We went into the game looking for another 3 points against a Hangleton Sunday side that have been having a mixed season. After Aiden pulled out with sickness early on Sunday morning, George displayed some admirable team spirit and offered to go in goal. I was hesitant to accept his offer due to the lack of defenders we had available but with Simmo able to slot in at centre half and Luis at left back I thought we would be ok. We continued with the 4-3-3 that has been fruitful for us in recent weeks, and I slotted in at defensive midfield for Rich who was also unavailable.
The game started with a bang, unfortunately it was to my forehead, one of their players walked backwards and tripped over me as I was on the floor after an aerial challenge and he brought his boot down onto my face, tearing a nice little hole in my forehead. There was a fair amount of claret pouring out so I brought on Barnesy whilst leaving the field where Fred put his recent first aid training to good use by Terry-Butchering-me-up.
We started on the front foot, but again were finding it hard to get it down and play fluently on our home pitch, it's starting to deteriorate quite badly in some places - sticky and bumpy pitches don't seem to suit the crisp passing game that we have been utilising well over the last few weeks. Nevertheless, we were able to switch up our game when needed and the direct balls being sprayed out wide and through the middle for Karl, Lee and Tom to Run onto created some early chances to take the lead. The best of these fell to Karl who made a burst through the middle only to fail to capitalise when one-on-one with the keeper. Barnesy nearly scored another header from a well-delivered corner only to see his attempt come back off the bar, he seemed to be implying he'd have scored if the bar wasn't square, but I'm not so sure about that mate...
We did take the lead with around 20 minutes gone, Will winning a free kick after some neat footwork left their defenders in a tangle and they could only chop him down to halt him. Johnny stepped up to take it from 20 yards out and neatly placed it into the opposite bottom corner to leave the keeper with no chance. 1-0 up and cruising!
Hangleton seemed to be a slightly better opposition than Dacian were last week and had a bit of pace up top, they did manage to break on us a few times but the defence were more than a match for them. Luis was having a stormer at left back and making some excellently well-timed tackles. It was clear to me that we could push our full backs right up when we had the ball, they weren't playing with naturally-high wide men, so I let Rob and Luis know that they could exploit this space in front of them. When the breaks did happen, both full backs got back into position well and made the tackle to halt any attacks from wide. Having attacking full backs is definitely something I've wanted us to incorporate into our system, it's important when you're playing 4-3-3 and the two wide players up top are pushing forward that the full backs close the gap between themselves and their colleague in front. Not only does this mean we can overload the wide areas but it also means we aren't leaving big spaces in-between where opposition players can do some damage. The key is communication, both from the wide players involved but also from the centre backs who should be instructing their full backs to push on when it's apparent that they can without leaving us outnumbered.
Simmo was producing a solid display at the back and seemed to be in the right place almost every time the ball came his way, winning headers and calmly buying himself space with some assured footwork to then pass into the channels to teammates in front. Craig was his usual laid back self and stroking the ball about nonchalantly to set up attacks from the back.
Barnes, Will and Johnny were working well as a unit, Barnes was perhaps a little bit unaware of those around him and out of position a couple of times early on but soon settled into the game and seemed to have glue on his boot at times, demonstrating some excellent close control and awareness to neatly find his way through a boggy midfield, releasing the ever-available Will and Johnny who could then start an attack.
Will has really grown into his role in the middle of the pitch over the last few games, showing real discipline to drop back into areas where he perhaps previously didn't want to ply his trade. Due to his excellent ability on the ball and awareness of those around him I knew he could operate from a slightly deeper role and help ease the pressure when we transition from defence into attack, he was also making some important interceptions to halt and attacks that Hangleton tried to create. I spotted him collecting the ball from our back line almost standing in between them a couple of times and that’s exactly what I like to see, a willingness to drop deep and start attacks with incisive passing and intelligent movement. It’s a role that Josh did well for us and is definitely an important asset to help move the ball from back to front.
Johnny was doing as he always does, covering a lot of ground, getting stuck into challenges and offering us pace and direction with attacks, opening them up time and again with quick one-twos from midfield. There is now a really potent partnership with him and Will in the middle and it's clear they like being together, although maybe Will feels the stronger of the two in their blossoming relationship...
Lee was constantly attacking from out wide and ripped their back line apart on numerous occasions, either by beating his man or being played in with a through ball from midfield. He put in a couple of nice crosses but unfortunately no one could quite get on the end of them. We were getting a lot of joy from the wide areas, Karl was also put through a few times and both Rob and Luis overlapped well to be put in by their respective wide attackers.
It wasn't long before Tom continued his recent run of goal scoring form, Johnny slid him in with just the keeper to beat and he showed deadly finishing ability to slot calmly past the oncoming keeper. It seems you cannot keep this man out of the goals at the moment and he has been an absolute revelation up there! I'd like to see him get hold of the ball and look for a simple pass at times as he does like to try a first time flick when it would be more conductive to our play if he used his solid frame to get in front of his marker, control the ball and look for the oncoming players around him into feet. It's definitely somewhere we can really punish teams and allows us to attack in greater numbers, as well as giving others time to exploit space that may be opening up.
Tom turned provider later on when he was unselfishly put in by Karl who had made a breakaway with a dribble across the pitch. Tom unleashed a solid strike that the keeper could only parry into the air and Karl showed good anticipation by chasing it in and was there to head the looping ball in from a yard out.
Half time came and we were absolutely cruising. I had elected to go with the strong wind on our backs in the first half in the hope that we could get a sizeable lead, enough to crush our opponents morale and make any chance of a fightback a tough task. Will had lost the name spinner game to see who would go in goal for George in the second half but he was not up for it at all, luckily for him (and us!) George volunteered to remain in the sticks for the rest of the game so we didn't have to cross that bridge. He had been excellent in goal and was quick to come off his line to gobble up any through balls that made their way to him after some lapses in concentration from those in front of him. We were lucky that he was both wiling to do it for the team but also actually had the required ability as a keeper, so thank you very much mate! I brought Fred on for a straight swap with Karl, with the promise that he’d get back on soon.
The second half was much the same as the first. I mentioned that we might be facing a different proposition because of the wind now blowing towards us, but it didn’t seem to have much of an impact at all and we were immediately back on the front foot.
Tom got his second after some excellent work by Lee saw him beat his man with ease and cut into the box, it looked like he would take the shot on and no one could blame him if he did, but instead he unselfishly played the percentage game and squared to an unmarked Tom who stroked it home from a few yards out. Lee’s racking up the assists now and proving to be an important source of goals for us.
Not to be outdone, Johnny got his second not long after. He was precisely played in by Will who left him with a simple finish from close range. Johnny has had a knack of getting into very similar goal scoring positions inside the box recently and shows how well he can anticipate and move off the ball to open space up for himself. Of course it helps that those around him are able to find the right pass to put it on a plate for him too.
Hangleton let us know that they weren’t done yet, and managed to claw one back after a hopeful long ball from the back caught Simmo and Craig flat footed and slightly too high up the pitch, it seemed to bounce between them and put their glassy-eyed striker clean through, he finished well, leaving George with no chance and us disappointed to have let the clean sheet slip. In fairness, the wind may well have played a big part in it and otherwise the centre back pairing had been solid throughout.
Craig seemed to be having a bit of a moment, as seconds later he received a ball to feet and seemed to dally on it for slightly too long allowing their attacker to close him down. I assumed he would try and feint past him but instead seemed to just stay still and let himself get tackled. Luckily nothing came from it or else we might have started to get a bit panicked. As mentioned, Craig has a naturally laid-back style on the pitch but he was almost horizontal at that point!
I brought Karl back on, replacing Tom at centre forward to give him a run through the middle. He’s shown he can do a job there before and I thought it only fair to give him a run in a position he perhaps naturally prefers to being stuck out wide most of the time. A few minutes later I re-introduced myself, bringing off the continually impressive Will for a break. We were starting to lose a bit of dominance in the middle of the pitch due to the conditions and I wanted to offer a little bit more defensive cover than we had shown in the previous 10 minutes.
Will wasn’t on the sideline for long as Barnesy’s hamstring gave way, he hasn’t played a full game for a while so it was maybe a bit much for his ageing body to handle. He’d had an excellent game in the holding role and I decided against subbing him off for myself when that was my original intention.
George made a couple of saves to keep their score from increasing, one of which was a nice tip over the bar from a threatening long-range strike. He organised the defence well with instructional shouts and his kicking was superb, coming out to clear back passes high and far up the pitch on quite a few occasions.
Lee scored an absolute corker with around 15 minutes to go with Johnny cutting a ball across to him after some good inter-play down our right, and Lee was there just outside the box to hit it crisply on the half-volley into the side netting to leave the stranded keeper with no chance. Possibly the pick of the goals for me, it was a lovely finish, I was right behind it and I don’t think he could have hit it much better.
Karl completed the rout with his second, this time making no mistake when clean through and confidently slotting into the net. He could and perhaps should have scored 4 in this game, missing two chances when one-on-one, but he showed a good mentality to put those misses behind him and take his final chance.
3 players on a hattrick, although Tom was now off the pitch, but sadly none of them could complete it and the match finished 7-1.
It’s been a tough decision to pick a man of the match, I don’t think anyone involved had a bad game and I could find a reason to give it to almost everyone if I could be bothered, but this week I’m going to pick 3 that stood out for me:
Luis had an accomplished game at full back, playing in a position he isn’t particularly familiar with but he made some excellent recovery tackles and interceptions and got forward well to offer support to Lee when he could. He maybe dipped a bit in the second half but I was impressed with how well he adapted to the role and did so with a positive attitude and he deserves praise for that.
Lee was involved a lot and his pace and dribbling yet again meant his marker didn’t have a moments peace. He sometimes doesn’t manage to get past his man but that doesn’t stop him from trying and more often than not he gets us into dangerous positions with his willingness to keep at it. He’s shown he can create chances for us with both feet and the unselfishness he showed to set up Tom’s second was admirable and impressive. He capped an excellent performance with a fine strike.
Johnny continues to get better in each game and is now adding goals to match the all-round attributes he brings to the team. I’ve only had the pleasure of playing on the pitch with him a few times this season but he seems to bring the best out of those around him by starting attacks and making the right call to receive the right pass at the right time, and in the right place. He also usually hangs onto the ball for the right amount of time, willingly moving it on to those in a better position when they make the call. He’s shown he also has the defensive determination to win the ball back to put us on top in the midfield battle. Top work!
We’ve scored 16 goals in 3 games and only conceded 3, that is impressive and we should be proud of the little run we are on. As time has gone on we have grown into a team that is capable of creating lots of chances, it’s not an exaggeration to say we could easily have scored at least 10 in the last two games and even before the East Brighton Eagles game we were creating lots too.
Personally it’s hard for me to not be involved on the pitch as much as I’d like, but when people are playing so well and I’ve not been at my best physically or mentally then I accept that I’m not gonna be getting in the team. We have a huge squad and I’m sure there are others that are disappointed not to be playing more, but as I said previously I am now picking what I think is the best team and squad to get the job done every week. Everyone has had a chance to prove themselves both in matches and at training. If you’re unavailable for a couple of weeks then chances are you aren’t going to be slotting straight back into the team, so you may need to bide your time and wait for your chance, and when you get it you need to be grabbing it with both hands.
Next week is a pretty huge game, we almost deservedly beat this lot before and we need to be looking to turn them over this time. Although we are playing well and on a good run, there is absolutely no room for complacency and we must turn up on Sunday ready to give everything we have got to get the result. We’ll be playing on a relatively flat pitch which should suit our playing style so let’s get on it and rip them apart!
Finally, thanks to everyone who chipped in with getting stuff set up and taken down after my rant last week. It was much less stressful for me to only have to concentrate on a couple of pre-match things rather than everything, although I did still have to make some alterations to both nets…????