Boulevard need Coke to kick-start season
He may not have been at his sharpest, or fittest, but Boulevard were happy to have striker Ian Coke back on Sunday against Devonshire Cougars after an injury layoff.
Coke, whose 22 goals last season led the Blazers to the First Division title, had been out for six weeks with an ankle injury picked up against PHC on October 18. And though he wasn't at his best, Boulevard know their survival hopes will depend on his goals.
In the second game of the season against Hamilton Parish, Coke netted a hat-trick against his former team in Boulevard's 4-3 win.
“He's very important to our goal, which is to stay in the Premier Division and hopefully win a cup or two,” Mikre Pace, the Boulevard assistant coach, said. “His injury hasn't healed, but we need him at the moment so we rushed him back a little. He's been out since the PHC match from a double-footed tackle.”
Coke and Tiae-Vince Douglas led the Boulevard scoring last season as the team returned to the Premier Division as the champions, along with Devonshire Colts.
However, Colts have adjusted faster to life back in the top flight, climbing up to second in the table, while Boulevard have remained just above the bottom two, Cougars and Hamilton Parish, after just that one win. It could come down to a three-way battle for survival.
“He is our leading goalscorer and also in assists so it is not just the goals, he is a valuable part of the team that we have been missing for the last three or four games,” Pace said. “That's why we haven't really been able to score.
“He gives us plenty of hope, and I don't think there is a defender on the Island who is happy, or comfortable, when he plays. He's still only 75 per cent, but his work rate and awareness was sharp. We just have to work on getting some goals from him now.”
Last season Coke and Douglas scored 39 goals between them in Boulevard's promotion run, both scoring hat-tricks as they wrapped up the title with a 9-1 thrashing of Somerset Eagles in their final game.
Coke and Douglas have both scored three goals so far this campaign, and if they are together for an extended run it would give the Boulevard fans some hope for the second half of the season.
Boulevard play Somerset Trojans, the league champions, in the Friendship quarter-finals on Sunday, before taking on Southampton Rangers next weekend in their final league match before the Christmas break.
“I feel confident with my whole starting eleven, we've had a lot of rash challenges that have put a couple of players out,” Pace said.
“A little bit of luck needs to come our way, and if we get some luck on our side then things will change.”
Boulevard had a change of coaching staff with Keemo Smith, the player-coach, taking over from Aaron Williams who stepped down after their final game last season. Troy Smith has stayed on to lend his experience as manager.
“I feel confident we can stay up because we have an abundance of talent,” Pace said. “I feel proud to be able to help coach my former team, a team I grew up playing for.”
Shane Powell, the Boulevard president, is also confident that Coke's return will result in a change of fortunes for the team.
“No, Ian Coke has not lost his fizz, he's been out injured,” Powell said. “He's actually been out with two injuries, he also had an operation for a hernia and is just coming back. [Sunday] was his first time going through 90 minutes.
“Yesterday he was the first man in training and was the last man to leave. He's well up to the challenge.
“We're looking to steady our ship and survive this ride. We're not playing badly, just small things that we have to learn having just come back into the Premier Division.
“It is all about survival and anything else we can pick up is a bonus.
“It's a young group and for some of them their first time in the Premier Division, but they are all proving themselves.”