Hartletts Park was the setting for the first Cup tie for the Tigers as they faced tough opposition in the form of Headley Vipers, a team from the division above who had been on a decent run of form. A slight change in match format with complete 20-minute halves rather than the 4 quarters they are used to, the KO was preceded by a 1-minute silence to mark the Remembrance weekend and it was great to see the team spirit as the players stood together with great solidarity.
Given the Tigers' recent displays, they were very much the underdogs. With the 2 usual 'keepers and an established defender missing, the manager needed a number of players to step up and play outside their usual, favoured positions. However, a little hope was felt as the forecast deluge appeared to be delayed allowing for a dry morning in which to perform.
And perform they did. Right from the start there was a difference in the way the Tigers approached the game. Immediately obvious was the improved positioning and pressing as a team - across the pitch, the players worked hard for each other naturally covering where necessary and playing the kind of football we all know they can play. Although 3-0 down at the break, the way the Tigers played, especially in the second half of the first period, they at least looked the equal of the Vipers and created a number of chances that could have gone their way on any other day.
The second half started in much the same way as the first had finished. Again, a few necessary positional changes had a slight affect but did not hugely impact the outcome as the Tigers continued to try to match their opposition. In all fairness, the only difference between the sides by the final whistle, and a 5-1 result, was the finishing.
B W - played the first half in goal making a number of impressive saves; second half he played his usual wide right position making some good tackles and often involved in Tigers attacks with some strong passes to link the forward players.
D S - played the majority of the match at the back. Covered his defensive partner well, remained calm on the ball and demonstrated some intelligent decision-making. When able to get forward was often involved in Tigers attacks setting up B E after seeing a well-struck left foot shot rise just over the bar.
S G - asked to play in a number of positions and did so well. Made some great defensive covers, was intelligent on the ball when under pressure, always looking to turn the ball away from the goal. Caused the opposition all sorts of issues when going forward with his strength and pace and linked well with the other midfielders.
T Bu - played left midfield and at the back. Calm on the ball making some strong tackles, good tracking back and releasing some intelligent passes to counter-attack. Showed some of the best positional discipline in maintaining the midfield line whether atacking or defending.
T B - superbly bossed the central midfield as he constantly hassled the opposition. Made a huge number of tackles, chased back at every opportunity and really got his head up to make some simple attacking passes that linked the rest of his midfield well.
C N - first half right midfield and ran the flank well as he supported his defence on a number of occasions and still got forward when able, playing a couple of nice through balls to the forward. In goal for the second half, was kept quite busy and he was able to show off 2 very stylish saves to deny the Vipers a more flattering scoreline.
M R - Hugely energetic forward who really stepped up the level of pressure he put on the opposition. Often got back to help the midfield whilst still finding the energy to ensure he chased any Tiger attack. Unlucky not to have a couple of clearer chances himself but made a lot for his teammates.
L C - Always a threat getting forward down the left flank. His strength and pace caused problems for the Vipers and he completed a number of lovely passes through the midfield. Unlucky not to score with 3-4 opportunities. Served a short stint at the back and worked hard to make the Vipers lives difficult.
T L - showed a different side to his game than has been asked of him previously. Strong in a number of tackles and ran hard when leading the attack. Was also asked to play at the back and continued his strong performance with good blocks and tackles and some consistent, intelligent passes down the line to start the counter attacks.
B E - last week's MoM continued where he left off. Intelligent with his passing and runs, getting stronger in the challenges, his pace constantly caused the Vipers problems, especially on the wings. Unfortunate with a handful of chances but scored a lovely goal with a drive over the 'keeper from the edge of the area (biased??).
Overall, a much improved performance from the Tigers who must continue on from this. The scoreline flattered the Vipers although they did edge the tie with some wonderful football, quick and strong, and a number of superb crosses/corners, one of which resulted in the best header I have seen at this level - probably deserved to score.
MoM went to T B for a sound display at the centre of midfield as he demonstrated what he can do, having threatened to over the last few weeks.
Win, Lose or Draw, Tigers Roar!