I switched back to a four man defence after recent failed experiments using a three. We have shown that we can play with wing-backs but perhaps it only works with certain players and against certain opposition. Still, it's good to know that we have that option in future.
New signing Longy came in for his debut in goal, freeing Tom up to show what he can do on pitch. I know from playing with Longy for years that he is a quality keeper on his day and has a massive kick which would hopefully cause our opponents some problems.
We started the game very well, immediately pressing Rosehill and winning the ball from their kick-off. Our passing was snappy and we were finding space and using the width of the pitch to mount our attacks. Will and Johnny were playing in centre midfield together with Simo sitting behind them and they were combining well to get us playing. We attacked for pretty much the whole of the first ten minutes and Rosehill looked like they didn't have much to offer in return. Our first meaningful chance resulted in Karl having a dig from around the edge of the box after a bit of a scramble, only to see the ball cannon back off the post.
Unfortunately, not long after that we conceded a rather sloppy goal from a diagonal ball that somehow found its way through our defence to an unmarked opponent who had a simple finish at the back post. As good as we had started with the ball, we hadn't yet found our feet without it and were struggling to cope with counter attacks and their runners coming from deep. There were a few mis-kicks and loose touches that put us under pressure. It was a new centre back pairing of Steve and Fred so it was always gonna take a bit of time for them to settle into the game.
Despite going a goal down against the run of play, we didn't let it dishearten us and it wasn't long before we were level. I received the ball off a throw-in and managed to roll my marker before taking a touch, their player got to me and managed to get a foot to the ball but in doing so played a wonderful through ball to a lively Will, he got to the byline before cutting back to Lee who applied a cool finish to bring even things up.
We'd forced a few corners already and our second goal came from an expert delivery by Will. I'd been having a fair amount of success in losing my marker by using a bit of off-the-ball muscle and after a slight shove as Will stepped up to take it I found myself free at the back post to volley in with my left from a couple of yards as the ball curled over everyone right onto my foot, it couldn't have been a better placed corner!
We had the wind in our sails and it felt like we could go on and get quite a few more at this rate. Nearly every time we attacked it felt like we could score, our closing down of the opponents was quite often effective and we either made the tackle or rushed them into giving the ball back to us by denying their back line much time on the ball to pick the right pass and cutting off their options.
The work rate was good although I did notice a few occasions of players casually running back when Rosehill were on the counter attack and opponents were running past them. I feel like a broken record but it's so important to drop back and close those gaps early, otherwise it invites them to run into the space and ultimately means we are getting overloaded. When we don't have the ball we all need to be constantly scanning the pitch around us looking to deny our opponents an easy way to find the space to play around us.
Our third goal came when their goalie was unable to gather a shot, the ball found its way towards the right side of the eighteen-yard box and sat nicely for the oncoming Urdon who had made a well timed run up the pitch to meet it with a solid strike into the net. 1-3 up and cruising.
It soon became apparent that there was some very dodgy linesmen operating for Rosehill. Urdon slid a slightly delayed through ball up the middle to put me clean through but then from behind me came Johnny who called it, I stopped because I had a feeling I may have been offside and let Johnny carry on who cooly took it round the keeper and slotted in. The lino put his flag up and the goal was ruled out for offside. I wasn't complaining that I was off, but I can't have been more than a yard so surely Johnny was onside. The ref was having none of it and it stayed at 1-3.
Rosehill weren't dead yet though and got themselves back into it with another counter attack that saw them bundle their way through the middle and slot home past Longy. Not a lot he could have done for either goal.
I subbed myself off for Tom as I was feeling quite jaded and not quite right, don't think I had enough fuel in me. Tom immediately started being a menace and closing down their defenders at full speed and putting himself about. We were still creating a lot and even though Rosehill had managed to get themselves back into it we were the team that looked like scoring more.
Half time came and I raised my concerns about how we weren't quite there yet with the defending, asking our centre backs to try and be a bit more aggressive with the marking and to get themselves between their man and the ball a bit more. It's easy for me to say these things when I'm up the other end of the pitch and I'm not sure how much of it actually gets taken in, but I just say it how I see it, if you disagree with my assessment then that's up to you. The fact was we were not looking very strong when they countered and there needed to be some improvement in the second half.
Rob came on as a straight swap for Urdon who needed a breather.
The second half saw us have a lot of chances, I'm trying to remember them all but I doubt I have:
Tom had a well taken goal ruled out for offside which he reckons was more lino cheating. Lee had a chance where he was clean through but skied it, taking the shot earlier and from a wider angle than he probably should have - there was certainly time to take it right up to the keeper to slot home, a bit more composure needed there! He had another chance later on where I rolled the defender again off an Urdon throw and passed it across the box to Lee but it ended up going through his legs, in fairness I hit it a bit too hard and didn't give him much time to react. I had a left-footed swinger after being played in by Will that the keeper saved well. I later put Johnny through with a ball over the top but the bloody lino flagged for offside again when it wasn't! We could honestly have scored 8 on Sunday, we created a lot.
The defence was much better in the second half and looked a lot more equipped to deal with the counter when Rosehill broke. Fred and Steve were organising things and making the right decisions about when to try to play their way out and when to take the no-nonsense approach. I could hear voices and organisation and Rosehill rarely looked like causing us problems.
Aly came on for the last half hour and got involved quite a bit down the left, linking up well with Urdon (who had come back on for George) and finding spaces to operate in. He was prepared to do the dirty work to get back and help out his full back, I had to encourage him to do it a few times but he showed a willingness to put in the effort that I demand from those who play that wide position.
After a goal-filled first half the second somehow ended without any more going in, although we should have put the game far out of reach with the number of chances we had. It's partly down to some awful officiating but we also need to step up our ruthlessness and take the chances that we create. However, we never looked like getting any less than a victory out of this game and we have to build on that performance and take it into next week where we welcome Rosehill to Buckingham Park for the return fixture.
My man of the match goes to Will, he got two more assists to add to his tally and was a constant thorn in their side, finding space and beating players for fun. Were it not for some less-than-perfect finishing he could have notched a few more assists too. I had to remind him of his defensive duties a few times but he took it on-board more often than not which was pleasing to see and is something I expect he'll be doing naturally the more he grows into that role. Good work!