suggest that a third goal would prove elusive, but in the 88th minute the team’s persistence finally paid off, with a deflected strike falling into the path of Simon, who poked the ball round the advancing keeper.
There were scenes of ecstacy on the touchline as Alonso and his fellow coaches sprinted up and down, cheering in delight. And it got even better for the Blues deep into stoppage time, as Phillips beat the Hope defence to fire in a fourth in almost a carbon copy of Simon’s second.
The win gives UoLFC the best possible start to their campaign, as they look to better their 5th placed finish from last season. They face the University of Central Lancaster in a tough away fixture in a fortnight. Elsewhere on Wednesday, the University 2nd and 3rd teams succumbed to 0-1 and 0-2 losses to the University of Salford and Liverpool Hope respectively, whilst the 4th team ran out 4-1 winners against the University of Cumbria.