After our warm up development games and the 'European' friendly last week against Lucan United U12s from Ireland which the boys won 7-4 it was time to start the defence of our title against a good Sale United Storm team whom we had beaten 4-2 a few weeks ago. The boys were told to expect a tough encounter as everyone will want to beat the Champions, so its imperative we go out with the right attitude and ensure we do the things we practice in training on a Wednesday and Sunday.
The game started at a pace without too much quality as the Storm players chased and harried all over the pitch and our boys seemed nervous in imposing themselves both in individual battles and collectively as a team. Our 3-4-1 system was giving us the edge in midfield but we couldnt make the ball stick in the final third and when our midfield runners got in good positions our decision making and quality of pass wasnt at the necessary level. Storm had built up a head of steam as they grew in confidence with the game still goalless. They had a couple of chances from distance which Daniel dealt with superbly. Thomas M was in excellent form at the back and was orgasnising Thomas D and Josh whilst in central midfield Ryan and our captain Thomas H were winning first and second balls but we didnt have our usual quality and our wide players Nathan, Henry and Ben were finding it difficult to find space and couldnt support the front boys Flynn, Thomas D and Josh S as they were finding it difficult to hold the ball up for us. Again we paid the price for a lack of concentration when Storm took the lead after a mix up with a strike from inside the box that gave Daniel no chance to make it 1-0. This gave Storm the momentum just as we were getting on top and they were beginning to tire due to their massive workrate to close us down. We had a couple of opportunities leading up to half time, notably when Josh S raced onto a through ball and rounded the keeper only to shoot wide. Henry, Nathan, Thomas H and Josh G all had chances that were dealt with by their keeper or we missed the target. The half ended 1-0 to Storm.
Again we had to give the boys a few stern words, we told them to be able to play our brand of football we firstly had to win our individual battles and too many didnt in the first half and this wasnt good enough. You are the Champions go out there and show it. We changed to a 3-3-2 and told them to be combative in all areas and to win the ball back in their territory by pressing them which hopefully will help in stopping them going back to front with long balls. We started the half strongly and created a couple of excellent chances for Ben and Josh S which we didnt take. Ryan was finding a little more space in midfield and was getting on the ball more, he was unlucky when he hit a great left foot strike that hit the post. We needed a goal and it eventually came when from a wonderful free kick by Ben, Josh S was on hand to flick the ball into the net to level the scores at 1-1. The boys had the bit between their teeth and Daniel, Thomas D, Josh G and in particular Thomas M were coping with their lively front players and Ryan, Ben, Henry, Thomas H were controlling the midfield we just needed to get it to click for our front boys Flynn, Josh S and Thomas D, who unfortunately sustained a knee injury and couldnt play which affected our rhythm.
We had the majority of the possession but couldnt get that all important third goal and again we paid the price for poor decision making when from our attacking free kick Storm counter attacked on us with great pace and scored wiith a finish from inside the area to lead 2-1. Their celebrations with their parents and supporters showed what it meant to them. Our boys showed great character to absolutely dominate from this point onwards with chances aplenty. In particular a wonderful back post free kick from Thomas H just needed a touch from Josh G as he attacked it, unfortunately he glanced ilt wide. Flynn, Josh S, Thomas H, Henry and Ryan all had strikes at goal that were blocked or superbly saved by their keeper. When it seemed like it was slipping away Nathan went on a run past a couple of defenders and was fouled by another inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot. Nathan got up to take the kick which the keeper saved but Josh G was on hand to tap in the rebound to level it at 2-2. We couldnt force the winner in the last few minutes and again were nearly caught out in the last minute when they broke away and hit the crossbar with Daniel beaten. So the final score was 2-2.
The boys had given a far better display in the second half but still well short of our standards. Storm were absolutely cock-a-hoop with the result and we told our boys that teams are going to raise their game against you and you must overcome that otherwise we are going to find it difficult to repeat last years success. Most of the boys showed glimpses of their capabilitiies without enough of them doing so for long enough to win the game. Must add that two boys stood out with their performance on the day, Daniel made a number of outstanding saves and his sweeper keeping was superb, however, the Man of the Match award went to Thomas M who was outstanding in every aspect of the game, attitude, desire, anticipation, dominance, composure and decision making.
The loss of these two points makes next Saturday's (12th November 9.30am ko at home) Cup game against a strong Egerton Youth team a must win......