After a summer of watching Europe's top men's national teams battle it out, the real action was back today and the Romans returned to the field in some style. Under new management, but with half of the Buggy/Stevens leadership absent, the former being forced to self-isolate, we had a 15 man squad eager to demonstrate their worth and build confidence ahead of a season we hope brings great success. There was a new face in Matt, simply listed as Adam's mate on the teamsheet, and a returning one in Will.
Today's opponents, Aldrington Rangers, featured former Roman Ryan. Tom in particular was keen to give his ex-team-mate a hard time. Craig S. promised everyone they'd play at least 45 minutes and that he'd be trying people out in their favoured positions as indicated in one of his very well received polls. We started with a 4-3-3, Al calling it the England euros formation, which stayed in place throughout the game, albeit with personnel and positional changes taking place at times.
Aldrington had apparently already begun their pre-season which showed early on, the Romans looking a bit lost and floundering in the sweltering heat. Within just a few minutes Aldrington played through us easily and we were fortunate to see the move's resulting shot strike the base of the post. However, after around 15 minutes in which Aldrington showed energy and composure on the ball, their striker ended up clean through following a bit of a defensive mix up and powerfully fired past Aiden. Several Romans players vocally reiterated the point not to worry and that pre-season is mostly about fitness and getting used to playing again.
Aldrington now had the wind in their sales and kept up the pressure whilst we looked shakey and unsure of ourselves. Whilst they kept a lot of possession and pressure on us in our half, luckily for us they weren't really able to carve out any opportunities of note in this period. We weathered this storm well and soon after we started knocking the ball around nicely whilst tightening up at the back, George making some key interceptions in our box. Matt made a good run and found himself in on goal but was unable to find a team-mate as he tried to play the ball across the keeper. Our wide players were pulling their markers all over the place and creating space on the wings and this proved to be our route back into the game. Adam played one of his trademark excellent crosses to the far post where Tom unselfishly put the ball across the face of goal straight to Lee in space, who scuffed the ball a little but fortunately into the path of the arriving Will to tuck in from close range. We were now in the ascendancy and the drinks break couldn't even slow us down. However, we weren't able to make our superiority count before half time.
During the break Craig brought himself, Aly, Fred and Barnesy on and moved a few players to different positions. Despite these changes, we carried on where we left off. Will played me through on the left of the box but the onrushing keeper made a good stop as I tried to lift it over him. Will also had a penalty shout as he jinked into the box, the defender getting a touch on the ball but getting a lot more of the man. The ref, as polite as he was, wasn't on the spot a lot of the time and this was one of the occasions he missed a possible infringement.
We didn't have to wait too much longer to take the lead. Fred played a diagonal ball into the run of Tom, now playing right back, who somehow found the gap between the keeper and the near post whilst still a fair way out. A great finish to start our quartet of excellent second half goals.
Tom then had to come off having tweaked his hammy which meant Craig P, who had started the second half in defensive midfield had to drop back into defence. I'd never seen Craig play in midfield but he'd been doing really well and I don't think he lost the ball whilst there. Aly and Craig S were both causing Aldrington problems, the former running his full back ragged and the latter keeping the ball moving and regularly launching attacks from midfield.
2-1 soon became 3-1 when we found ourselves with a free kick in a promising position, just left of centre, the perfect distance out to get it up and down. Will stepped up and, despite an Aldrington player joking about how far the ball would have to be retrieved from, he took an exemplary free kick which found the back of the net just under the crossbar, doubling his personal tally and the Romans' lead.
Aldrington now looked knackered and our second half dominance showed no signs of abating. We were now constructing excellent one touch moves and regularly getting in behind their defence. We had our 4th when will scooped a ball through to me and I deftly lobbed it over the keeper, the ball kissing the bar on its way down before bouncing off the ground into the roof of the net. Goals always look better when that happens.
We had another penalty shout when Al played an excellent ball to me over the top and as I ran past the last defender and into the box from the left, he completely wiped me out. Nothing doing from the ref even though the culprit admitted to me it was a foul whilst simultaneously claiming it was outside the box.
Our scoring was capped off by Barnesy. A lovely move down the right which Fabio was heavily involved in reached AFC Romans' answer to Paul Scholes on the edge of the box and, sporting new boots brighter even than his hair, he pinged one past the keeper. He only scores screamers.
I had a chance to score another with a header but could only put it tamely wide. Whoops!
Aldrington were keen to save some face and were gifted the chance to do this when the ref inexplicably saw a foul by Fred in a nothing coming together with their striker. I think the ref thought it was outside the box as the lines hadn't been marked in ages so I guess if he thought it was a foul it should've been a penalty, although it was very soft to say the least. Justice was done when Aiden dived low to his right from the spot kick and tipped it onto the post before gratefully gobbling the ball up in a save very reminiscent of Pickford's from Jorginho in last weekend's shootout.
Aldrington did reduce the arrears with the very last kick of the game, their player almost firing wide from unmissable range.
All in all, an excellent day's work from the Romans as we won 5-2. It was a fine way to start pre-season. We showed resilience, determination and ruthlessness and played some really good stuff, making our domination really count in the second half. There are really promising signs going forward. Man of the match goes to Will with two goals, one of them outstanding, and an assist, though nobody had a bad game. We really looked like a proper team. Up the Romans!