With the race for the top two positions heading towards its finale it was vital to be victorious against one of our closest rivals (same record P6 W3 D2 L1) whom we had fought out a tough 0-0 draw at their ground earlier in the cup competition. Unfortunately we had no Josh G as he was unavailable. With the overnight rain the pitch was going to be heavy and would undoubtedly cut up. So the boys knew we had to make full use of wide areas and we must compete all over the pitch to win individual battles which will allow us to play our football.
We started with a 3-4-1 system to match their shape with captain Daniel W in goal, Ben S, Thomas M and Thomas Dy at the back. Thomas Da, Thomas H, Ryan and Nathan across midfield and Daniel H as the lone striker. The boys couldn't have got off to a worse start when Devils took the lead inside the first minute with a well worked move that was hooked on by their forward for the winger to run on to and he finished well giving Daniel W no chance. This seemed to knock the wind out of our boys sails and for the first ten minutes Devils won every first and second ball. We were hesitant in our play, no communication was causing players to go for the same ball and when we had the ball our quality was poor. After ten minutes it was as if all the boys at the same time realised they had to sort it out, the back three started to be more aggressive in their defending, the midfield four began to compete and win tackles and Daniel H looked like he had the pace to beat their defence given the right service. We started to create opportunities and the 'birthday boy' Thomas Da had two wonderful chances to draw us level when he arrived at the back post to meet Nathan's crosses only to shoot wide on both occasions. The game was now extremely competitive and no challenges were shirked on either side, from one such bone crunching tackle both Thomas H and the Devils player had to leave the field, Henry came on as replacement. The boys now had the bit between their teeth and were winning their individual battles and from one such tackle in midfield the ball broke and a through ball was played for Daniel H to outpace their defence and cooly slot home to make it 1-1. Devils were now rattled and the pace of our lone striker Daniel H was causing them the same uncertainty we showed earlier in the game, the difference being that our boys could really sense an opportunity to go in at half time in front and that's precisely what happened. Again the ball was won in the middle of the pitch and a wonderfully weighted ball was played through for Daniel H to outstrip their defence again and finish past the advancing keeper with real quality to put us 2-1 up. Right on half time we again had a wobble at the back when confusion led to them hitting the post and then having a dangerous free kick which we managed to deal with to go in at half time in front.
We had strong words for the boys regarding the need to be more aggressive in our approach, particularly at the back, anticipate better, communicate more and play two/three touch football. We changed the system to a 3-3-2 with Flynn, Josh S and Ben G replacing Daniel H, Thomas Da and Nathan H. It was vital that the front two of Flynn and Josh S worked their socks off to defend from the front when we didn't have the ball and Henry and Ben G either side of Ryan had to be combative on what was becoming a heavy pitch.
The second half began and the Devils couldn't cope with our system change. The 'back four' were outstanding, aggressive in their decision making and in their play. Ryan, Henry and Ben G were winning everything across the middle of the pitch and just releasing Josh S and Flynn with some excellent passes. The game was now being played solely in their half as we kept pressing superbly. We had chances to extend our lead through Henry, Flynn, Ben G and Josh S but their keeper made a couple of excellent saves. We needed the breathing space of a third goal that our play deserved and eventually it came. Again the ball was won in midfield and Flynn was played in on the inside left channel his shot was superbly tipped onto the bar by their keeper but Josh S was alert to be on hand to put in the rebound to give us a 3-1 lead. The boys were now in total control, our strength, fitness, hunger and willingness to run for one another was there for all to see and the Devils looked a broken side. We soon made it 4-1 when again excellent pressing resulted in us winning the ball in midfield and a diagonal ball was played to Flynn who had made a fantastic run to stay onside and he finished with supreme ease past their onrushing keeper. Further changes were made with Thomas H, Thomas Da, Nathan and Daniel H replacing Ryan, Henry, Ben G and Josh S. The boys enthusiasm to score more goals was a joy to see and it was difficult to get them to understand they just needed to keep their discipline and keep pressing throughout the final ten minutes to ensure that Devils didn't get back into the game. Eventually we saw out the game and a fantastic 4-1 victory.
We praised the boys for a fantastic performance after conceding such an early goal. The quality of our play in the conditions was superb and we worked incredibly hard as a team to ensure we got the victory we needed. The 'back four' after a sticky start were outstanding for the entire second half. The midfield players after a difficult opening ten minutes totally dominated their opponents, winning individual battles and playing wonderfully to the pitch conditions. The 'front three' showed real quality throughout, whether we played a lone striker or a partnership, they worked their socks off both in and out of possession. The performance showed real quality and our class shone through to give us a deserved win.
The boys voted for Man of the Match and there were several players who received votes, however, two boys stood out and gained equal votes. Daniel H who had turned the game on its head with two first half goals of real individual quality and Flynn for his fantastic work ethic throughout the entire second half for which he was rewarded with a wonderful goal. So well done to them both.
We have a friendly next Saturday, opposition and venue to be confirmed. The following Saturday 11th March we look to avenge our only defeat of the campaign against Ashton On Mersey at home. We are now in an excellent position to qualify for the final at Trafford FC on the 6th May.