Magical Vegas put on one of their scintillating 'big game' performances last night over a previously unblemished Dover Castle in the Islington Midweek Premier League.
As the boys prepared for the game they spoke at length about this tie being more in the head than in their feet. Knowing full well that the side they faced had been on receiving end of plenty of luck so far this season, they knew they could burst their bubble and send a message to everyone in the top division - we can beat anyone (comfortably) on our day.
They set out with a magnificent attitude of calm and focused football. Winning individual duels was the aim, this quickly because the reality which was personified by Aaron Pedro who won 3 tackles in immediate succession within the first 2 minutes.
Dover were playing a high line - a dangerous tactic against three of the fastest players in the league in Abiola Baloqun, Perry Price and Kadeem Gutzmore. This cost them when Alby Miller, who spent the first half winning every duel he contested came out of one phase of play with the ball in central midfield. He slid a perfectly weighted pass into the path of the moving Baloqun who took one touch to set it and a second to slot it calmly past the goalie in the one-on-one.
Soon after, more good football found Gutzmore on the left who played a channel ball for Baloqun on the left hand side of the penalty box...he looked up and fired a (impossible to defend) cross across the face of the goal where 'birthday boy' Price tapped in at the far post over the diving goalie for 2-0.
Vegas were composed and could have had more with Price lobbing a cut back for the powerful Tre Thompson who narrowly fired over from 9 yards out.
Least we forget the incredible job that was going on behind the attacking players throughout the first half. Chad King and Sam Dewar combined to extraordinary effect (considering this was their first time partnered together in centre of defence) to head, clear or tackle any attempt to get in behind. Daniel Bank was loud, commanding and decisive when he needed to be to give the player(s) in front of them the support they needed.
As half time came, there was no celebrations, there was no relaxing, no congratulations to one another (as if the job had been done), just a quiet satisfaction that they had turned it on so well in such an important game.
The second half began as expected, with Dover playing long diagonal balls and plenty of bodies forward. Unfortunately, they found Harry Pedersen was there to meet most of them with his head or feet! His application, desire to defend and work ethic optimised the side performance and earned him a man of the match award that could not have been more deserved.
Vegas still looked dangerous on the break, for the first 20 minutes their attempts to counter broke down and lost possession but Thompson - as he did throughout the game - flicked on a long ball that this time found Price who latched on it quickly. He got to the ball just before the goalie did and won a clear penalty which he picked himself off the turf to take and send the keeper the wrong way.
Vegas could have had more but the defensive showing was what pleased their manager the most. Right up to the final ten minutes when Pedersen blocked a tap in at the far post with a goal saving tackle.
Dover looked confused and devoid of any good ideas, in fact they looked like a team of strangers. At least, Magical Vegas made them look like a side that were not up for the fight. If they can continue with the calm focus they had in this game. They will undoubtedly be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. It's down to them and it's down to their state of mind.