Sorry the report has taken so long to write, I've had a lot of stuff going on lately and football has taken a back seat. Still, better late than never 'n' all that...
We were away at top of the league, which for most teams would mean expecting our opponents to have a home advantage, but with us so poor at home and our habit of performing better against the good teams I was quietly confident that we'd be able to get something from this game.
Tom was supposed to start up front, with me dropping to the bench due to a bit of a niggling injury. Unfortunately he had one too many Fosters tops the night before and slept through his alarm so I would start, hoping that my back wouldn't give way. We lined up with a 4-1-4-1 formation, I decided to say these numbers (instead of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3) in the hope that the two wide players Karl and Lee would take on board that I wanted them not to push too far forward and leave big gaps. Last time we played this lot we gave them a lot of space in the wide areas and I didn't want the same to happen again.
The start of the game was fairly even, there wasn't much quality on show from either side, with the defenders from both sides standing out more than the attackers. Quite early on it became clear that EBE were looking to attack us mainly through diagonals over the full backs, they tried it a few times without success but eventually one went from right to left and landed perfectly on their players head and he cooly put it past the oncoming Aiden from a tight angle.
We were unlucky to go behind as even though the majority of play had not been beautiful we were certainly the team that looked more like scoring. It didn't take long for use to equalise, Johnny got the ball on the left side and beat a man well before crossing to Rich who was arriving late just inside the box and he caught it sweetly with a half-volley on the outside of his right peg, the ball span away from the keeper into the side netting, a lovely finish and a fully deserved equaliser.
EBE had a couple of chances to go back into the lead but could only shoot high or wide. I can't remember us doing much else to test their keeper, I think Karl may have had a chance that he couldn't quite get to but apart from that we were quite muted in the last third. Will had a penalty shout denied after a rather theatrical fall to the floor, he insisted it was a foul but to be fair to the ref it did look a bit suspect with the way he went down!
Our full backs were involved a lot, both Rob and Adam had the aforementioned balls over the top to deal with but generally were managing well and making the tackles when needed. Rob sometimes seemed to be lacking the composure we've come to expect from him and got caught on the ball a couple of times, luckily nothing came of it though. Craig and George were proving to be a solid partnership in the middle and never really looked like being troubled.
Half time came and there wasn't much to say, I decided to keep it the same even though we had four subs, we had gone into the break with some momentum from our goal and I wanted us to try and continue it before making any changes.
A few minutes after we kicked off the second half, Will received the ball outside their box and beat a man before chipping a through ball to Lee who managed to get a shot away on the bounce with his left. Thankfully he aimed across the keeper who could only parry it, I'd made a run towards the back post and was there to pounce on the ball and stroke it home into the roof of the net. No, I didn't nearly put it over the bar, I put it high on purpose! ??
Unfortunately our lead didn't last very long, EBE managed to overload our right side and got a dangerous cross in which George could only slice into his own net via the cross bar, leaving Aiden with no chance whatsoever. Those goals are turning into a bit of a speciality for George, it was eerily similar to the one he scored for Dacian Wolves earlier in the season! To be fair if he hadn't put something on it then their player behind him may well have finished it anyway, it was an excellent cross that had to be dealt with.
Will hinted that I was having a shit game by saying we needed a bit of pace up top, I took the hint and subbed myself off for Tom (I was going to anyway) , who had managed to get out of bed and get a lift to the game from his Auntie - the team will forever be in her debt because of what was to happen later on...
Adam had a niggle so came off for Josh - who this time was actually playing his last game for us ?? - He went into centre-half and George shifted to the left. Daz also came off the bench for Karl, with Johnny moving out to the right. Apparently Barnesy also came on when it was 2-2 and changed the game, I'm not 100% sure about that but Lee came off and Will moved out to the left.
Tom was taking a little while to get into the game which perhaps was to be expected considering his shenanigans the night before. Thankfully he snapped out of it in style after Rich played a through ball to him which he took well in this stride and forced his way through on goal before hitting a sweet strike into the corner, leaving the keeper with no chance. It was excellent forward play and Tom showed his raw pace, power and shooting ability and justified his recent addition to the team's forward line.
We were now fully on the up and EBE couldn't really get back into the game. There was a bit of handbags from their number 7 and George, they were getting upset, their heads were going and we had them there for the taking...We are a strong team when we are in front and instead of trying to protect the lead we kicked on a were determined to go for the jugular. Our defence was looking strong, with Josh's introduction into the back line offering an outlet for Aiden and sure-footed composure to move the ball up the pitch. Johnny was full of running still even though he'd been running around like a madman for most of the game, Will was getting stuck in trying to win the ball back for us and was brimming with confidence, with most of our good play involving him at the heart. Rich was putting in some huge challenges and seemed like a man-possessed at times. We were looking strong and you could see we wanted this victory!
With not long to go we put the tie beyond EBE, when Will picked the ball up on the left side and played it forwards for Tom to run onto, the pass was overhit and their defender looked to be getting to it first, but Tom was now fully in Beast Mode and wasn't having any of it, he managed to muscle the man off the ball from behind before beating another defender and then smashing the ball into the far corner, a tremendous goal that he almost had no right to score, I was absolutely buzzing on the side line after it went in, get in!!
EBE weren't dead yet and hit the post from a headed corner. Aiden made a superb save when he tipped over a long-range strike that looked to be dropping just under the bar. We held strong and played out time, the ref blew and the 3 points were ours. Yet again a win away from home and it was fully deserved.
I said after the game I was tempted to give everyone man of the match, I was obviously a bit carried away at that point! I have to commend our defenders who I thought had an excellent game and dealt with almost everything that was thrown at them well, the only times we looked weak were when they (and George) scored. For me, there were 4 players that raised their games, particularly in the second half, and won us the game. Will with his constant trickery, creativity and a willingness to do the dirty work. Johnny with his relentless energy, aggression to close his opponents and ability to find space. Rich with his huge tackles, showing bravery to throw himself in front of everything and an excellent finish for his goal and Tom for his explosive forward play that EBE just could not handle and he ultimately won us the game with two moments of brilliance.
It's hard for me to separate them but I'm going to give MOM to Rich who had his best game for us. It was a truly commanding performance and was the type of effort we needed when playing top of the league. I gave him the captains armband when I left the pitch and he more than lived up to it, Barnesy tells me Rich was instructing him where he wanted him when he came on and that was very pleasing to hear (we certainly need more of that from everyone!). He chipped in with a lovely goal and set up Tom's first to put the cherry on top. Very well done mate!
Our next game is against Dacian Wolves, we should be looking for nothing less than 3 points and to put this home pitch curse behind us. If we can recreate the effort and togetherness we showed in this game then we'll be fine. ??