Loughborough 1sts continued their stuttering start to their defence of the BUCS Premier North title with a second defeat in three games, a 4-1 home defeat to Stirling. Loughborough may have won three Premier North titles in the past four seasons, but a repeat looks unlikely on this evidence. Home form was the cornerstone of the title-winning 2014-2015 campaign, with five victories from five matches, but this result, coming off the back of the shock opening day 2-1 reverse to Northumbria, will have serious implications for Loughborough’s title hopes.
Loughborough had started well enough; with a goal from Jack Poxon after just 35 seconds giving the home team a spectacular start and the lead. Unfortunately that was as good as it got for the home team, as they struggled to settle into any sort of rhythm in a somewhat scrappy opening period. Gradually the men in white were pushed back as Stirling started to boss proceedings, building pressure with a succession of corners, and creating opportunities through Fitzpatrick, with Bonar flashing two shots just past the post in quick succession. Loughborough did retain the capacity to create opportunities themselves though, with Poxon nearly adding a second when he struck the post with a fizzing shot on the half hour mark. Other bright spots for Loughborough in the first half included the composed presence in midfield of Sam Downy, the captain, and the good work of the centre back pairing Dickens and Rankin in shackling Stirling’s imposing lone striker, Dual-Kessie, who was a constant thorn in Loughborough’s side. With his muscular presence, excellent hold-up play and rampaging runs towards goal, Dual-Kessie was like a hybrid of Diego Costa and Emile Heskey.
The match was played at a good tempo during the latter stages of the first half, with the sides being evenly matched, as you might expect from last season’s top two. Efforts at goal from Pahlevan, Dual-Kessie and a long range strike from Komitski did not unduly trouble Loughborough goalkeeper Ben Lancaster. Stirling also had a header cleared off the line from a corner after 35 minutes, with the tricky Revesayi nearly doubling Loughborough’s lead from a lightning quick counter in the same passage of play, just screwing his effort over the top. James Winchester, the lone man up top for Loughborough, was slightly isolated but did a good job in pressing the Stirling defence throughout the half, and had a goal chalked off for offside after 40 minutes. Having said all that, Stirling’s equaliser, arriving on 40 minutes, was certainly deserved. It arrived in slightly controversial circumstances as the referee overruled his linesman to give Stirling a corner when it seemed to everyone watching that the last touch had come off a Scottish boot. The corner, like many from Stirling throughout the game, was a clever one, taken short and catching the hosts off guard. After a scramble in the area, and more good work by Dual-Kessie, putting himself about in the box, the ball eventually bounced off the unfortunate Rankin and in for an own goal. Stirling nearly made it a double whammy after the restart, with Loughborough’s left back, Alex Midgley Newton, sending an inexplicable pass into the path of Dual-Kessie, with the defender’s blushes spared by a narrow miss. Midgley Newton had endured a torrid time at the hands of Pahlevan and Bonar in the first half, looking slightly unsure of himself in the face of Stirling’s relentless attacks down the right, and was taken off at the break for Max Herbert.
Loughborough’s second half started as badly as it had brilliantly in the first period, with an early goal for Stirling giving the visitors the lead. Nice interplay between Stirling captain Faulos, Pahlevan, and Bonar led to a free kick on the edge of the area. Burns drew a good save from Lancaster, but no one in a white shirt reacted to the rebound, and Bonar was there to slam the ball home, giving Stirling a deserved 2-1 advantage. After this, Loughborough markedly improved defensively, looking more solid for the half-time introduction of Herbert into midfield, with Revesayi pushed back into defence. The game grew more ill-tempered as the half progressed, with Dickens, Rankin and Downy all clashing with Dual-Kessie at various points. The referee also was a target of Loughborough’s frustration, with both Downy and Burns being booked for wild challenges. There weren’t many chances for much of the half, with Loughborough having far more of the game than in the opening 45. Both Poxon and Webb looked lively; each drawing good saves from the visiting goalkeeper, with Loughborough looking dangerous going forward. A lovely jinking run from Webb only added to the sense of Loughborough building up a head of steam for a final push to get something from the game.
Then they were hit with not one, but two sucker punches. From their own corner, with 7 minutes remaining, the ball was cleared up field to Dual-Kessie, who played a slick one-two with Fitzpatrick before Revesayi got back to make a tackle. However, this only succeeded in diverting the ball to Gillen, who gratefully smashed it in from just inside the area to secure the points for the delighted visitors. Just two minutes later, Stirling scored an almost identical goal with another counter attack from a Loughborough corner. Once again the ball was cleared to Dual-Kessie, who outmuscled substitute Mutamba on the halfway line, keeping the ball in play despite Mutamba’s angry protests. The striker showed the more graceful side of his game, striding through the remnants of the home defence to finish calmly past the helpless Lancaster, and give the game a more lopsided score line than Loughborough probably deserved on the balance of play.
Stirling saw out the remainder of the game in a professional manner, and could savour their 4-1 victory after an accomplished performance which gives them four points from their opening two fixtures. As for Loughborough, they were left to pick the bones out of a display that was much improved in the second half, but still resulted in a heavy defeat. A real worry for the Loughborough coaching team will be their seeming vulnerability on the counter attack from their own corners, which will need to be sorted urgently before their next fixture against Sheffield Hallam at home on the 28th.
Loughborough 1sts: 1. Lancaster, 2. Langford, 3. Bridge, 4. Dickens, 5. Rankin, 6. Musslewhite, 7. Revesayi, 8. Downy (C), 9. Winchester, 10. Poxon, 11. Webb, 12. Herbert, 13. Okeefe, 14. Mutamba, 15. Gordon, 16. Midgley Newton
Stirling 1sts: 1. Marshall, 2. Burns, 3. Komitski, 4. Fitzpatrick, 5. Leigh, 6. Faulos (C), 7. Pahlevan, 8. Gillen, 9. Bonar, 10. Mccafferty, 11. Dual-Kessie, 12. Mooney, 15. Allison, 21. Mclean
Loughborough 1sts: Poxon
Stirling 1sts: Rankin (OG), Bonar, Gillen, Dual-Kessie
Photography by Lens