We came into this game quietly confident of getting the points after seeing how Eastbourne had got on in their first game. The pitch was ridiculously small and in a bad state too, which didn't really suit our formation or style of play. I decided to continue with the 3-5-2.
In the first ten minutes or so it became very clear that our opponents had one tactic and would be using it at every possible opportunity - Win the ball with some tough tackling and then look to release their nippy forward with a ball over the top as soon as they could. They tried it a few times and caught our back line out, either we were too high and they dropped it in behind or we were positioned well enough but failed to clear the ball through bad decision making and timing to meet the ball.
It was a very scrappy affair as there was so little time on the ball because of the pitch size and congestion. We found it hard to get any kind of rhythm going, and added to the fact they were putting some big challenges in on us resulted in a sense of panic and passes were often hurried and inaccurate. An exhibition of beautiful football this was not.
Nevertheless, we did manage to create a few chances to score, with Tom and Luis both getting in down the left but failing to beat the keeper from a wide angle. We certainly weren't playing particularly bad, we just didn't seem to have that killer instinct that we've shown at times in recent weeks.
After being awarded a free kick just inside their half, Will fired it in low and hard towards the huddle of players inside the box, it looked like it sort of hit Jamie on the head and went up in the air before dropping to Lee who finished well with a slightly scuffed shot from close range to put us in front.
Not to be deterred, Eastbourne continued their incessant hurling of the ball forward and eventually it paid off when they got in and finished to draw level (I can't remember the goal very well). Unfortunately they then took the lead a few minutes later from a corner where their player managed to flick past Aiden pretty much uncontested, not a pretty sight!
Half time came and my talk focused on two areas where I thought we could definitely improve, timing and determination.
Timing because our pressing was slightly off, either we weren't pressing at the right times or we were pressing but not together leaving spaces. Jamie was caught under the ball a few times trying to win it when it didn't look like he had a chance of getting there. The forwards were making runs and the pass wasn't being played at the right time or the runs weren't being made until it was too late to pass.
Determination because there was obviously a difference between how much they wanted it compared to us. We weren't shying away from the battle but we certainly weren't showing the aggression and willingness to put our bodies on the line to stop them in the same way they were to us.
Both of these things can be attributed to most of the team playing in midweek so I can't be too harsh about it as there would obviously have been some tired legs out there.
In saying that, apparently Johnny played 90 minutes on Saturday and he looked as fresh as a daisy, putting in some super-human energy to win the ball back and get our attacks going. If we had 11 players out there showing the determination he showed then I think the result may well have been in our favour.
The second half was a lot better, they seemed to be tiring and we began to take control of the game. I realised that a change of formation to get some more width further forward may help to stretch them at the back and avoid the congestion in the middle so decided to go back to the 4-3-3 we used so much last season. Stupidly I decided to instigate this change as we were defending a free kick, which seemed to cause a bit of confusion amongst the defence and the next thing we knew they'd stuck it in the top corner and we were 3-1 down! Sorry about that.
Things got even worse a few minutes later when Lee got sent off for mouthing off to their player and the ref. It was a harsh decision, especially as the ref was initially gonna sin bun him then decided to go straight for the red! This left us in a bit of a precarious position but I have to say the response was fantastic and if anything we seemed spurred on by it.
Aly was playing in his favoured wide left forward position and got his first goal for us with about 15 to go. He looked absolutely miles offside and tried his best to miss it after being on the floor and swinging a leg at it but somehow it ended up in the net and after conferring with the linesman the ref let the goal stand. Perhaps he felt bad about the sending off and gave us a bit of good will, who knows.
I thought we might be able to nick an equaliser, with Barnesy having the best chance when the ball found him about 10 yards out, but he chose to try and side foot first-time through a crowd of players when a touch and blast would likely have produced better results. Easy to say from the sidelines though...
It wasn't to be and we suffered our first loss of the season against a side who we really should have beaten, on paper anyway. We can blame the pitch, the ref and the fixture congestion but really I think we should just be blaming ourselves for not being clever enough or having the self-awareness to come out on top. It wasn't a terrible performance, but I think most of the team will be thinking they could have offered more.
Man of the match goes to Johnny who never stopped running and trying to get us going. The opposition paid him their compliments by shamelessly chopping him down a couple of times when he had beaten a number of them with his guile. Well done mate, you certainly deserved more.