Returning after the Christmas break straight into an important Cup game was never going to be easy although the boys trained really well on Wednesday night. It was going to be more difficult as there was a bit of edge to the game with 3 of our team Henry, Ben S and Daniel H facing their old team for the first time since leaving. We made it clear to the boys that Maestros would be really motivated for this game and we had to match that before we started to play our style of football on what was a very small and tight pitch.
We started with a 3-4-1 system and the opening minutes was as expected with both teams having little time on the ball on the tight pitch, however, in certain areas of the pitch we were passive, not anticipating things and our passing and movement wasn't at the required standard. Our hesitancy at the back resulted in a free kick 25 yards out, from which they took the lead with a strike that the Captain, Daniel W, couldn't do anything about. Almost immediately we had chances to equalise as Ryan and Thomas H began to get a foothold in the middle of the pitch, Nathan, Flynn and Henry all had strikes either blocked or missed the target. We were soon level when from a beautifully delivered corner from Thomas H, Thomas M attacked the ball and scored with a powerful header to make it 1-1. Rather than us now stamping our authority on the game the opposite happened. They started to go long to their lone striker who was giving our usually reliable back three a very difficult time and our hesitancy and inability to deal with his physical presence was causing us all sorts of problems as Maestros were gaining territorial advantage and Flynn was finding it difficult as the lone striker to hold the ball up for us.
They went 2-1 up with a really poor goal from our point of view as the striker was allowed to run unopposed from the halfway line to slot it past Daniel. Thomas H and Ryan were combative and on the front foot in midfield and when we had time on the ball our movement and decision making in wide areas and up front left a lot to be desired. We made a number of changes with having 5 substitutes to try and win more of the individual battles around the pitch, plus to show some urgency and desire in our play. Josh S showed his pace as we started to stretch them with aerial diagonal balls played from the middle of midfield. Our distribution from the 'wing back' areas, which is were we had the space to play, was causing us more problems as we constantly gave the ball away. From one such error we found ourselves 3-1 down as again our concentration and quality in possession from out wide resulted in a loose pass that fell at the feet of their striker who again showed his pace and power before giving Daniel no chance.
We couldn't wait to get the boys in at half time with the scoreline remaining 3-1. We told them in no uncertain terms that what we had just witnessed was not good enough. You are the Champions which in itself is the reason teams try extra hard against you added to that today is the three boys who have left their club and joined us. They are winning 75% of the individual battles out on the pitch and that isn't acceptable. We are not doing what we coach you to do, we don't have individuals we have a team and that means everyone working their socks off being on the move all the time, anticipating things and masking yourself available when we have possession. Also our back 4 need to be a lot better, stronger, positive and show more quality when we have the ball. You boys have got yourself into the mess, go out there and put it right. We changed to a 3-3-2 system and again made changes. We started off brightly as it took Maestros a while to work out our change. During this time we pulled a goal back with a fine finish from Ben G who was showing quality on the ball as the pace of the game began to relent. Maestros now knew they were in a game and it was a bit disappointing to see them time wasting for the last 25mins at every opportunity !! Just as we appeared to be in the ascendency and it was only a matter of time until we scored, Thomas H almost equalising with a long range effort that was excellently tipped over by their keeper, we conceded another sloppy goal, when from their thrown in inside their half on our left, the striker bullied and out thought our defenders to run the length of our half and shoot which Daniel W saved but was unable to hold and their other forward was anticipating better than us to force home the rebound to make it 4-2. We made some more changes as we tried to find personnel who would make the difference. With 7mins left we got back into the game with probably our best move of the day when two wonderful two touch passes put Flynn away on the left and his first time cross was met by Ryan who kept his composure to dummy and lift the ball over the keeper before finishing. Maestros were now out on their feet and disappointingly not only were the boys wasting time but also the parents, sad at U11 football. Anyway, we only had ourselves to blame yet still we had chances to equalise through Daniel H, Josh S and Flynn as Ryan and Thomas H were now dominant in midfield, prompting and passing the ball into what was now a 3-2-3 system. Thomas D also played a fantastic through ball which Josh S waited too long to strike and the defender made an excellent challenge. Sadly their players were going down at every opportunity to waste valuable seconds. Yet we still had one more chance when Thomas M was badly fouled after a purposeful run some 25yards out on our left. Thomas H's effort was well saved by their keeper and the game ended in a 4-3 defeat for us. Their jubilation at the final whistle from both the players/coaches and the parents was an eye opener for our boys and hopefully shows what level is required if you want to win football matches at this level and the high regard in which Lazio's scalp is viewed.
We are notoriously slow starters after a break and we told the boys that they kept going right to the end and although we didn't deserve a draw you could easily have achieved it through the sheer will and determination of a number of you. Our experienced and usually reliable players had a difficult day today and the new boys now know what level of intensity, commitment, desire and quality is required going forward. Although a difficult day to praise individuals it was felt that Ryan and Thomas H had given everything to the cause and mixed it whole heartedly with their opposite numbers and as the game wore on gained the upper hand. We just needed to be more ruthless and street wise in both boxes plus show the teamwork, desire and willingness to run until we drop that made us Champions last year.
We now need to win our remaining 6 games to ensure we reach the final in May. Our next fixture is Saturday 14th January at home to Wilmslow Town Cougars in the Cup which is a must win game.