BLUES PAY THE PENALTY
Blues lose penalty shoot out to exit Velocity Cup writes The Mariner
An improved performance saw Blues dominate this cup tie over the ninety minutes, but the lack of a cutting edge and some dogged defending from Witham saw them fail to breach the home defence. The woodwork and home keeper Luca Collins denied Blues in a first half which was virtually one-way traffic. Clarke Bogard in the Blues' goal was an unconcerned spectator in the opening period. The second half was almost a repeat of the first, but despite all the pressure Blues failed to carve out a clear-cut opening and were nearly punished in the dying embers of the game, when Witham came so close to clinching the tie in normal time.
Blues forced a number of corners in the opening period and it was a Jack Curtis kick which brought a fine save from Collins as he managed to keep out Michael Finneran's effort from close range. Curtis - making his first start to a game this season - was busy in midfield. In one raid he created space for himself on the edge of the home box, but fired over.
The hosts were being reduced to spasmodic breaks easily dealt with by Finneran and his defensive partners. It was Finneran who brought another great save from Collins when he clawed away a goal-bound header. Shortly afterwards, Blues had three opportunities to open the scoring. Shomari Barnwell found space wide inside the home box, drilling a shot past Collins finding the inside of the post and saw the ball roll agonisingly along the line and out. Aron Gordon scuffed his shot when well placed and then Curtis was denied by a point-blank Collins block.
Blues continued to press and looked a far more incisive team than in previous weeks. Barry Cogan became increasingly influential in the middle of the park using all his experience to maintain Blues' high tempo. Despite all the pressure and good approach work, it was the quality and delivery of the final ball and a reluctance to get a shot on target when the opportunity presented itself, that ensured the home goal remained intact.
Bogard was finally called into action after being an onlooker for much of the half, when he saved a Nathan Cook effort from distance as the clock ticked down to the break - which had seen Blues camped in the Witham half for long periods.
A blistering start to the half saw Blues lay siege to the home goal. One sublime move saw them cut through the opposition with nimble one-twos, culminating with Curtis forcing Collins into a fingertip save to keep the score goalless. Compared to previous games the verve and commitment were there for all to see. They approached the game like demolition men, intent on putting past performances behind them. Witham were hanging on at this stage. Blues' pressure should have yielded more and only some desperate and sometimes robust defending coupled with an absence of intent to shoot on sight kept the home goal intact.
Michael Mignot was introduced - replacing Usman Adeniji - and he quickly made an impact. Picking up the ball just inside the Witham half he powered forward to the edge of the box but failed to hit the target when his fiercely struck effort sailed over. Cogan then floated an inch-perfect cross onto the head of Barnwell who had stolen in behind the Witham back four, his glancing header dropping agonisingly over.
Witham did well to weather the Blues' onslaught and gradually worked their way belatedly into the game. Cook engineered space and sent in a powerful drive which Bogard collected well. Against the run of play, the hosts could and should have gone in front when a quick break caught Blues' backline square. Bogard rushed from his line and was left out of position and with an unguarded goal Sam Ashford somehow missed the target, his shot drifting wide of the upright.
Witham - clearly buoyed - sensed they could record an unlikely win and clearly unsettled Blues and for a time a collective panic appeared to set in, with miscued passes and clearances. George Powell came close from a corner when he nodded just over and Ashford had another golden opportunity, with only Bogard to beat he again missed the target.
Blues rallied in the closing stages and again exerted pressure on the home goal, but again failed to trouble Collins leaving the tie with both goals intact.
With no extra time the game was finally decided on penalties. Witham no doubt were relieved to have got to this stage and duly converted their kicks to win a tie in which they were outplayed for long periods.
Bogard, Mahal, Okonkwo, Finneran, Thompson, Cogan, Muguo, Curtis ( Cole 79), Gordon, Adeniji ( Mignot 61), Barnwell,
Subs not used: Anderson, Dunn