The Panthers had already made club history by making it to the semi-final of the GFSN cup. It was the first time we had ever made it so far in the competition, and we were hugely honoured to have the support of the Mayor of Bristol as we lined up to take on Village Manchester FC.
VMFC carry with them an impressive reputation, and they brought a strong game from the start. The Panthers initial back 4 of Pete, JD, Ross and Tom fought hard to keep the visitors' attacks pinned in, with Billy covering huge amounts of ground in the defensive midfield position. Goalkeeper Fozzy was tested early, and after going to ground to collect the ball, sustained an blow to the head (the first of two in the game). The Panthers got some opportunities going forward, with wingers Tom and Mike linking up well with Charlie and Dean and Sammy up top.
Sadly, it was VMFC who would break the deadlock first after winning a corner against the Panthers. Fozzy punched the cross out, but unfortunately it fell to one of the visitors, who was able to chip the ball into the top of the net to put Mancherster 1-0 up. Despite conceding, the Panthers dug in and kept battling. Unfortunately, Manchester were able to break through on the right, and threaded the needle to send the ball between Fozzy and the post, putting Manchester 2-0 up.
The Panthers had to come from behind once in the cup competition, and now had to do so again, and kept driving forward. Their efforts would be rewarded after Josh came on, and managed to get past the Manchester defensive line, wrong-foot the goalkeeper, and slot the ball home to put the Panthers back in the match. The Panthers hoped to hold on for half-time, but Manchester were able to reconsolidate their lead, after a clearance from JD fell at the feet of a Manchester player, who was able to capitalise on the opportunity and go 3-1 up into half time.
The Panthers had plenty of ground to make up in the second half and, unfortunately, VMFC didn't let up the pressure. The Panthers switched to a 3-5-2 formation to give their attack some more firepower, and bringing on Carl in the back three. Manchester, however, used their pace to drive forwards and were able to get through on goal and go 4-1 up shortly after the restart. That galvanised the Panthers to fire back, however, and after getting the ball to Chris up top, he was able to push the ball past the keeper to keep the Panthers in it at 4-2.
While the Panthers had a glimmer of hope, Manchester remained imperious in their attack, constantly troubling the defenders and Fozzy, who put in an heroic stint between the posts. VMFC's persistence was eventually rewarded as they were able to cleverly play the ball through past the defence and go 5-2 up. Their lead would be sealed 15 minutes before the end, when they again got through on goal and made it 6-2. Woes for the Panthers didn't stop there, as goalkeeper Fozzy sustained an ankle injury and had to be helped off the pitch.
The result was a disappointment for the Panthers, but heads were held high as we celebrated getting so far through this year's competition. And with the knowledge that everyone on the team had given their best efforts against an incredibly talented side, the Panthers weren't downcast for too long. As well as having a record run in the GFSN cup, the Panthers had maintained a 16-month unbeaten streak in competitive 11-a-side matches.
Even in defeat, then, there is still plenty for the Panthers to be proud of. The Panthers attention now turns to the remainder of the GFSN league championship, as they prepare to take on old rivals East End Phoenix FC in the first round of the championship playoffs.