With no cup game the league organised a friendly against the current unbeaten (100% record) leaders of Group C. The game was in doubt with overnight frost leaving the pitch crispy and bobbly on top. Fortunately it just took a stud and after both sets of boys had warmed up on the difficult areas we got the go-ahead from the referee with the sun now coming up over the houses.
Mick H the Manager was away for the weekend, so Sean H kindly deputised for the morning and unfortunately Josh G was unwell so unavailable.
The boys were told that although this was a friendly we wanted to see the right attitude and intensity as we've got some big cup games coming up plus Montpellier will want to show that they can mix it with the best teams in the area. We started with a 2-4-2 system and made it clear that the front 6 need to press at all times as a unit and in particular the front two need to work hard when we don't have possession. The surface will be tricky as its bobbly so extra concentration and quality is required when passing and receiving the ball.
The game started and both teams were a little wary of the conditions and it soon became evident that the bobbly surface was going to prove detrimental to free flowing football. Montpellier were full of enthusiasm and certainly got amongst our boys with some physical tackles. They also played to the conditions better than our boys early on in that we tried to play into our two front players which wasn't easy on the surface and their three defenders stepped in and just knocked it long into our right/left back areas, which stretched Thomas M and Thomas Dy plus made it difficult for our captain Daniel W as our sweeper keeper. This meant they had territorial advantage early on and although they didn't create any chances we couldn't get any sustained pressure in their final third. We started to get a foothold in the game with Ryan and in particular Thomas H starting to gain the upper hand in the central midfield area and with Nathan and Henry occupying the wide areas we started to move their players around and created chances for Flynn, Thomas Da and Nathan with cross from the right which their keeper saved or a last ditch challenge blocked the shot. Montpellier were still not looking to play out through midfield and continued to hit the channels and play territory which disrupted our rhythm with only having two at the back. With the score still goalless just after midway through the first half we made four changes with Ben S, Ben G, Josh S and Daniel H replacing Henry, Nathan, Flynn and Thomas Da respectively and we also changed to a 3-3-2 system. This reaped immediate rewards with our three at the back dealing with their long balls from the back and we kept them pinned in their own half to apply some pressure. This resulted in us taking the lead when from just outside the area Ryan hit a wonderful knee high right foot strike from a bouncing ball that beat their keeper only to hit the inside of the post and go across goal where thankfully Ben G was on hand to tap it into the net to make it 1-0. Montpellier couldn't cope with our system and our pressing when we had them deep in their half. It wasn't long before we added a second when again after wonderful pressing by our front two Josh S and Daniel H, the ball broke to Ryan who slipped it through to Ben G who kept his composure and rounded a player before slotting home for his and our second. Unfortunately just before half time we conceded a soft goal when again they had a throw-in deep in our half and everybody overloaded the front post and when the ball made its way somehow to the back post a Montpellier player was on hand to make it 2-1 at half time.
The boys were told that they were certainly in a game and the pitch was difficult but the same for both teams. We went back to a 2-4-2 system as we need to get it right as we know we can play 3-4-1 and 3-3-2 when we need to do so. Again we emphasised that the front two are the key to the success of this system and Josh S and Daniel H had done superbly in the latter part of the first half. We made several changes with Nathan, Henry and Flynn replacing Thomas M, Ryan and Josh S. With the surface now thawing our boys started to play with a little more quality, however, decision making in the final third was causing us problems as they broke quickly with the long ball into our channels which meant a lot of work for Ben S, Thomas Dy and Daniel W which they dealt with pretty well, although at times they needed to be more positive and communicate with one another to ensure they didn't gain territorial advantage. Montpellier certainly had some tidy players who were willing to work their socks off. Thankfully our boys realised what was required and in particular Thomas H was non-stop in the midfield area and certainly took his fair share of knocks. He was replaced by Ryan after 45mins with Thomas M, Thomas Da, Josh S replacing Thomas Dy, Ben G and Daniel H respectively. As Montpellier started to tire our boys dominated in all areas with the front 6 now working as a unit and pressing at every opportunity and when we had possession our decision making and quality was good. From a good move down our right Thomas Da crossed only for their defender to just beat Flynn to the ball. From the subsequent corner Josh S moving backwards planted a beautiful header back across goal into the far corner to give us breathing space and a 3-1 lead. The final ten minutes or so was played solely in their half except for the odd long ball out of defence which the back three dealt with on most occasions really well. We had chances to extend our lead through Flynn, Daniel H, Nathan and Henry but it wasn't to be so the final scoreline was 3-1.
We told the boys well done in the second half as that was more of a collective performance with everyone working their socks off for the team and if we want to make this system work it is imperative that we are all pulling together. We have a big week this week so the attitude needs to be right at training on Wednesday before a must win cup game against Sale Utd Storm away next Saturday.
All the boys had contributed to the performance and victory this morning and they wanted to vote on MOM. Fortunately we, as the coaching team, were in total agreement with their choice that Thomas H was the stand out player with his attitude, desire, anticipation, quality and decision making.
A big thanks to all the parents who came down early to set up and put away after the game in Mick's absence and to Sean who stepped in as assistant coach and did a fabulous job.