With gale force winds, lots of driving rain and playing against an opponent who we knew were not gonna be a pushover, this was never going to be an exhibition of attractive football.
My brief pre-match team talk focussed on our need to want to win this more than them. We knew they were gonna be a bit mouthy and try and impose themselves physically on us. It goes without saying really, but with that in mind and especially in these conditions you have to be fully up for the next 90 minutes or you're gonna come unstuck.
The first half turned out to be possibly the most one-sided period of football of our season so far, with AFC 2015 only able to muster an occasional break and a couple of shots that didn't really give Tom in goal any cause for concern. The fight was there, we weren't bullied and controlled the centre of the pitch quite easily.
Josh was finding space and getting on the ball quite a lot, sometimes choosing to pass backwards when perhaps a turn and moving up the pitch would have benefitted us more, but he was a lot more composed in possession than his previous game which was helping us to keep the ball and force our opponents to do most of the defending.
Johnny made his first start for us, dislodging Will from the 10 role with the latter moving out to the left side. Will did well there in the last game so I was hoping to see more of the same linking up with Lee, who had started up front with Luis dropping to the bench. Johnny was involved quite a lot and his energy on and off the ball was adding a new dimension to our play, making life hard for their central players to gain any real time on the ball with some much needed closing down when we didn't have it, and some intelligent movement to receive the ball to feet when we did - something which we have maybe lacked up there in the past few weeks.
We were creating some nice triangles and looked relatively comfortable all over the pitch. There wasn't really any getting caught in possession in dangerous areas that we have seen a bit too much of lately, and when we did lose the ball we never looked like we were struggling to get it back.
With all that being said, we didn't create any good goal scoring opportunities. Johnny had a chance where he picked up a cut back inside the box but instead of taking the shot on, which looked like the obvious choice as I was standing directly behind him, he chose to take the ball to the byline and try and cross in. I completely understand why, a new player playing in their first game understandably doesn't want to be seen as greedy, hopefully next time that trigger will be pulled!
Lee and Will both had similar chances to cross from the left when getting in behind, unfortunately sometimes we didn't have the numbers in the box to cross to, and if there was people in there the final ball wasn't quite right.
We forced a lot of corners, at least 10 I reckon, but I think every single one of them was a sub-par delivery. The closest we got to troubling the keeper was when Tom Eke rose to meet it near the back post but could only head high over the bar as the cross was a bit too high for him.
We didn't really seem to learn from each attempt. No one was taking the initiative to anticipate the ball again being overhit and starting their run from the opposite corner of the box to where the ball was coming from. If you do that you've got a lot more chance of meeting the ball at pace and getting a good connection. Perhaps it's something we need to work on or decide before the games, one goes near, one/two middle and one at the back, with another unsettling or attacking the keeper.
In fairness, it's always going to be hard to put a pinpoint cross in when the weather is like it was. Josh, you should be claiming to take some of the corners too, you're usually very good at set pieces so I want to see a bit more assertiveness in that situation. I hold my hands up though, I should have been paying a bit more attention and told you to take at least one!
Near the end of the half we were given a penalty when Lee got into the box just wide of the keeper chasing the ball as it threatened to go out, the ball looked to have evaded him when the keeper completely cleaned him out. The ref immediately pointed at the spot and Will collected the ball and placed it in Lee's hands ready to take the kick.
What happened next was pretty farcical - The keeper somehow managed to convince the ref he had got the decision wrong, he appeared to have some kind of influence over him...What the keeper was doing being invited to discuss the decision in the first place is anyone's guess. He wasn't their captain so should not have been part of the ongoing discussion which seemed to take ages. The ref even looked like he was Googling what the correct decision should be!
Eventually the decision was changed and a goal kick given to AFC 2015 with the keeper receiving a yellow card. It was the correct decision if the ball was out of play when the foul occurred, but the way in which that decision was arrived at leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth. Surely a referee should be making their own decisions...
Anyway, half time came and we gathered in with a positive mindset, despite the penalty shenanigans. The general consensus was that we were playing well, dominating and it was only a matter of time before we would make a breakthrough. With this in mind I decided to keep the same eleven for the start of the second half.
I made it clear that it was going to be a completely different proposition for us, playing into a strong wind is tough to defend against, especially high balls that float around all over the place and are very hard to judge well.
I had to have a word with the ref about some concerning behaviour from one of their players who was inappropriately touching one of ours. It's pretty disgusting and not something I've ever known to happen in amateur football, or any other sport for that matter. It's been reported and hopefully for his sake he'll stop doing it before he does it to someone that isn't quite as tolerant.
We started the second half and it wasn't long before we found ourselves two goals down. The first of them saw Tom beaten at his near post by an unmarked player who had found a lot of space down our left. I'm not sure how he managed to get there without being picked up by anyone but something obviously went wrong with the communication.
The second came from us defending a corner. Their taker had done what we failed to do every time and put the ball right in the middle of the six yard box, Tom tried to catch it but it slipped out of his hands right onto an opponent who had an easy close range finish. In the space of a few minutes we had gone from being the dominant team and really the only one who looked like scoring to being in a pretty difficult position to try and turn the game back in our favour.
I'm not going to cast any blame on Tom for their goals, yes he could have done better but he is not a keeper and apart from those parts I thought he had an excellent game, with some top notch distribution and command of the defence. I'm trying to find a solution so he can come out and play on pitch and we should all be very appreciative that he has volunteered to play there for us!
I decided to try and do something to change the game and made some subs - Matt coming on for Will on the left, Luis up top to replace Lee and Josh gave way for Steve in midfield. A few minutes later I decided to switch the formation to a 3-5-2, with Rob and Matt playing as wing backs. This definitely seemed to have a positive impact as from then on AFC 2015 didn't really trouble us at all for the rest of the game, and with the ball we had a lot of options all the way up the pitch to pass our way out of trouble and develop some attacks. Having two up top also added an extra outlet that we often lack, and with some more incisive through balls we could have got in one-on-one on quite a few occasions.
Rich had to come off with some kind of injury which meant Lee went back on up top and Karl dropped back into centre mid to replace Rich.
We were on the ascendency as time went on and finally got the goal we deserved when Tom Eke rose to get on the end of a hopeful cross that then found Luis sneaking in at the back stick to head in from what looked a very tough angle. Perhaps their keeper should have done better but fair play to Luis for being in the right place and squeezing the finish into the gap.
The next 10 or so minutes saw us pushing for an equaliser, we certainly have somewhat of a killer instinct when we can smell blood, as we have shown in every match so far (except our other loss) and it looked like we might be able to get back level. Unfortunately it just didn't happen, with the last move of the match somehow ending up with George crossing in to a box packed with our players on his right foot?!
I still can't quite believe we lost this game, we didn't deserve to and apart from a five minute spell we looked assured and like the only team that was capable of winning it. I expect us to put it right in the return fixture.
My man of the match goes to Johnny Buggy who produced a solid, dynamic and energetic display for his debut. He was involved in pretty much all our attacking play all the way through the game and I was impressed with his willingness to chase back to try and win the ball back when AFC 2015 broke through the middle. Special mention goes to Tom Eke who had another fine game at centre half with some composed defending under pressure and important interceptions in the air and on the deck.
No one had a bad game and yet again all of the subs added something positive - I don't think Steve lost the ball once and was a calming presence, Luis scored a fine goal and Matt showed bundles of energy and willingness to defend and attack when asked to play in a position he is probably not used to.
Despite the loss I don't think we should be upset with ourselves. We showed that we can switch to a different formation easily which is pleasing. We play top of the table next week, at our possibly cursed home pitch, so we are all gonna have to be at our best to make it a positive result.