After a progressively positive pre-season, culminating in an excellent performance last week, turning over a div 1 team at a canter, we were looking to start the season proper with 3 points. We'd played this lot already a few weeks back and knew what to expect, in the pre-match talk I warned of complacency and that they'd be looking to get some kind of revenge and would most likely be a lot more up for it.
We stuck with the 3-5-2 that has looked solid so far, with Fabio and Adam getting the nod in the all-important wing back roles.
We got off to a strong start, spending the first 10 minutes camped in their half, not allowing them any time to relax or gain any composure. Our pressing was coordinated, carrying on from the impressive manner we did so in the previous game. Our final ball was a little lacking early on, but we produced a moment of brilliance to score an excellent team goal, with a zig-zag of snappy passes between Will, me, Karl and arriving at the feet of Lee who Karl had nicely picked out inside the box, he applied an outstanding finish with the ball on the bounce to lift it over the keeper into the top corner.
Woodingdean came back into the game a little and had a couple of chances to equalise, with some solid anticipation and calmness from Fabio allowing him to nip in front of their attacker to head the ball over for a corner to thwart one. Although we did look a little exposed on the break when losing possession when numbers were forward, we never panicked and the back three of Fred, George and Craig looked comfortable and able to deal with it without much fuss.
Our second came after another slick exchange of passes in the middle released Adam down the left, and he was able to deliver expertly to Lee who had found space and calmly applied the finish from a few yards out.
Lee certainly had his shooting boots on today and continued to justify his request to play up front more by completing a superb hattrick inside 30 minutes after another well-timeqd run, latching onto a pinpoint direct ball over the top from captain Fred and finishing with an arrogance that comes with red-hot form, lifting the ball over the onrushing keeper, with it dropping perfectly into the net.
He wasn't finished there though, and produced an outstanding finish for his fourth, it was Cantona-esque! We had numbers forward but the attack seemed to have broken down when their defender was able to get a clearance in, but it fell to the last man they'd have wanted it to, and he punished them by curling into the top left corner with the outside of his right peg from about 18 yards, leaving the keeper with absolutely no chance.
He could have had a couple more too, unfortunately with one he failed to finish after rounding the keeper, agonisingly shooting wide from a tight angle, reminding us he is human after all.
Johnny was getting increasingly wound up by the ref who seemed to have it in for him. There were at least 3 occasions that he not only didn't give Johnny the decision but penalised him for it, each of which was completely wrong. For some reason we weren't to the refs taste today, I was penalised for a handball that never happened (Will...) as well as a few other dodgy calls. Luckily we weren't depending on a good ref to get the result and were in control of the game ourselves.
Half time came and I brought Barnes on for Lee who had requested a break as he had run himself ragged. Karl went up top to replace Lee with Barnes sitting in the middle.
We got off to a decent start with Johnny getting on the scoresheet after I intercepted a sloppy defenders pass and put him through, he was able to remain cool and round the keeper to slot home.
I brought on Luis and Aly to replace Fabio and Adam at wing-backs. With that position having to cover so much ground in a game it's very important we have multiple options there, so I wanted Luis and Aly to get some more experience playing there, even though it's not their natural position they both have the ability to learn it and excel there.
Unfortunately as the second half went on we seemed to go off the boil somewhat, it may have been related slightly to the personnel changes but I'm more inclined to think we just lost a bit of drive and determination to find space and make sure our passes were on target. Quite a few times we put ourselves in trouble at the back from the restart, either there weren't enough options to pass to or the pass was wayward. Against a better side we'd have been punished, so it's definitely something we need to be aware of moving forward.
Woodingdean should take some credit though, they seemed to find an extra gear around the same time that we seemed to lose one, and their pressing was effective in stopping us bossing the game like we had been. Our touches were becoming heavy, I especially had a shocker in that department, I don't think I've lost the ball so many times in a game before and was getting increasingly annoyed with myself for having a rubber foot!
I did manage to find the net though, unfortunately it was a deflection off my arm from an opposition free kick that put enough spin on the ball to take it away from the outstretched Aiden, who'd produced a solid display in goal, giving them a consolation goal. They almost scored another soon after but rattled it off the crossbar.
The ref soon blew for full-time and we'd picked up the first 3 points of the season. I'm kind of glad we seemed to struggle a bit in the second half, it gives us something to think about and stops us from getting carried away with thoughts of walking this league. We'll need to be at the top of our game for 90 minutes if we want to beat the best this league has to offer, so let's take that thought into Wednesday's game and get another victory so I don't have to blame stand-in gaffa Barnes (even though he says he likes blame...??)
Man of the match can only go to Lee after producing a superb performance with some top quality finishing and movement to get into the positions. Well done mate!!