It was another hot and sweaty day, this time playing on a nice flat 3G pitch at Stanley Deason. We were up against an experienced side with some youth mixed in. We knew it was potentially gonna be a physical affair, and it turned out to be the case, although I was expecting a bit more from them in that department to be honest.
Romans got off to a spritely start, with some quick ball being played and Luis finding space a few times down the right but was unable to capitalise on some incisive through balls that found him. Our opponents were being forced to launch balls from the back when we sat off and didn't look comfortable when we pressed either. Their main threat was their centre half 'Tommo', and we were happy to let him try and pick out their strikers with long balls. A couple did make it through and caught our back line flat footed but nothing came from it. Alex in goal showed an improvement in his command of the back line which made defensive decisions a lot easier to make.
Romans took the lead from a free kick midway into the AFC 2015 half after a foul, there had been a few of those already and there wasn't long gone! They were getting on the refs case from the start and it's always pleasing to see that, you know you're doing something right and they are rattled. After some quick thinking by myself to peel away from their back line who were sleeping I signalled Josh to drop the free kick in to me which he did nicely, I controlled and turned and played the ball blindly into the area where I heard Barnsey's bellow come from, he was there to control and after a slight deflection off their defender he slotted it into the net with the outside of his boot. A tidy finish and a quick thinking move.
Not long after that my back pinged and I had to go off, Tom Somerville came on and immediately got stuck into their left back who went flying after what looked like a fair physical challenge on him. Somehow the ref deemed it a yellow card and Tom's card was marked after that, with a few of the opposition saying they were gonna 'do him' etc...
AFC managed to get back into the game and at times our positioning was all over the place. The wide men Ali and Luis were not putting enough effort in to get back when we didn't have possession and offer some protection to their full backs. Luckily George was often able to do the job of two men with some crunching tackles and a canny knack of being in just the right place to intercept or block any attacks down the left.
The problem with the wide men not putting the effort in to make the midfield a 5 was that the centre midfielders were being dragged out wide to help, leaving a big gap in the middle for our opponents to exploit. I have to take some blame for this as it's my job to make sure players know what they need to be doing. In a nutshell we play 4-3-3 when attacking and 4-5-1 when defending. That means the wide men will have to put a shift in, especially when we fail to keep the ball long enough to transition from defence into attack and vice-versa.
This problem was exploited midway through the half when their centre mid, who was arguably their best player, picked the ball up in the middle and with no one within 10 yards of him had the ability to pick out the top corner from 25 yards. It was a lovely strike but far too easy.
They scored again not long after that, with Ryan putting it in his own net from close range after a dangerous cross came in. Not his fault, when you've been turned around and caught on the back foot it's never easy to clear a ball that's been fizzed across the goal.
Tom ended his first appearance by getting injured and had to come off for me. Not the debut he'd have dreamt of, but there were signs that he will be a useful addition to the team.
Will, who asked to start on the bench after waking up with a neck injury, came on as well as Ali's mate Ali who I had to call Ali Two to avoid confusion. Will didn't look the same player who starred in the last game, being caught in possession a few times when he maybe should have been looking to let the ball go. We've seen what he can do though, perhaps the injury was having an effect and the other team were much quicker to close down than the team last week.
Half time came and I went over the points made earlier in this write up. It seemed to be taken on board as our defensive shape when starting the second half was a lot better. I'd dropped into midfield by this point and was trying my best to slow our possession down in order to try and dictate the game at our pace. Will soon warmed up and began to find pockets of space and get the attacks going. Welcome back, sunshine!
The game ebbed and flowed for a bit, we looked a bit tentative at times and weren't putting challenges in when we should have. I have to hold my hands up here, their players beat me a couple of times with absolutely no trouble, not even a challenge made, something for me to work on definitely. I'll give us the benefit of the doubt as no one really wants to rip their leg open by putting in a cruncher on the 3G!
I redeemed myself somewhat after some Zidane-like play inside our half. (blowing my own trumpet here I'm afraid...) I had two of their players round me and took a leaf out of Will's book and beat them both with a silky turn, one of them wasn't having it and tried to take my shirt off, I wasn't having that though and shoved him off, got my head up and found Will with a ball over the top off my left peg. He still had some work to do and beat their full back with ease before slotting the ball into the far corner with what looked like a slightly deflected effort. 2-2...
We weren't level for long as AFC managed to get in behind after some more questionable tracking back by the tired looking midfield. They seemed to be getting the run of the green as the ball pinged about inside our box before their player picked it up wide inside the area before crossing to an unmarked midfielder who guided it in with a simple volley. I was the closest to him so I'll take some of the blame for not being tight, we were far too easy to carve open though.
Our resolve was being tested and we produced the goods to pull it back again after a storming run from the back by Bello, it wasn't the first time he'd tried it and this time he managed to control the ball enough to get a dangerous cross in from the right which their defender kindly smashed in off the post with his head. Cheers mate.
Both teams looked tired, especially us as we were up against a squad of 17 with injured players, Josh had become pretty much a cabbage by this point and Tom was lying on the floor on the sideline, so we didn't have much left in the tank. The ref brought proceedings to an end, with plenty of positives to take away as well as some things to work on.
We equalised twice and responded to what was asked during the half time chat. There was some nice football played at times and our attitude was generally good. They wanted to kick us all over the park and we didn't react to that, teams who like the game to be physical prey on teams that react and cry to the ref or bottle it, we didn't and that's pleasing.
Having said that, we weren't as determined to put challenges in when we should have and they often had too much time on the ball without any real pressure. It's pre-season, it was hot and we are a new team (I've said this a lot) so it's not such a big deal, but we definitely need to be thinking about matching and overpowering teams in fitness and determination if we are going to make this season a success.
Man of the match goes to George, his positioning and ability to put a double shift in at times meant we didn't get exposed as much as perhaps we should in the first half. He also tells me he made a goal-line clearance and was insistent it made it into the match report, so here you go mate, well done, top performance!
No game next week so enjoy your Sunday lads, have a think about how you could have improved your game and bring that mindset with you to the next game in two weeks. See you Thursday.