The Cu-Plas Railway Cup semi-finals take centre stage in Manx football this weekend.
The draw gods have conspired to produce two intriguing ties to headline Saturday afternoon’s action.
Holders St George’s welcome this season’s surprise packages Ramsey to Glencrutchery Road, while less than half a mile away at Blackberry Lane, Douglas High School Old Boys face unbeaten Peel.
Kevin Holmes’s northerners were the last to seal their position in the competition for the first time since 1982, beating Gymns 4-2 at the weekend to take their place in that evening’s draw.
A trip to the side that currently heads the Canada Life Premier League and has won this trophy for the last four seasons, would appear a daunting one for a Ballacloan outfit who lost the pair’s sole league meeting this season 3-1.
Holmes’s men have been a revelation this term and have already surpassed the 23 points they amassed during the entirety of the last campaign.
The team are a hard-working bunch that relies on its youthful line-up to play a high tempo. This is optimised by midfielders Aidan Cummins and pacy winger Matty Skillicorn - both played key roles in Saturday’s win at Gymns as did skipper Ryan Williamson. The former Laxey man and wonderfully bearded centre-back partner Peter Callow will be in for a busy weekend against a Geordies side that has averaged nearly five goals a game.
One of the other men that have shone for the Royals this season, Kris Halsall, has recently left for the sunnier climes of Australia, but striker Jamie Moffatt should be back in contention to partner top scorer Michael Fernandes in attack after missing the trip to Tromode. The talented Declan Cummins also looks likely to return after injury to further bolster the side’s midfield ranks and he could replace Tony Corlett who fractured his shin at the weekend.
Since September’s league loss to Peel, Geordies have strung together a run of straight 10 victories to rocket back to the top of the standings.
Chris Bass Sr’s men have done this despite being plagued with injuries, stretching their small squad to its limits.
Tom Weir was the latest to join the injury list last week, joining Chris Bass Jr, Sam Caine and James McStay on the sidelines.
Geordies, however, hope to welcome back talisman Calum Morrissey who has missed the last couple of games with an ankle problem.
Despite their walking wounded, Geordies are still a formidable side who are unplayable on their day. This means they will start as favourites in a game that will hopefully be an early Christmas cracker.
In the other tie Peel will be marginal favourites to advance to December 28’s final against a Douglas High School Old Boys side they beat in the league just a couple of weeks ago.
Steve Falconer’s westerners have enjoyed a near-perfect season thus far winning all their matches, bar an opening day draw against St John’s.
The westerners’ summer signings have all shone at both ends of the pitch, the top-flight’s leading scorer Josh Kelly dovetail-ing well with fellow new arrival Ashley Webster and resident Peel talents Lee Gale, Daniel Bell and Marc Kelly. At the back, veteran Nick Hurt has been at his sparkling best in a defence that has conceded five goals in 11 top-flight fixtures.
Webster is slowly returning to full fitness after a spell out with injury, but Gale faces a battle to be fit after injuring his hip against Old Boys.
Stalwart Kerron Christian has impressed in his absence in recent weeks and Falconer may have a selection dilemma if Gale recovers in time.
After an encouraging start to the tenure of Old Boys manger John Ward, his Blackberry Lane side have lost their last three games to St George’s, Peel and Laxey effectively ending their title tilt.
Ward will need to pick his troops up quickly and hope that the talented trio of Callum Stewart, Robbie Ward and Michael Hooper can continue their good season with big performances at the weekend.
History, however, is not on the hosts’ side and as Old Boys have won only once in the two teams’ six semi-final meetings in this competition.
Although this will be close, expect Peel to advance.
Both games kick-off at the slightly earlier time of 1.30pm in case extra time is needed. Full reports on both games in Tuesday’s Examiner.