by Ethan Harris
WHILST perhaps not the finish they were hoping for, USW’s Men’s 1st can be proud of what they achieved this season. A third-place league finish and a semi-final place in the Championship Cup, Steve Savage’s men will be looking to build upon a strong foundation for next year’s campaign.
Only three losses for the season and three points off the top of the league, it was a year of highs and lows with mixed emotions all round.
Despite success on the opening of the BUCS league campaign with a promising 4-1 victory over the University of Bath, early back-to-back losses derailed hopes of a serious silverware hunt, especially given the opening form of local rivals Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Regardless, the side were determined to show they had not given up in their pursuit of a strong league finish, picking up four points from their next two matches with strong performances against tough opposition.
Perhaps the most notable came against eventual second place finishers Hartpury University, in a thrilling 3-3 draw that saw winger Ellis Bellamy produce a piece of magic from distance that very few could replicate.
Captain Joe Evans proved to be a pivotal figure throughout the campaign, and on reflection, felt proud of what his team had achieved throughout the season but was also mindful of just how far the team could go in the coming years.
“It’s been an up and down season for us, we knew going forward we could score goals, but defensively as a team we’ve conceded too many, which has cost us at times throughout the season,” said Evans.
“Looking back, it hasn’t been a bad year finishing three points off the top of the league and reaching the semi-final in the cup
“We have a great group of lads here and for a young side with a lot of freshers playing, it is a good base for us to build and kick on for next season.”
USW gave an electrifying end to the league campaign with the team running away 5-1 victors over Swansea University to seal their third-place finish, and Steve Savage’s men quickly switched their focus onto the Championship Cup.
Several hardened footballing sides stood between USW and the silverware, nevertheless the group stuck together, seemingly unfazed by the challenge that lay before them.
Their first opponents came in the form of Premier North team Stirling University. The game proved to be a tense affair, with a last gasp header sealing a 3-2 victory and a place in the next round of the competition.
The side had little chance to revel in their victory however, with minds quickly focusing onto a stern test in Durham University.
In a gruelling 0-0 that eventually made its way to penalties, it was the heroics of stopper Ashley Morris that saw USW through.
After initially saving a penalty, the ‘superhuman’ keeper went on to save another three in the shoot-out, whilst scoring one himself to book a place for his side in the semi-final.
Goalkeeping coach Miguel Mónica spoke of keeping to a high standard after giving his thoughts on the season:“In general, I think it was a season in which we kept up to the standard this club has set for us as USW football throughout the years.
“Third in the league and a semi-final in the national cup, it’s the least we are expected to achieve every year as we are always aiming for nothing less than the win.
“I also think it was a transition period with a lot of new faces and a few changes that happened throughout the season, which I am sure will make us stronger coming in to the next year. Hopefully we will be able to lift that desired trophy once again.”
The semi-final proved to be the toughest challenge yet for USW, with local rivals and table toppers Cardiff Metropolitan University waiting for Steve Savage’s side.
Despite a valiant effort from the squad with several players absent and a strong Welsh Premier League contingent put out by the Archers, USW fell short of a cup final place leaving the competition on the back of a 2-0 defeat.
The loss marked the end of a strong league and cup campaign, with manager Steve Savage feeling proud of his squad after battling a number of issues throughout the year.
“Overall, given the number of senior players graduating and the new group of younger freshers within the first team squad, the team have performed well,” said Savage.
“Especially given some of the challenges we faced during the latter part of the league season and cup run with seven players missing for a variety of reasons, our lads competed in most games.
“With third place in the league and a cup semi-final beating Stirling and Durham, it shows our group has great ability and huge character.”