The first meeting of the season between Shorne and Milton promised to be a game loaded with passion, commitment and free-flowing football. Shorne have enjoyed a strong start to the season and were marginal favourites before kick-off. But Milton have built on promotion from last season and have certainly not been out of their depth in this division.
The warm-up saw a blow to the Milton ranks as target man Rodders had to withdraw through injury. This meant a late re-shuffle in the starting line-up pushed Winter forward and moved Tommy back into the central three in midfield. Shorne's warm-up appeared to be much more successful, with all the players in matching tracksuits doing shuttle runs between cones on the side of the pitch. Very professional.
Shorne's pitch has always held the rain and today was no different. A heavy dose of precipitation overnight left the ground soggy and studs were essential, even though the obligatory "studs or moulds?" question was raised in the changing room prior to kick-off. With the conditions as they were, it was clear that the ball was going to be holding up in the mud and that the pitch would cut up as the game got underway.
The first half saw both teams try to hold the ball, but conditions didn't allow for a quick passing match with the ball rarely zipping across the turf. Shorne were first to give into the temptation of playing the long-ball game and starting launching wishful punts to their front pair. The Milton defence struggled to deal with the long ball, which encouraged Shorne to continue playing this tactic. A couple of half-chances went begging for Shorne, most notably one that Jack managed to save with his face with the forward shooting from just a few yards out. After a handful of missed headers and sliced clearances, the Milton defence tightened up and began to gain confidence in the line they were holding. This allowed the Milton midfield to finally get a foothold in the game and the match started to become a real contest.
Milton used new signing Andy on the right wing time and time again, with a handful of crosses narrowly missing their mark. This was constantly pushing the Shorne backline deeper into their own half, with Shorne's only answer being a long-ball over the head of the Joe at left-back, whom they were seemingly targeting given his complete inability to head the ball or use his left foot. But, Joe managed to see out any challenges and the defence stood resilient with Shorne's only two other real chances of the half coming from a free kick, which Jack managed to tip onto the crossbar and a corner which was met by the head of possibly the tallest man in the world, which also hit the bar. Milton's only clear cut chance of the first half was a quick flowing counter attack that produced a fine save from the Shorne goalkeeper. A low cross from the left was met by Nathan who connected well but found the keeper well positioned to turn the ball wide for a corner. Nathan, usually so lethal in front of goal could count himself unlucky to not have got the game's opening goal.
The first half came to a close with the game well matched at 0-0. Both teams believed the game was there for the taking and everyone knew the first goal was going to be crucial. The Shorne team gathered around their manager as he gave a rousing speech. The Milton manager was nowhere to be seen. A few groups separated and tried to talk tactics, but that was all quickly forgotten following the halftime distraction of oranges, which were kindly provided by the Shorne staff. Bizarre, but a nice touch. However, the oranges may have been drugged given that the Milton second half performance was a lot more laboured than the first half.
The second half was much the same as the first, but with some even more outrageously committed challenges flying in. These were predictably coming from the Whitaker brothers. After a few bone crunching slide tackles the Shorne players began to get visibly agitated and started bemoaning the refereeing decisions. Joe eventually ran out of steam with half an hour to go and Pedrick came on at left wing, pushing Cox to left back. Following Cox's recent run of form in front of goal, Milton would have been disappointed that neither Scott nor Ridley were available for today's match.
A couple of chances were then missed by Milton. The first when Winter was forced into a early strike with his left foot when one-on-one with the goalkeeper. The ball was struck with venom but narrowly went over the bar. Most of the Milton players would surely have berated the striker for missing such a chance had they not all been laughing at how he'd managed to hit the ball over the bar and straight in to the back of his own car. One of those wonderful Sunday league moments. The second chance came about when the Shorne keeper failed to clear his lines with the ball landing straight at Nathan's feet. With the goal gaping wide open, Nathan skewed his strike and the ball rolled harmlessly wide.
Shorne finally managed to break the deadlock after 80 minutes when the Milton defensive unit allowed the Giant a rare unchallenged header in midfield. His flick found a well-timed run from the forward who managed to get goal side of the defence with the ball at his feet. A handful of Milton players looked to the linesman hoping the flag would be held aloft, but the forward's run was perfectly timed and the flag correctly stayed by the linesman's side. An on-rushing Jack was left helpless as the ball was cooly slotted into the bottom corner much to the despair of the travelling support.
A second goal soon followed for Shorne, but not in uncontroversial circumstances. A half-cleared cross was seemingly controlled by the arm of a Shorne midfielder before he went to pass wide. The Milton defence, as had been the case throughout the match, managed to throw a body in the way but this time the block fell kindly to a Shorne forward who neatly turned and drilled a low drive into the far bottom corner. The Milton protests, led by Atfield, fell on deaf ears as the referee waved away the handball claims and allowed the goal to stand.
Milton rallied and tried to mount a late push for some way back into the game but it was clear that players had been left mentally drained after competing for so long only to concede two goals so late in the game. The short-passing game that Milton pride themselves on quickly went out the window as desperation set in. Long, searching balls were being pumped forward but the Shorne defence stood resilient and dealt with everything that came their way. Eventually the referee put Milton out of their misery and blew for full time, which was greeted with joy and jubilation from the Shorne camp, mirrored by exhaustion and disappointment from Milton players and fans alike.
An enthralling division two match ends 2-0 to Shorne and you can guarantee that the reverse fixture will prove to be another tightly contested affair, as Milton will be seeking to finally put a long-awaiting win past a competent Shorne side.
Man of the match: Matt Whitaker - played with commitment and passion, winning every 50/50 and managed to stay focused on his game throughout the 90 minutes. Excellent performance.