FA Cup final countdown
Both holders Robin Hood and first-time finalists X-Roads, will welcome back key players for tomorrow’s season-ending FA Cup final at the National Sports Centre, kicking off at 4pm.
The two clubs rested players when they met each other nine days ago in their final Premier Division league match, either because of injury or the threat of a booking forcing them to miss tomorrow’s encounter.
Hood won that match 2-1 but were without captain Lejaun Simmons, Tomiko Goater and Shakir Smith, while Casey Castle was abroad.
John Barry Nusum, the Hood coach, returned from abroad the day before and played in the match against X-Roads because of the shortage.
“I only played because we had guys out and the numbers were low,” Nusum said after last Thursday’s match.
“We didn’t want to take the risk of playing some of those guys and have them miss out on the bigger game. That’s the reason I played, but don’t look for me in the FA final.
“We want to defend it, we talked about it at the beginning of the season and now we’re in that position.”
Another win for Hood would see them match the achievements of Devonshire Cougars and Dandy Town, who claimed three FA Cup titles in four years, with just four different teams winning the last nine finals.
Cougars won in 2010, 2011 and 2013, Town in 2012, 2014 and 2015 and Hood in 2016 and 2018, with PHC winning in 2017.
For the early part of the season X-Roads were setting the pace with PHC and Hood in the league race, even leading the table for a brief period after winning six of their first seven games.
Donavan Thompson’s goals had a lot to do with it — 17 in nine league games — however, they could not maintain that form as they managed to win just one league game in the second half of the campaign and finished fifth in the standings, though it did secure a first Dudley Eve Trophy spot for next season.
Thompson’s goals dried up too as he scored just five in the league in the last nine games and was pipped for the golden boot award when Dandy Town’s Angelo Simmons netted four goals in last weekend’s 6-1 win over Somerset Trojans.
Simmons finished with 23 league goals and Thompson 22 in his first season at X-Roads.
The striker remains their biggest scoring threat in the final, along with Paul Simons who is expected back again from college in Tennessee to play in the final, though coach Farid El Karfa says he “can’t confirm that at this point”.
Simons scored one of the goals in the exciting semi-final win over Town and up front alongside Thompson, X-Roads will be a threat as was shown against Town. X-Roads also rested players for their recent meeting with Robin Hood, with Tymon Daniels an unused sub because of injury, but expected to reclaim his starting spot in midfield.
“This is the FA Cup final and any team that makes it this far should be willing to put in a fight to compete for that cup,” said El Karfa whose team lost to Hood twice in the league. “That’s history, in the past, we’re looking to the future,” he stressed.
“We are aware we are playing a good opponent but the occasion is big so I expect both teams to put in a good fight and produce a good game. We have a team to compete and you would expect any team to go there and put in 110 per cent.
“It’s the FA Cup final, a good footballing occasion and so we’re going to go there and enjoy it.”
As happened last season, X-Roads were not as consistent in the second half of the season, though they did improve on last season’s eighth-place finish. “Definitely, I have no regrets this season, I think the squad did the best they could and we achieved relatively positive results,” El Karfa said.
“We’re getting better and better every season, I’m proud of my team.”
Robin Hood have been consistent over the last few seasons, achieving top-two finishes in the league in the last four seasons, winning a first league title in 2016-17.