We were certainly up against it going into this game. I managed to scrape a squad of 12 together, calling on Craig Stevens and someone called Karl who Perry said would be up for it to help us make up the numbers. To make things worse, Aly decided to do a no-show an hour before we were due to kick off so we were then left with a bare XI...cheers for that.
There was no ref, it was pissing down and the pitch was small, lengthways anyway. We'd played this lot in our first pre-season friendly and been largely outplayed and beaten 7-2, although at the time I was insistent that we take nothing from that game apart from trying to get fit.
Despite all that, I was quietly confident that we could get a result here, Craig has shown what he can do and Karl was also supposed to be a decent player. I went back to basics with a 4-4-2, with the players at my disposal I don't really think we could have done much else, and thankfully it turned out well.
After quite a long delay which mainly consisted of the opponents standing under trees hiding from the rain, we eventually kicked off. From the outset it was clear that one team were all up for it and most of the other team weren't really interested. We hassled them for the ball from the outset and tackled them in their own half to create a couple of chances early one, only for the final ball not to be quite right. Still, the signs were there that we could do this lot!
Karl.G. got involved from the start and was showing he had a knack of being in the right place to time his interceptions well, nicking the ball from his opposing forward a few times easily. He was also strong in the air, winning a few headers which he directed well to a teammate.
Lee was full of running and along with Karl.T was looking likely to get in on goal nearly every time we went forward. I was partnering Lee up top and as usual played the withdrawn role, dropping deeper when we didn't have the ball to add an extra man in the middle and looking to be used as a link when we did. Our passing was quick and crisp from the outset, no one was hanging onto it for too long and if someone was in space to receive it then the pass was given to them without unnecessary delay.
Our opponents had a couple of headed chances early on, their forward managed to evade his marker from corners twice in quick succession but luckily we were let off as he could only head wide from close range. One of the corners came from a chance where they tried to stick one in the bottom corner from about 25 yards but Aiden was wise to it and got down well to tip it wide.
We took a deserved lead after around 15 minutes, I'd found some space in the left channel and received the ball, then pinged it 30 yards across the width of the park to Karl.T who had slipped his marker. He controlled well and carried the ball forward before delivered a superb cross towards the back stick where I had carried on my run to, thankfully Craig had also made a similar run in front of me and was there to meet the cross with his weaker right peg, hooking it beautifully into the corner beyond the scrambling keeper.
We were fully on top by this point, with every player on the pitch putting in maximum effort to get between them and our goal (except Lee who was rightfully staying up top for the release ball). We were solid and they found it incredibly hard to get through us, and when they did manage to get near our box we were able to get a block or tackle in before they could get a shot away. Barnes was putting in some big, strong tackles and Buggy was nicking the ball away any time they did a loose or heavy touch.
Across the back line our positioning was excellent except maybe Adam at times who was getting caught up pitch or diving in a bit too much and leaving a space in behind. I asked him to stand off a bit more which he did and it certainly improved our shape and solidity down that flank. Craig was moving into the centre quite a lot which sometimes left Adam a little exposed when we lost the ball, so the safer option was for him to stand his man up and stand off a little more to give us time to recover.
My passing was a little off and I sent a few hospital balls Johnny's way, thankfully he didn't get clattered from any of them, against Whitehawk United or a team of that ilk it may have been a different story though! It was raining hard for quite a lot of the game so it became tough to judge the surface speed to be able to play intricate passes.
Our second came from a mixup involving their keeper who couldn't hold onto a ball into the box, Johnny was there to pounce and slotted it away into the corner. It was no more than we had deserved, we'd created a lot of chances already. We added a third not long after, Luis throwing to me in the box where I flicked it on diagonally backwards and it found Craig who was loitering around the edge of the 18 yard box, he took a couple of neat touches to evade his marker and then hit a shot straight towards the keeper...It wasn't a rocket and wasn't even near the corner, but in the wet conditions and with their apparent stand-in keeper in goal it resulted in a calamity where he couldn't hold it and it slipped through his hands and under his body into the net.
Our dominance continued until half-time came and we left the pitch with our tails up and knowing that we had this game exactly where we wanted it. We were buzzing despite it absolutely hammering it down by this point. Some people changed shirts into a dry one for some reason (me included!) which looking back seems a bit pointless, but I guess it made us ever-so-slightly lighter and more aero-dynamic for a couple of minutes until we were soaked again.
The second half wasn't as plain sailing as the first, we were happy to sit a bit deeper and let them come onto us. Aiden had been having another excellent game in goal and his handling was spot on, showing his opposite number how it's done. His kicking was much improved too, getting a bit too much distance at times on this weird short pitch!
They had a few long range attempts that we dealt with well enough and we never really looked like succumbing to any kind of comeback. It was made even harder for them when we added a fourth. I managed to close down and tackle their midfielder in his own half and was almost able to get through but he had ahold of my shorts and almost ripped them off me, saucy bugger. Craig stepped up to take the resulting free kick in an almost identical position to the one he took in pre-season, so we knew what he was likely to do...He didn't disappoint and delivered a lovely ball towards the back stick where Johnny and I were waiting, the keeper got to it but again his handling let him down and it dropped to Johnny who yet again made no mistake and punished the keepers mistake.
They pulled one back with a shot from near the edge of the box after a bit of tired defending from us, we'd taken our foot off the gas a bit by this point so it wasn't a surprise that they'd get a few clearer chances than we'd been letting them have so far.
We weren't going to let them think they had a chance of getting back into it, and within a couple of minutes we'd scored again, someone passed to me in the middle of the pitch (Craig or Johnny I think) and I side stepped the oncoming opponent before sliding the ball through to the ever-energetic Karl.T who carried the ball into the box before unselfishly squaring to Lee who finished well. We really have missed Lee for the last couple of games, he was constantly getting in behind them in this game and his pace and movement was causing them all kinds of problems.
Telscombe got another goal not long after which looked like it may not have completely gone over the line, Karl.G. looked like he had cleared it but it was an odd sequence of events that might have included a handball and the net rippling, I was a bit far away to see it clearly but at this point everyone knew we'd won the game so there were no real protests.
Karl.G. hadn't shown much of the composure he'd shown in the first half and nearly every time the ball came near him in the second he was happy to just hoof it down the other end of the pitch!
The ref soon shouted (they had no whistle) for full-time and we left the pitch as absolutely deserved victors. I think Craig was glad as the gel in his hair had run into his eyes and he looked like a mole running around saying he couldn't see! ??
It's been a tough few weeks with injuries, suspensions, hangovers, bad pitches, attitudes and performances so it was such a relief that we managed to get this result in the manner that we did. Every one of the players out there put their heart into this win and hopefully it had instilled a renewed sense of belief that we are a force to be reckoned with.
Yes, we had two good players come in who aren't regulars but it's not like we don't have the players with enough quality to take their place when they aren't around. We should be able to produce performances like this every week, but it takes unity and maximum effort from every single player on the pitch to do it!
I'm not picking a single man of the match this week as I think the whole team deserved it, some people may have put in a slightly better performance than others but not one player didn't perform well and we all put real effort in. Well done everyone, keep it going!!