It’s been a great start to 2019 for UEA Futsal, with league and cup success at the Sportspark.
The men’s seconds are through to the semi-finals of the Midlands Conference Cup after a thrilling 4-3 extra-time win over Anglia Ruskin, while a perfect 2019 record of three home wins from three has seen the firsts climb to second position in the Midlands 1A league.
A popular indoor, five-a-side form of the game, Futsal has been played since the 1930s. It is an entertaining, fast-paced game of end-to-end action with rolling substitutions and kick-ons instead of throw-ins.
Played with a size 4 ball, the goalkeeper can easily throw it to the edge of their opponents’ area to start an attack, and the small court means players need to be technical, with good short sprint speed, and be equally comfortable attacking and defending with forwards tracking back and defenders able to make attacking runs and take shots from open play.
Halves are 20 minutes in length, but the clock is stopped when the ball goes out of play. Each side can call one time-out per half, with the total length of matches not that much shorter than 90 minutes.
To begin the semester, UEA firsts took on Bedfordshire in the Haydn Morris Hall. After conceding several matches, the visitors were a much tougher prospect than their lowly league position suggested, but UEA came away with the three points thanks to a 4-2 win.
UEA went ahead from a nicely worked goal and had several close chances, but were pegged back to 1-1 by half-time. UEA were soon ahead after the break and although there were a few nervy moments goalkeeper Tom Wright made several superb saves and the defence, led by Ed Spurling, put bodies on the line to hold on to the lead. Soon it was 3-1. The visitors tapped in a reply and could have equalised, but UEA grabbed another to secure a useful win, which could have been even more comfortable but UEA couldn’t convert a penalty with the last kick of the game.
The following Sunday UEA played another home fixture against Leicester, winning 5-1.
In the fairly even opening exchanges, Spurling, a rock at the back for UEA, made his mark with an excellent sliding tackle. Wright had to be alert to palm away an effort destined for the top corner before he was called into action to make an incredible triple save, first with his feet, then with his midriff, then with his feet again to keep Leicester out. The visitors had several more opportunities, but the lively Nathan Edden put UEA ahead. Leicester soon restored parity but UEA were 2-1 up by half time. Leicester began playing with a sweeper keeper when UEA made it 3-1, and a carbon copy fourth followed before UEA took advantage to net an opportunistic fifth and final goal.
Sam Ballard and Ethan Scott were superb in a pair of great team performances.
Last week saw a rare Wednesday afternoon game for UEA 1s, their third consecutive match at the Sportspark. And UEA made it three from three as they beat Oxford Brookes 8-5.
Captain Wright said: ‘We were a bit disappointed with some of the results in the first semester, but we’ve got better throughout the season and I’m really happy with the recent games. This team has a lot of character and desire, like when we had a man sent off in the second-half against Leicester.
‘The togetherness in the club is massive, and it really comes on to the pitch sometimes when we’re playing games. The boys have been class, there have been some real team performances.’
Wright was modest about his triple-save against Leicester. ‘I got a bit lucky with where the ball landed and just dived at it. But that’s my job sometimes, throwing myself in front of things. The boys’ shape was brilliant, defensively we’re so solid. We’ll put bodies on the line, that’s the desire and camaraderie we have, everyone doing their jobs and we’ve got some good wins.
‘We spoke after Christmas and said we wanted to go unbeaten in the second half of the season, and I believe we can do that. We’ve got a cup game coming up soon and hope to emulate what the 2s have done and get as far as we can in the cup. We’ve got a few more home games, we love playing here.’
After the firsts played Leicester, it was the seconds’ turn to host something of a local derby against Anglia Ruskin seconds in the Conference Cup quarter-final. The stakes were high for UEA after previously seeing off Northampton 11-2 away in the round of 16 and dispatching Derby 12-4 at the Sportspark in the last 32.
UEA were 3-2 up at half-time thanks to a brace from Myles Phillips and a finish from Theo Martin after his initial free-kick was blocked. Joseph Okusaga and goalkeeper Brad Chilvers were both excellent at the back for UEA to deny several dangerous first-half Anglia Ruskin chances.
Josh Billingham was a constant menace for UEA with a series of smart runs and stinging shots, Harry Emler was lively at both ends of the pitch, hitting the post and getting stuck in defensively, with Mitch Kwo also a major threat for UEA going forward. However, Anglia Ruskin equalised with a piledriver past Chilvers, who then had to make a smart save as the visitors seemed revitalised by their goal.
As the second-half clock ticked down, both sides had chances as they pushed for a winner. Martin could have sealed it for UEA, but the sides went into five minutes each way of added time.
And after a nail-biting extra time period which saw Chilvers make several crucial saves for UEA and Billingham see several rasping shots miss by the tiniest of margins, with just 40 seconds left on the clock UEA were awarded a penalty. Martin stepped up to calmly slot it past the diving Anglia Ruskin goalkeeper (pictured) and spark wild celebrations among UEA’s players and fans.
Captain Matt Ladd called the win ‘incredible’.
He continued: ‘That game had absolutely everything. Both teams had a lot of good chances, [Anglia Ruskin] came out and played well, but when we got on top we created a lot of chances and deserved to go through. It could have gone either way, I’m really pleased.’
In the league, UEA seconds are still to host unbeaten leaders Nottingham seconds, which could be a very interesting last game of the season.
Ladd said: ‘We’ve played seven [in all competitions], won six and lost one, we’re second in our league at the moment behind Nottingham and we’re through to the cup semi-finals which is really impressive. The consistency, effort and character shown from every single one of the boys was brilliant.’
Meanwhile, the women’s side took part in the futsal FA Cup for the first time. They picked up a win and a draw in the regional round, at Leyton Orient’s Score Centre.
Captain Kathryn Stanley reflected: ‘It was good experience for us all, the FA Cup’s a big thing. It gave some of the ladies more minutes on the pitch, and leads on well to our next BUCS tournament and our first cup game which we’re looking forward to.’
This season, women’s BUCS Futsal is taking place as a series of tournaments rather than home and away fixtures. UEA enjoyed a successful first tournament in Leicester at the start of December, bringing home ten points from fifteen with three wins and a draw, leaving them with a good chance of promotion. They beat Trent 2s, Nottingham 2s and De Montfort, picking up a point from a goalless draw against Trent’s first team and narrowly losing 1-0 to Warwick.
Their next BUCS tournament is at the University of Nottingham on 23 February.
UEA Futsal have every reason to be optimistic for the rest of the season. Both men’s teams are looking good in second in their leagues (Midlands 1A and 2A respectively) with the seconds having several games in hand on the rest of the division and hopes to go all the way in the Conference Cup. And of course, after UEA’s successful campaign so far, the team are confident of another Derby Day win after last year’s 8-2 victory in Colchester.
Home games, usually on Sunday afternoons, see a healthy crowd on the Sportspark balcony and the club are hoping for even more UEA support as they head into their season-defining fixtures.
Club President Spurling added: ‘We’ve got a lot of home games this semester, it’s nice to have a good crowd. We’ve had good support all year, we’ve been posting on social media and it’s all about getting people along – people have been enjoying the games, especially this semester we’ve had some crackers.’
The Women’s Team have a big game coming up this Saturday (16) as they host the University of Suffolk in the first round of the BUCS Trophy, with kick-off at 16:40 in the Sportspark’s Haydn Morris Hall. The next day, the men’s 1s host Surrey in the first round of their trophy at 15:20.