GORDON’S School, Woking, came from behind to reach the semi-finals of the ESFA U18 Trophy for the second time in two years with an enthralling 3-2 victory over The Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester.
A brace from skipper Will McKechnie and a silken header from Elliott Sleep were enough to see off dangerous opponents who themselves looked to have a measure of control at half time.
McKechnie, who has scored in five successive rounds of the competition, lived up to his ‘fox in the box’ tag to inspire a victory that at one stage had looked beyond the home team.
The match was always set up to be an intriguing battle – miserly Thomas Hardye having conceded just a solitary goal in six previous rounds – and that a penalty against the Commonwealth School, Swindon.
Gordon’s, in contrast, had managed 27 goals in their six games – with an impressive 13 of their squad getting on the scoresheet.
The home side began brightly on a peerless afternoon and enjoyed the better of the early exchanges, but Thomas Hardye – with Ben Marres and Elliot Rossiter always lurking dangerously, looked the likelier to score.
Marres flashed a shot past the post and Neal Foley shovelled wide with the goal at his mercy as the game moved into its stride.
With Jack Burrell making a nuisance of himself down the right, Gordon’s created opportunities of their own but lacked a cutting edge.
In the 28th minute, Thomas Hardye were ahead, Mike Phillips latching onto a loose ball on the edge of the box and skilfully curling his shot in the bottom right corner with the outside of his right foot.
The Gordon’s response was immediate as McKechnie and Joel Evans went close, and on the stroke of half time Reef Peries had a free kick palmed round the post.
Gordon’s found themselves back in the game 10 minutes into the second half when a misaligned defence was unable to deal with the trickery of Sleep and Burrell and the precision of McKechnie who, unmarked at the back post, nodded firmly in to cue raucous celebrations.
With little to choose between the sides and Thomas Hardye still a threat, the turning point came in the 66th minute when the Dorchester school’s ‘keeper Toby Whiting was adjudged to have handled outside the box and Gordon’s were awarded a controversial free kick. The Thomas Hardye defence was still at sixes and sevens when the redoubtable Peries curled in an inviting ball and Sleep ghosted in to give Gordon’s the lead.
Gordon’s fighting spirit was further rewarded in the 86th minute with the decisive goal. McKechnie won a free kick on the edge of the area, Peries drove in a cross and Whiting dropped the ball at the feet of the Gordon’s striker who gleefully tapped in his second.
There was still time for a courageous Thomas Hardye’s to cause a tremor – a 92nd minute free kick whistling into the top corner from the outstanding Marres, but Gordon’s held on to register their hard-fought victory.
Afterwards, former Welsh international and Gordon’s head coach, Gareth Hall, said he had not expected his team to go so deep into the tournament.
“On paper, last year’s side was probably a touch stronger. But this is a remarkable team – there are no individuals. They all work so hard for each other and deserve all the success that comes their way.”
Gordon’s have a home draw in the semi-finals and will be looking to lay the ghost of last season, when they lost in this round, after extra-time, to Millfield on penalties.