After smashing this lot in our last game I was confident we'd be able to beat them this time, although I certainly wasn't expecting such an easy game. Due to the possible weakness of the opposition as well as our prolonged Christmas break and high number or available players I decided to name a squad of 16, both to ease everyone back in as well as give a couple of squad players a chance to show what they can do. The idea was to give everyone except Aiden 60 minutes on the pitch by doing 5 subs every 30 minutes.
The pitch at Greenleas was certainly showing the effects of having been played on during the recent shit weather and it was obvious from the warm up that we would be dealing with a lot of bumps when passing the ball around. As the game kicked off it became clear that Hangleton had a game plan that wouldn't be troubled by the state of the pitch - to pump the ball long from front to back in the hope their big man won the header and they could feed off scraps from that. In fairness to them, it did work quite well until they had to do something with it once big man had won it, and at this point they failed to cause us any trouble due to a lack of quality or pace up front. They did have a couple of wayward shots early on whilst we were still finding our feet but nothing to trouble Aiden in the sticks.
We had started the game slowly once again, in the last game and a few before that it took us around 20 minutes to get going and that was the case here too. We knocked the ball around well enough and looked comfortable in possession, it was more a case of moving forward and finding advanced players in good positions that we struggled with. Aly in particular was holding onto the ball for longer than he should have, dribbling into space occupied by a teammate and then releasing the ball to them once they were surrounded by opposition players. There's a time and a place for opening up your legs and driving at the opponents but you should be doing it into space rather than crowded areas, the latter just means you have far less room to work in and are much more likely to lose possession. In fairness, Aly did get in behind his marker a couple of times and delivered a cross into the box but it didn't find anyone, we were also struggling to get men forward when we did break through.
I noticed there was often a significant void between our full backs and our wide attackers in front of them, luckily the opponents weren't switched on enough to exploit this when they had the ball, with their full backs not willing to move into that space to receive a pass. If we were playing against a better team we may have been punished. This meant that when we won the ball back and the full back had received the ball, they had to make a very long pass into the channel to try and find the man in front of them. Either the wide man needs to be dropping back to offer an easier out-ball or the full back needs to be starting further forward to reduce the gap between them.
Aly had to come off after around 15 minutes due to injury so I sent Adam on at left back and pushed Luis forward to replace him. Barnes, Will and Johnny were occupying the centre of the pitch and were in for a bit of a battle, with the opposition skipper lucky not to be booked for a very late challenge on our ginger prince which got him riled up like I haven't seen for a while. The same prick chopped Adam at the knee not long after and still escaped a booking, the ref was very weak though so I'm not surprised.
Our best chance of the half fell to Will after an excellent cross from Lee found him in the box where he guided a volley goalwards, only to see it clip off the bar and go over. It would have been a lovely goal, it looked like the keeper may have got a hand on it but the ref gave a goal kick.
On the half hour mark I brought the remaining 4 subs on, myself at centre back for Craig, Fin wide right to replace Lee, Fred at right back for Rob and linesman Rich slotted in for Barnes. I immediately made a bit of a difference in terms of thwarting their game plan and won a few consecutive headers to stop their only point of attack from proceeding.
There wasn't much else of note in the first half, not that I can remember anyway, apologies if you think you did something worthy of a mention. I have just recalled Craig nonchalantly flicking the ball over an attackers head when he had the ball at the back, there doesn't seem to be any limits to this man's casualness! Let's just hope he doesn't get caught out and make us pay for it when it really matters!
At half time my message was that we needed to just keep plugging away and the goal(s) would come. We were on top but not by much, they were certainly up for the battle after being battered against us last time and it was certainly not a game that we would win easily. I knew our fruitful midfield due of Will and Johnny would only be on the pitch for another 15 mins before being changed for 2 perhaps less potent replacement in Barnesy and I, so getting an early goal seemed like something we needed to do, aside from the fact that the longer it took to come the more pressure we'd feel that we needed to get it.
Thankfully the opening goal didn't take too long to come. As we were watching a Will free kick from the halfway line I instructed Fred to move into a big space on our right side that was completely unoccupied, if the ball was cleared out there then he'd have loads of time to use it, and was wasted on the halfway line where we had superiority of numbers anyway. As luck would have it, the ball did find it's way to him and he took a touch before delivering a dangerous cross that found our resident volley expert Rich Bell, who was loitering around the edge of the box, he caught it sweet on the Buddy Holly and looped one into the far corner of the net past the scrambling keeper.
I think we felt a bit of collective relief as a team after taking the lead and seemed to be a lot more comfortable on the ball. Fin was often in acres of space on the right and was beating his man for fun with the same trick of opening his body up and letting the ball run on every single time, not sure how his marker kept falling for it to be honest! He was linking up quite well with those around him but seemed unable to pass backwards to me, perhaps his joystick is broken or something like that.
On the 60 minute mark there were more changes. I moved to centre mid with Barnes, Craig and Rob came back on at centre backs and Lee came on up top to replace Karl who left the field along with Will, Johnny and George.
Not long after that Lee scored a lovely goal on the bounce that crept in just underneath the bar, unfortunately the ref had blown for me fouling someone from a throw, which to be fair he did get right. I was quite frustrated with the quality of pretty much all the throws that were aimed at me, they were well off target leaving me with very little chance of getting on the end of them. If you're taking the throw and you think I'm in the wrong place to get on the end of it then please instruct me to move to where I can instead of just throwing it where I'm not standing!
Both Barnes and I had attempts from free kicks outside the box, with me deciding to go for placement and Barnes for power, neither of which came off although mine was clearly the better of the two as I actually took the fact that there was a wall in front of me into account......Lee also had a chance to make his mark from a set piece after a penalty was awarded for handball after Luis won a header at the back stick which he guided back into the danger area. Luis immediately asked for the pen but my policy is to let the previous taker keep going until they miss, which Lee did in quite spectacular fashion. He caught it well but it was too high and ended up in the woods behind the goal which Will took great delight in ripping him for, even though he took arguably a worse penalty in pre-season!
The score remained at 1-0, we didn't have any clear chances for the rest of the game even though we enjoyed the majority of the possession. We defended well when the ball made its way towards our goal, with timely clearances from Craig and Rob easing the pressure at times. Adam was always an option out wide and Fred was composed on the ball under pressure.
I had a darting run through the middle which 2 of their players tried to end by hacking me, the silly ref blew his whistle even though I was moving towards the goal and obviously about to stick it in the top corner...I incorrectly accused their skipper of being one of the culprits.
Aly came back on for the final 10 minutes and did ok, tracking back and winning the ball on a couple of occasions. We played out the rest of time and the ref blew up, we had won our fourth match in a row even though it wasn't our best performace it was a win and that's all that counts.
I'm going to give MoM to myself this week, I actually got a good teammate rating for a change so I must have done something right. I think I only gave the ball away once and that was as soon as I'd come on. At the back I won and laid off to a teammate pretty much every ball that came my way and when I moved into the middle I kept the ball moving under pressure as well as making some important interceptions when defending. Will was actually rated very slightly higher and even though he did well I don't think he was as good all-round as he's been lately and was often a bit too far off play for my liking, especially in the first half, so I decided not to give it to him this week. In general I don't think anyone stood out either way, it was a competent performance without much excellence.
We have a game against bottom of the league next week, they actually won their last game so have obviously improved as the season has progressed, and if this game has taught us anything it's that teams who have been on the end of pummellings often have a point to prove, so we will need to be at our best in this game regardless of the standard of who we are up against.