Over 300 eager spectators packed out the balcony at the David Ross Sports Village to witness the BUCS National Trophy 1st round clash between the University of Birmingham and defending champions the University of Nottingham.
The Headliner fixture, which also doubled up as a Movember fundraiser, was the second time the two teams had met this year, after UoN secured the spoils with a 3-1 win back in October.
Playing in all-green it was the hosts who started the brightest, moving the ball around with a confidence that we have come to expect from the side currently sat unbeaten at the top of the Midlands 1A division. The crowd didn’t have to wait long for some early goalmouth action. There were just 3 minutes on the clock when the first chance fell into Nottingham hands as a clumsy foul led to a free kick on the left-hand touchline which was spread wide to Joe Wilson, regarded by many, including the commentators, as having the ‘best cross in BUCS’ as he was presented with the first opportunity to test the Birmingham defence. Wilson’s delivery was whipped in at pace and met by the right-foot of Tom McElroy, who fired his shot straight at the Birmingham keeper, stinging his palms early on to bring the game to life.
Sadly for Birmingham, adversity struck just 10 minutes into the game as they were forced into an early substitution. A seemingly innocuous collision between the goalkeeper and Nottingham’s Eddie Lee saw the Birmingham man sustain a nasty injury to the hand. Without a straight replacement, eyes turned to one of the outfield substitutes to step up into the spotlight and cover for the remaining 80 minutes of the game.
It looked as though the #GreenandGold had taken an early lead when on the 20 minute mark a Wilson corner was headed clear, only to be fired back in by McElroy. His deflected effort found Tom Unwin at the back post whose clever flick nestled into the far corner past the stranded keeper, only to be agonisingly flagged for offside.
Nottingham continued to pen Birmingham back in their own half with the visitors struggling to get a foothold in the game. Wilson was continually causing problems down the right hand side, combining with Ben Thompson to create numerous opportunities for the home side.
With pressure building it felt like only a matter of time before a Nottingham breakthrough would alight the growing crowd and so it proved as another Joe Wilson free kick delivery was floated in, this time from the left-hand side, meeting the powerful head of Ben Harding who directed the ball past the oncoming keeper to send the crowd into raptures and take the green and gold into a 1-0 lead.
Just minutes later Birmingham were caught napping at the back as Wilson pounced on a misplaced pass to feed Toby Gould whose strike was blocked spectacularly by the Birmingham centre-half. Unfortunately for Gould, that was to be his final play of the game as a knee injury, which had impacted him earlier in the season, resurfaced to force Nottingham’s first change of the match, as FA Vase finalist Joel Valentin made his introduction.
All the signs were pointing towards further Nottingham dominance, however Birmingham battled hard after the goal and started to come into the game, enjoyed extended periods of possession. The away side showed they would not be pushed over as they began to grow in confidence, with consecutive corners and a number of deliveries pumped into the box. Despite the growing Birmingham threat disciplined and structured Nottingham defending managed to keep any real clear cut chances at bay.
That was until on 42 minutes Nottingham keeper Reuben Rabstein was called into action after a relatively quiet opening period and what a save it was, reminiscent of David Seaman’s iconic save against Sheffield United in 2003, as a towering header from Birmingham’s number 9 was clawed off the line to the roar of the home crowd. However, Birmingham weren’t finished there as Rabstein was tested again just moments later when a low shot was fired across goal only to be met by the hand of Rabstein to keep the #GreenandGold clean sheet intact.
As the half drew to a close Nottingham were treading on thin ice as the momentum began to turn, with the team defending deeper and deeper, keen reserve their 1-0 advantage going into the break. Due to earlier injuries there was still plenty of additional time for Birmingham to play with as they continued to put pressure on the home side right up until the half-time whistle blew.
In the half-time dressing rooms it will have been Tom Hayes’ men that were the happier of the two sides, but not by much, with the hosts ruing some big chances and Birmingham growing in confidence it promised to be an exciting second 45 minutes under the floodlights at the DRSV 3G.
Birmingham came out in the 2nd half as they had finished the 1st, controlling the possession and holding Nottingham on the back foot. A series of attacks followed with Nottingham bodies thrown in front of the ball to block long range efforts on more than one occasion.
As the pressure mounted, you could feel the importance of a 2nd Nottingham goal to help ease the tension, and after an initially quieter second half, it was Thompson and Wilson once again combining on the right-hand side to break the Birmingham press. Wilson’s delayed 63rd minute cross finding the run of the incoming Eddie Lee who slid home to add another to his growing goal tally this season with Wilson picking up his 2nd assist of the game.
As the game wore on there were a few tired Nottingham yellow cards for Valentin and Jauch, but the defence remained composed. Then, just as in the first half, Rabstein was called to the rescue again, leaping high to his right-hand side to pluck one out from its top corner destination and sink Birmingham hearts yet again. Just one minute later Rabstein was once again the hero, scrambling to his right to tip a low strike around the far post and away to safety.
As the final minutes ticked past, there were further substitute appearances for #GreenandGold players Alex Nanni and Finn O’Reilly as the fresh legs injected some much-needed energy into the Nottingham play. It ended 2-0 to Nottingham as standout performances from Wilson and Rabstein capped a professional and well managed team display and despite another late Birmingham flurry the home side held on to secure the green & gold a valuable spot in the last 16 of the National Trophy, where an away trip north of the border to Edinburgh awaits.
After the match, goalscorer Ben Harding said of his goal; "I knew it was going to be a good ball in from Joe Wilson so I threw myself at it, and when the balls that good, you can't miss."
In case you missed the match, you can watch the full match broadcast on our UoN Sport YouTube channel.
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Posted on Thursday 25th November 2021