After last week's chastening defeat against Wetherden, Greshams faced the daunting task of picking themselves up for another tough challenge. Briarbank had held Wetherden to a draw and would therefore be expected to provide tough opposition. With one or two missing, Manager Cashen was forced to shuffle the pack and therefore lined the team up with Rob in goals, a back four of Harry, Greg, Hamblin and Cash; in midfield Froudy, Matt, Sam and Nathan; and up front Rob Minns and Steve Norfolk with Phil and Ash, making a welcome return to the squad, on the bench.
On an absolutely glorious day for a game of football, the task facing Greshams was clear when it became evident that the average age of the fresh faced Briarbank players was roughly half that of the gnarled veterans of Greshams. The home team threatened from the start as the Briarbank number 7 twisted and turned in the box before getting off a shot that Rob smothered at the near post. Briarbank then took an early lead when their number 10, who had pace to burn, just about beat the 51 year old Cashen down the Greshams left. His accurate pull back put it on a plate for the striker and was expertly despatched into the bottom corner giving Rob no chance.
This might have been the signal for Greshams heads to drop but to their enormous credit they raised themselves and began to get right in the game. Matt began to get on the ball and was to go on to have easily his best game of the season so far at the heart of the Greshams midfield. Most of Greshams goal threats were coming from through balls for the pace of Rob Minns. On a couple of occasions these were just too long for Rob and when one was finally played through perfectly Rob beat the keeper but showed rather too much honesty, staying on his feet despite the slight contact and saving the Ref from having to make the decision. Shortly later Rob did have another call for a penalty as he appeared to be rather clattered in the area, but this time the ref waved the appeals away.
At the other end the Greshams defence were operating as a unit and restricting Briarbank to few chances with Cashen having a better game and banishing the memories of his shocker the previous week. The partnership between Cash and Nathan was working well down the left as Nathan was causing all sorts of problems, and with Froudy and Harry also linking well, Greshams were looking a decent unit.
Unfortunately they fell further behind when they conceded a penalty. Matt Miller went to ground making a challenge and while there was nothing malicious about the tackle there was enough contact for the forward to sprawl to the ground giving the ref little option but to award the spot kick. The pen was confidently put away giving Rob no chance.
Other than pick the ball out of the net on two occasions it was a quiet half for Rob in the Greshams goal, he was only called in to action once when he came rushing out and put all his weight into a challenge with the Briarbank number 7. Had it been a cartoon, the tweeting birds and ringing bells would have been evident around the number 7's head. As an unperturbed Rob ambled back in to his goal, the 7 was getting groggily to his feet as though after a collision with a 44 ton truck.
As half time approached Greshams had more than held their own against a good Briarbank side. They could and should have had the goal their efforts deserved. A bizarre mistake by the men in bright green saw their defender play a perfect through ball straight to Sam in the inside right channel. Sam shaped to shoot but instead got to the bye line and put the ball, on a plate, gift wrapped and with a sprig of holly on top, to Rob Minns. Rob was a couple of yards out in oceans of space with his pipe and slippers on, waiting to stick the ball in the empty net. However somehow, incredibly, Rob managed to lift the ball over the bar from point blank range to give Briarbank the mother of all let offs.
Half time Briarbank 2 Greshams 0
At half time the talk was for the team to just keep going. Everyone was putting in a shift and the team was defending solidly and playing some good football going forwards. Greshams started the second half well and were soon back in the game. Norfolk knocked the ball to Froudy down the right and Froudy put in a peach of a cross which found Nathan sprinting in at the far post to lash the ball right footed into the roof of the net .
After this the second half developed in to a great contest. The tall, quick Briarbank forward was pulling over to the right to test Cashen's pace but Cashen generally was coping with this, the striker just getting free on one occasion when he went to lift the ball over Rob who showed great reflexes to reach up and pluck the ball from the air. Hamblin and Greg had been solid and composed in central defence but Hamblin just got turned on one occasion and 'took one for the team' as he hauled down the forward to concede a free kick and earn a deserved yellow card!! Fortunately the free kick went well over the bar.
Briarbank were not averse to the odd bad challenge either, earning a couple of yellows themselves. From the set plays Froudy was putting some lovely balls into the box. Lacking the aerial presence of Rich Minns however, Greshams were unable to capitalise. On a few occasions Briarbank were unable to clear properly but as the ball bobbled around in the box it just wouldn't fall for Greshams to knock in to the net.
With 20 minutes to go Cashen, now tiring, was replaced by Phil 'the Beast' who announced himself with a great tackle on the edge of the box. Shortly later Ash replaced Rob Minns. Now watching from the sidelines, Cashen was able to appreciate the hard work being put in all over the pitch, no more so than by Froudy who was given some chasing to do down the right and invariably showed willing running to get to the ball. In the meantime Matt Miller continued to stroke the ball around from the central midfield station while Sam was back to his all energy best.
As time ran down Greshams were clearly running out of legs against much younger opposition and were unable to carve out the one good chance that might have delivered a richly deserved point. Briarbank meanwhile, while enjoying the lion's share of the possession, had not forced Rob into meaningful action and were reduced to keeping the ball in the corner to hold on to the win.
Final Score: Briarbank 2 Greshams 1
Man of the Match
Despite the defeat this was a really pleasing performance after collective failure to turn up the previous week. Everyone contributed, not only was some hard work put in but also some really impressive football was played at times. The back four was solid as a unit and restricted the Briarbank strikers, who were useful, to very few efforts on goal. Across the midfield Matt and Sam were terrific in the middle while the wide men were always a threat. Up front Rob, his unfortunate howler aside, was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet while Norfolk gave a brilliant example of hold up and link up play. Even the subs, Phil and Ash, got straight In to the game in a way that meant the changes did not affect the pattern and performance of the team. However a MoM has to be selected and despite losing half a point for giving away a penalty, the Bollinger goes to Matt Miller this week. Up against some very good players, Matt was the best central midfielder on the park on the day, showing great touch, awareness, vision and range of passing. Well played indeed mate.