Hackney Marshes – the traditional hub of Saturday & Sunday league amateur football in London – welcomed PPR for their 3rd away fixture in a row at the beginning of their inaugural season. Going into the fixture against Brewery Tap on the back of 2 victories, confidence was high, and after a boot check by Club Captain Jackson to ensure everyone had kept to the required protocol (they hadn’t), PPR trotted out onto the ‘show pitch’ to begin their warm up. 2 minutes into their warm up, they got asked to move from the ‘show pitch’ as it became apparent that the captain of one of the teams playing on the ‘show pitch’ later in the day was a complete tool.
PPR thus continued their warm up on the side of the pitch until the opposition could be located somewhere among the 88 pitches available to play on. Once the green tops of Brewery Tap (BT) had been located, PPR set off to the pitch – to find that they had chosen to set up nets on one of the pitches we had been advised not to use – maybe it was a tactic – to disrupt PPR’s free flowing passing style – they must have sent a scout to our previous matches…
With several ‘core’ players returning to the squad after some intense fitness work the weekend before on the Isle of Wight, it was once again a ‘new look’ starting 11 from the previous weekend’s drubbing of Dynamo Santos. And with all of the starting 11 coming from the ‘core’ group of players for the first time, PPR started the match full of confidence.
The pitch was causing a few issues, and the traditional PPR short passing game to feet was proving slightly problematic. However, they were still causing BT problems, and could have opened the scoring in the first 10 minutes when Flynn broke down the right hand side, cut a ball back into the box that ricocheted off a few defenders before bouncing out to Jacko, who connected well, but put the chance over the bar. With pressure mounting, and PPR in control of possession, it seemed only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken. And so it came as no surprise, when after 12 minutes, the first goal was scored. What did come as a surprise, was the team. BT had created very little, but somehow managed to break forward from a long ball through the middle, and PPR could only put it out for a corner, which was cleared only as far as the edge of the box, from where the BT left-back managed to get away a shot that came down off the cross bar, and over the line – a goal worthy of gracing any pitch in the country – but a score line that flattered the hosts after 15 mins of action.
PPR had entered unchartered territory – they were trailing in a game for the first time this season – a reaction was needed. Utilising the wide men well, and pushing the BT defence back, PPR were retaining possession, but without troubling the keeper. Persistence does, it seems, pay off though – another attack down the right flank resulted in a throw in for PPR. Thankfully for everyone, Carsten (4 foul throws) handed over the throwing responsibilities to Jonny - who trotted over to Rory Delap a throw into the heart of the BT box – and with defenders panicking about the presence of the tall, lanky frame of Nils, the ball looped over all of them, and reached an unmarked Meds, who calmly nodded the ball into the back of the net. With the BT players looking around confused at how they allowed the smallest player on the pitch to score a header from a throw-in, PPR were back on level terms & felt rejuvenated once more.
With Nils continuing to dominate their tall centre forward in the air, and Jacko & Flynn having the better of their central midfielders, PPR maintained the pressure on the BT backline, but just couldn’t find a breakthrough. Perhaps the best chance fell to Green after Byrne had been put through by Flynn, and the resulting confusion in the BT backline saw the ball bounce out to the edge of the box, but the attempted lob of the retreating keeper lacked the necessary power & placement to do any damage. And so when the half-time whistle sounded, the scores were level at 1-1 – but with the wind now in PPR’s favour, and the knowledge that technically they were the better team, PPR went into the interval with high hopes of a positive result at the end of the 90 minutes.
The 2nd half started in much the same fashion, though PPR’s passing was lacking its usual accuracy & fluidity. With frustrations mounting that a breakthrough couldn’t be found, and the heavens starting to open, PPR resorted to looking for the killer through ball down the channels instead of patiently passing their way through. As a result, chances were few & far between, with the on-looking crowds apparently more interested in whether the nearby thunderstorm was heading in the direction of Hackney Marshes. The defence of Tomkins, Tomkins, Gomme & Allan was still dealing well with anything that came in their direction, but a fresh impetus was needed to find the breakthrough. Baker, from the side-line called for reinforcements – off went the goalscorer Meds (holding his hamstring gingerly), replaced by Goddard (making his debut), and Allan (fitness work on the IoW clearly having an effect), replaced by Cowan.
PPR pushed forward again with a renewed sense of urgency, a ball played down the right-channel found Jonny, who managed to get the ball back to Green on the edge of the area, who nudged it onto Jacko, to see him let fly with a left-foot rocket that the keeper had absolutely no chance with*. Finally PPR were in front, and it looked as though they would comfortably see out the victory and make it 9 points from 9. BT had other ideas, and with PPR allowing a bit of complacency creep into their game, BT pushed forward. A throw in from the right-hand side, saw Nils challenge their 2nd striker, the ball bounced up & struck Nils on the arm – resulting in yet another penalty awarded to the opposition. It seemed a harsh decision – and with that now making it 4 penalties conceded in 3 games…it was a bitter pill to swallow. The tall BT centre forward stepped up, and despite being made to re-take the penalty after some more handbags between Carsten and their left-midfielder resulted in encroachment – he coolly slotted the ball home – much to Neil’s disgust.
The game was becoming increasingly scrappier – with the weather conditions not helping, and some ‘fiery’ tackles coming in from both sides, it was hard to see where a winner was going to come from. PPR pushed forward once more, but the ball broke loose, and BT sent it long – their left-winger latched onto it, rushing past Carsten in an “Ozil Vs Barry 2010 World Cup 2nd round” esque manner. With no covering midfield, and few defenders in attendance, he pushed into the box, squared it to the unmarked BT forward, who had time to take a touch, and calmly slot the ball past the on-rushing Neil. A classic counter-attack goal – helped in no small part by some weary limbs and lack of discipline from PPR – and suddenly, they were trailing again. A sense of shock and bewilderment spread through the PPR ranks as their perfect start to the season looked to be in tatters. Once again, they poured forward, and peppered the BT box with balls – but none of them were sticking – the long-ball tactics just weren’t working. A free-kick delivered by Green into the box saw Goddard throw his life, body & soul at it, and despite connecting with the ball, somehow a BT defender managed to deflect it over the bar with a desperate lunge. With PPR now effectively down to 10-men after Player-Manager Carsten – making his debut – had limped off with cramp (fitness work on the IoW clearly having an effect), they were running out of time & options. More corners & long-throws followed, but BT were defending resolutely, and putting their bodies on the line – PPR just couldn’t find the bit of quality needed to unlock the defence one last time.
So the final whistle went, PPR had succumb to their first defeat of the campaign (ever), and were both surprised with how they had managed to lose the match, and also hugely disappointed with the lack of creativity seen in the 2nd half performance. Off they went to console each other in the showers, and try to pick themselves up for a double-birthday celebration later that evening. In the end, a lesson learnt – PPR got complacent after going ahead, lacked a bit of urgency & fitness in the 2nd half, and didn’t manage to adapt their approach, even though they knew it wasn’t working. Still, alarm bells should not be ringing just yet – PPR controlled much of the game, and they will play worse than that this season & win – improved concentration, and more patience when going forward should see them turn it around next week. Special mentions to MoM Nils Tomkins for a stand-out performance in central defence – dominating their best player in the air, and Meds for scoring his first ever header. DoD goes to Carsten Tomkins for numerous foul throws in the 1st half, followed by a bout of game-ending cramp in the 2nd half – a fine debut from one of the most instrumental figures behind the creation of PPR – strong work.
*Some descriptions may be false