With the shortened season this year the usual regional qualifying tournaments for the U11 competitions have been replaced with a straight knockout style cup with teams facing each other in 9 a side matches.
We headed north earlier in May to cover our first fixture in this format as Wirral hosted Manchester in a north-west derby in a rain soaked affair.
Despite an overnight downpour and heavy rain forecast for most of the day, the pitch at Liscard Primary School was in almost perfect condition and provided a fantastic venue for the two sides in this round two clash – let alone providing some fantastic backdrops for the photographer!
The game was an end to end contest with chances for both sides, although neither team were able to take them going into the break at 0-0.
The second half saw the visitors take an early lead that seemed to be the only goal of the game, but the Wirral lads dug deep and bagged an equaliser much to the delight of their supporters behind the goal.
Manchester managed to nudge themselves back in front shortly after with a goal despite plenty of pressure from the home side. Some more composed finishing from the Wirral lads might have seen them take the game to extra time but the game ended with a 2-1 victory for the visitors.
All in all an excellent advert for schools football and credit to the home association for their hard work in providing such a fantastic venue for the lads to play their game – a real credit to the competition.
Last week we ventured south to Gloucester as they hosted Wolverhampton in a round 3 fixture, the winners taking their place in the quarter finals.
Prior to the kick-off both teams and supporters stood for a minutes silence in memory of former Wolverhampton SFA coach Tony McGinn who passed away recently after a long illness, with the Wolves players also wearing black arm bands in his honour.
Wolverhampton started quickly and deserved their early lead with a back post header. Midway through the half the hosts were not only level but in front, as two goals in as many minutes from long range had them 2-1 ahead.
Unfortunately for them they could not hold onto the lead until the break. Wolves were excellent in keeping possession on the night and another long range goal saw the scores level at 2-2, with one half of football to play. With a gusting wind and rain showers falling, it was Wolverhampton who took the advantage as they took plenty of shots from distance and scored two quick goals to take a 4-2 lead.
To their credit the Gloucester players never let their heads drop and had chances to pull themselves back into the tie. However, they were left open to a quick break at the other end and one such break saw a low shot into the corner of the net complete the scoring on the night.
Wolverhampton will now face Manchester in the quarter finals after they beat Kirkby in their round 3 tie and that last 8 match up should be a great spectacle with plenty of talented players on display. Another honourable mention to everyone at Gloucester PSFA who provide a fantastic venue at Longlevens for their teams, with a pitch surrounded by advertising boards, a small seated stand and a generous standing area in front of the café and changing room area making it feel like a football ground in its own right.
The new format certainly has the Danone Nations Cup alive and well despite the same old British weather!
A big thank you to Garry Griffiths (353 Photography) for covering these early rounds of the Danone Nations Cup competition and providing this match report.