Craig pulled out with a flat tyre which meant despite my intention to sit this one out with a couple of niggles I would come in to replace him at the back. We continued with the 4-3-3, with Tom coming back into the starting line-up.
We'd suffered our worst defeat and lowest point of the season against Kingston Broadway when we played them at home and I was determined that this time we gave a better representation of what we are capable of. The pitch was very small and bobbly so we knew it would be a struggle to open them up easily with the quick incisive play that we usually favour.
From the kick off it became clear that they had a game plan similar to Hangleton the last time we played them, which was to get it to the big man at every opportunity. This combined with their keepers huge kicks meant we had our work cut out at the back to deal with the barrage of high balls that came towards us. In general we dealt pretty well, with only a couple of hairy moments caused by misjudgement or weak clearances.
Early play was largely dominated by us and mostly in their half, but we couldn't quite click in the final third. Both Lee and Tom were occasionally getting caught flat footed when the ball was played into them, meaning their marker found it relatively easy to get in front of them and intercept the ball. I don't think the small pitch helped their cause because there was a lot less space to run into for any balls over the top into the channels. Perhaps this was causing them to hesitate and neither make the run or drop off to receive the pass.
Will started very brightly and was obviously having one of those games where the ball stuck to his foot. He was beating his marker(s) pretty much every time he received the ball, sometimes having to do so because there was no option to offload to and sometimes just because he likes taking people on! His work-rate off the ball was impressive and he made a few excellent interceptions and even a couple of fouls, it was good to see that determination in him.
Tom and Lee both had chances near to goal but couldn't quite get the right shot off. Lee had the better of the two but elected to hit it first time when he really should have taken the touch and applied a more composed finish.
We took a deserved lead with around 20 minutes gone. Johnny delivered a perfectly placed free kick right into the danger zone where Rich leapt like a salmon, beating the keeper to the ball and it looping over into the net. I was right behind Rich and it was dropping right onto my head if he had missed it, couldn't have asked for a better placed delivery than that!
Unfortunately instead of kicking on from there we seemed to regress and Kingston began to put us under a fair amount of pressure. Despite this, they weren't getting particularly clear chances out of us, with the back 4 dealing with their lofted balls mostly in comfort. We were struggling to get the ball away and make it stick further up the pitch which had the impact of making us more panicky every time they came back to us.
Eventually they got the breakthrough, with a cross from the right hand side of the box getting between me and Fred and finding their big man who forced a save from Aiden before finishing the rebound. I was certain that he was offside and looked over to Luis on the line who said he wasn't and that I had played him on, I really wasn't sure about that at all but our South American linesman insists he was clever and went back onside just as the cross was kicked. I've since heard from Rich's mate who arguably had a superior view from up on the hill directly behind Luis, that he was clearly offside! Not sure if we have a fine system in place for incorrect linesman decisions that favour our opponents, but we'll have to put one in place if not. I'm also looking into whether it's possible to bet on Sunday League games, I really hope Luis isn't going down that path...The rest of the half didn't bring much else of note, and if it did I can't remember it.
We started the second half in much better form, and it seemed like it wouldn't be long before we got ourselves in front again. Lee (I think) got in down the left and put a vicious cross in that unfortunately no one could reach. Will and Johnny were seeing quite a lot of the ball and it was clear that our opposition were tiring and leaving more space for them to exploit. Rich was making some excellent tackles to add to the couple of special slidey interceptions he did in the first half. Karl was getting into the channels more than he had been and once or twice had the final ball to him been slightly better he'd have been clean through.
I brought Aly on for Lee who had not had his best game for us and Luis on at left back for Adam who had done nothing wrong, I just wanted to freshen up that side a bit.
We did take the lead with about 60 minutes gone, Will received the ball in the box and apparently took a kick off someone behind him, I was a long way away and didn't see it myself but others who were closer did. His reaction was delayed and he tumbled to the floor in quite an amusing manner, but the person who counts had seen enough to warrant pointing at the spot for a penalty! I let the lads sort out between themselves who would take it, interested to see if Will or Lee were eager to add to their tallies of one miss each, but Tom emerged as the alpha-male and took the ball over to the spot. He made no mistake, cooly slotting into the bottom left corner and sending the keeper the wrong way.
I felt that we could definitely push on and get some more but Kingston weren't ready to roll over just yet. Luckily they didn't have any dead ball specialists in their team as we gave away 4 or 5 free kicks around the edge of the box that could have proved very costly. I'm still annoyed that I was penalised for a handball that wasn't, but despite that decision I thought the ref had a pretty accomplished game, shame about the linesmen though, with their supplied one flagging Johnny for offside a couple of times when he looked to be clearly on. If there were stats for the most incorrectly flagged player in Sunday football Mr.Buggy would surely be up there.
Aly continued his run of coming on and then having to go off injured again, meaning Lee replaced him. I'm not sure what the injury was but perhaps a better warm up is needed mate? I understand that you don't know exactly when you're coming onto the pitch but you do need to make sure you are physically ready when you're called for.
Barnes came on to replace Tom who had had a relatively quiet game by his recent standards. He seemed to be a bit unsettled by the physical presence of the centre back marking him, he's mentioned this to me before that due to his knee problems he's not keen on having to do battle in that way, which is fair enough but at the same time you're gonna get that quite often at this level. My recommendation at half-time that he try and move off his marker by making well-timed movement to receive the ball in space is just one way to try and negate the attention of an overly keen marker. Unfortunately for Barnes he wasn't slotting in Tom's place and was put in the holding role, which Rich pushing slightly forward and Johnny going up top to try and add to his current goal scoring purple patch.
We didn't get to play too much longer, with the only real highlight being a header by Barnesy on the halfway line from a goal kick. He connected really well but I'm not sure whether he meant it. The game was brought to an abrupt end minutes later when we forced the last of many corners we'd had throughout the game. The ball was whipped into the danger area where both Rich and I were along with a few of their players. I'm not quite sure what happened as there was a multi-person collision, but I came out the other side with a sore elbow and Rich was on his back holding his neck and looking white as a sheet. He tried to get up but was in considerable discomfort and rightly was told to stay where we was, you can never be too careful with neck or back injuries. I can only assume somehow I'd elbowed him in the neck and judging by how painful my elbow felt at the time I can only imagine how much it had hurt Rich!
Our team showed what a genuinely good bunch of lads we have, with everyone immediately getting involved to ensure Rich was as comfortable as he could be on a cold and muddy football pitch. Trousers, tops and coats were all donated, leaving some of the lads without anything warm to wear themselves. Luis called the ambulance and after 20 questions they said they'd send one out. Turns were taken cradling Rich's neck to ease the pressure and everyone chipped in one way or another to help him out, it was great to see. Fred came into his own as our resident physio by taking control of the situation and liaising with both the phone operator and the paramedics when they finally arrived after over 100 minutes of waiting!
The ref and opposition manager had approached me and asked if the ambulance hadn't arrived by 1pm would I be happy to abandon the game with the result standing as it was. I of course agreed, but have since learned that it's not quite that straightforward and there is a possibility of us replaying it, if I'd have known that then I may well have answered differently, but the thought of playing football again after all the waiting around for Rich to be seen to isn't very attractive to be honest. We'll have to wait and see what happens on that front, but Perry has said he may try and get the Kingston manager to confirm that he was happy for the scoreline to stand.
Thankfully and most importantly Rich is home from hospital, sore but ok. We all obviously wish him a speedy recovery. I'd like to dedicate my pre-match wonder-goal to him and my subsequent You've been Framed trip in the net whilst retrieving the ball to everyone else who mucked in to help him. You're welcome.
My man of the match is Will, he put on a real display both with and without the ball, beating players time and again and showing desire and aggression when it was required. It was his best performance since East Brighton Eagles. The only tarnish on an otherwise excellent display being the ridiculous back heel he tried outside our box whilst facing our goal to put us under unnecessary pressure, what a lunatic...
Cup game next against EG Club De Football Blues (what a name!), we had a close one against them in the league and were perhaps lucky to win. They've had some mixed results recently but that doesn't matter, we need to be firing on all cylinders to progress and get us to that cup final!