Having drawn 2-2 with Sale Utd Storm at home in the first game of our Cup campaign we knew we were in for a tough encounter in the return. The weather conditions were horrible and the pitch although wide was not overly long and was cutting up in the warm up so we knew it wasn't a day for tip-tap football..
We started with a 3-3-2 system with Daniel W, the skipper, in goal, Josh G, Thomas M and Thomas Dy across the back. Thomas H, Ryan and Nathan in midfield with Flynn and Josh S up front. We told the boys we had to be on the front foot from the first whistle, winning individual battles, making good decisions in the conditions and being ruthless in both boxes.
We started the game superbly and should have been 2up in the first 5mins when firstly Josh S was put through beautifully from midfield and he curled a shot round the keeper only for it to hit the post and rebound into the keeper's hands. Flynn then beat their offside trap from another wonderful pass from midfield but his shot was well saved by their keeper. We continued to dominate and create opportunities by getting the ball wide and forward as early as possible on a pitch that was now cutting up badly. Nathan, Ryan, Flynn and Josh G all had shots that were blocked by excellent defending or saved by their keeper. Our play deserved a goal and it was worrying that we hadn't taken one of the chances. We had to be wary of their attacking players as their movement and ability could cause us problems. On a couple of occasions their striker broke free only for Daniel W to make excellent saves. The boys at the back were doing well, playing on the front foot, anticipating and distributing the ball really well into the forwards feet or into the channels. The midfield trio were dominant winning the majority of first and second balls and the front two were working hard both in and out of possession. We made a change with Daniel H replacing Josh S and he continued in the same vain with his aggression and work rate. Just when we thought the half was going to end goalless Thomas H, who had been outstanding in the first half, picked up the ball some 25yards out took a touch and struck a wonderful right foot shot that flew past their keeper into the top right hand corner to give us a deserved 1-0 lead at half time.
We praised the boys for a superb first half performance and the only down side was we were only one goal in front. We had pressed superbly as a team, won our individual battles and had played the conditions really well by playing the ball wide and not getting caught in possession in sticky areas of the pitch. We stressed how important it was that we got the next goal. Several changes were made with Ben S, Thomas D, Ben G and Henry replacing Josh G, Ryan, Nathan and Flynn. We also slightly changed formation to a 3-3-1-1 with Henry playing the link in the 'number 10' role between our midfield three of Ben G, Thomas H and Thomas Da with Daniel H stretching their back line. The second half began as the first had ended with us on the front foot and playing territory in their final third. Our decision making was causing us some problems as we started to have too many touches and began losing second balls in key areas of this pitch. This gave Storm some momentum and the boys at the back had to be on their toes and Daniel W did superbly as our sweeper keeper and also made a couple of excellent saves. Our inability to hold the ball up front was putting us on the back foot. Josh S replaced Daniel H and immediately he turned superbly on a ball passed into his feet and played a wonderful through ball for Ben G who stayed onside by starting his run in our half. He raced through one-on-one to round the keeper and slot home to make it 2-0 on 45mins. Ryan replaced Thomas H who had covered every blade of grass (or mud !) on the pitch. Within a matter of minutes we were 3-0 up when Josh S was on hand to fire home after an excellent passing move. We were now in complete control as Storm had run themselves into the ground on the heavy pitch. Ryan had carried on were Thomas H had left off by dominating in the midfield area and was playing quick two touch football and getting the ball out wide to stretch their tired defence and Thomas Da on the right, who was working superbly for the team, and Ben G on the left, who showed excellent quality on the ball. These two created several opportunities for Josh S, Henry and Ryan who all should have added to the scoreline. Indeed Henry was unlucky to have a goal disallowed for offside when he wasn't and he had finished coolly into the bottom corner from 8yards. We made a number of changes for the last 5mins with Josh G, Nathan and Flynn replacing Thomas M, Ben G and Henry. We again could have added further goals but the game finished with a 3-0 victory.
The Storm coaches were very complimentary on our performance and we praised the boys for a fantastic effort from everyone. The boys in the 'Back 5' did wonderfully well keeping a clean sheet against a potent strike force, plus, particularly in the first half, distributed the ball superbly. The 'Midfield 5' dominated all aspects of the game with their pressing, aggression, decision making and winning vast majority of first and second balls. The 'Front 4' including Henry in that central 'No.10' role worked their socks off both when we had the ball and more impressively when Storm had it. As far as Man of the Match went we as the Management Team had our thoughts but the boys wanted to vote and unanimously Thomas H was the winner, which was fully deserved as he had undoubtedly been the driving force, certainly in the early part of the game and scored an unbelievable goal to give us the lead in the first half.
We have another massive Cup game away at Egerton next Saturday 4th February with a 9.30am kick off.