This was our first ever cup game and the only one we are in this season, so I was determined not to lose at the first hurdle, and also keep our winning run intact to make it 6 in a row.
I named the usual 4-3-3, with Fred coming in to right back to cover for an inured Rob and Fin starting up front instead of Tom who was back for his first game since we broke up before Christmas. Myself and Barnes joined him on the bench.
I mentioned before the game that our opponents would likely be a lot tougher to play against than our recent opposition, so we'd have to be up for raising our game to at least match them. From eyeing them in the warm up I could see they were very young and therefore likely more spritely compared to us, so I asked the team not to be too eager to close them down and leave gaps for them to exploit, but instead concentrate on exerting our physical advantage upon them and shake them up a bit.
We got off to a solid start, it was pretty much all us for the first 15 or 20 minutes. They failed to create any chances of note despite making it towards our box a few times when we got caught flat footed and out of position on the break. Both Karl and Fin had good chances to put us ahead with one-on-ones, unfortunately both of them could only muster a weak shot that the keeper saved easily. A bit more conviction needed lads, get your lace through the ball Tom Sommerville style!
We took the lead after a succession of corners, I think there were 4 in a row, all of which were very nice deliveries and caused them a lot of problems. Unfortunately we didn't really have much height or presence in the box so it would have taken a pinpoint delivery to find one of our heads in space, and that's exactly what we got when Will curled in beautifully onto the sixpence on Karl's forehead and he guided it home skilfully from just outside the six-yard box (see attached video!)
It was no more than we deserved and it looked like we could be on for another rout as Heathfield had shown very little so far. We made it 2 not long after as Johnny beat the offside trap and calmly rounded the keeper to slot home. But, it wasn't actually 2-0 because their cheating 12 year old linesman had put his flag up and the ref fell for it. There is absolutely no way it was offside and was blatant cheating. I gave him a bit of stick and in the back of my mind hoped for his sake that the game wouldn't be decided by it.
Aiden had a hairy moment when a dangerous ball in bounced up off his knee but luckily went clear of any oncoming attackers. Our defence was largely untroubled so far and Craig was flicking the ball over their heads every chance he got.
Rich seemed to be having a bit of an off-day and his passing in particular looked very loose, with a few balls to no one. His effort and determination was still there though and he was making his trademark noisy tackles like normal.
Will was getting on the ball a lot and working well with Lee down the left. Our wide men intercepted a fair few loose passes and found themselves clear but we just couldn't get that second goal to give ourselves a cushion by half time.
We were certainly the team in the driving seat and it was only some questionable decision making with the ball that had stopped us from ending the half with more of a lead. It also seemed pretty quiet and unorganised from the sideline. I decided to bring myself on for Rich and Tom on for Fin, who'd had quite a frustrating half with a couple of chances that should have produced at least one goal.
We started off the second half in much the same manner but as time progressed we seemed to get a bit more panicked on the ball, rushing clearances and passes. I don't know what caused this but my addition to the team may have had something to do with it. I thought we needed to be a bit more vocal and organised but in hindsight my constant shouting and order-barking may have had the opposite effect to what I wanted and instilled that sense of panic in those around me.
Heathfield were inching their way back into the game and had introduced some fresh legs that were making a difference for them. We weren't getting the decisions from the ref who was having a particularly poor game, he's been decent when I've had him before but not this time. Fred got a bit carried away with his protestations following one decision and was rewarded with 10 minutes in the sin bin. This meant I had to drop back to centre back and push Craig out to the right whilst we played with 10 men.
Our opponents levelled not long after, cutting in from our left hand side and after some haphazard defending where we failed to get rid of the danger their lad found some space and hit a hard shot that beat Aiden high into the net. He perhaps should have done better with it but it was no more than we deserved as we'd really started to lose our grip on the game by now.
I had moved to right back to get Craig back in the middle to reform his partnership with George. It was a real defensive task covering that flank, they had a game plan of having 3 or 4 players out there when they attacked which meant I was constantly yelling at Karl to drop back in and help me out. He was tending to drift into the middle yet again which I had to get him to stop doing. Thankfully he did as he was asked and put more of a shift in to stop me being completely outnumbered on a few occasions.
By this point they really had the wind in their sales and it looked as though things could get worse unless we managed to halt their ascendancy. Luckily that's exactly what we did a few minutes later when we worked the ball into their box, where Johnny hit a shot towards the corner which their quite-impressive keeper could only parry, and Karl was there to tap in the rebound from a few yards after thankfully following the shot in, which is exactly what goal scorers need to be doing.
This goal released the pressure on us somewhat and we began to dominate play again. Tom continued his impressive goal scoring form by notching after Johnny picked him out unmarked in the box, he took a touch and left the keeper with no chance by firing into the opposite corner. I was in absolute acres on the other side of the box screaming for the pass from Johnny so if he hadn't scored then I'd have probably cried, luckily my tears were saved.
We weren't out of the woods yet and Heathfield pulled another goal back a few minutes later, with more questionable defending and weakness on our left side leaving a man completely unmarked on the edge of our box, he was found with a simple pass from a man that was not closed down and hit a precise finish to beat Aiden at his near post, there was nothing he could have done about that one though.
It was too little, too late for them though and the ref lew for full-time to send us through to the next round of the cup. Their players seemed genuinely shocked that they had lost and at how bad they had played, so we may not have seen the best they had to offer, but it certainly wasn't the best we could offer either. We weren't bad by any stretch of the imagination but we can also be a lot, lot better than that too.
Man of the match is tough because I don't think anyone in particular stood out ahead of everyone else, but I'm going to give it to Karl for scoring 2 and his willingness to put in the defensive work when required, good effort lad.
Sorry the report is brief and so late, been a busy week for me and haven't found the time to sit down and give it the usual attention I do.
Big game tomorrow, this lot stuffed us last time and it was probably our lowest point as a team, almost resulting in a mutiny! Let's show them what we are really capable of...