The long and winding roads to Elmsett portrayed the ever twisting and turning fortunes of Sporting 87's 'A' Team; coming from a season of struggles on the pitch to the wonderful start made last week away to AFC Titans in SIL Div 6.
The pitch was soft, the air was cool and the whistle blew..
Despite Sporting's roaring success last week it was Elmsett who started off the stonger, as they piled on the pressure early on with attack after attack. The stalwart defending from Honeyball and Taylor kept the opposition at bay with Honeyball seeming to raise his game this week after being drafted in at the final hour. Time and again Honeyball blocked and barged his way to the ball and with Taylor marking Elmsett's main threats the opposition struggled to get through. Stebbings provided the outlet down the right with some clever movement and continuous interceptions to clear the ball to team mates. Warnock as ever battled and emerged victorious time and again down the left as he worked well with Barton to win the ball back throughout the barrage of pressure from the opposition. Dan Page got down well early on in the half with a wonderful save to keep the game at 0-0.
The tables began to turn as Ginn fought ferociously in the middle of the park and along with Rodwell proved too much in the middle for a now failing Elmsett onslaught. Barton winning headers left and right in the midfield led to a number of chances for Bailey to get in behind. Bailey showed his intent with a number of chances midway through the first half, seeing several shots blocked of deflected wide. An off day for Herrera it seemed at first, despite putting several inviting balls over the defence his corners weren’t up to his usual standard and saw many drift aimlessly away from dangerous areas.
Moments later however a poor throw from Elmsett's Goalkeeper proved costly as Collinson darted in to pick up the ball before linking up well Herrera who slid him in down the far right and put a delightful ball in for the rejuvenated Bailey to backheel between the keepers gaping legs, 1-0 Sporting.
Barton was on the receiving end of much abuse towards the end of the half from the opposition as they grew frustrated with his aerial prowess, Bailey kept knocking on the door and Collinson saw shots blocked and parried wide. Rodwell would consider himself unlucky after a great bit of work led to his shot tipped onto the cross bar by a desperate keeper.
The half ended with Sporting on top but in a precarious position as one goal is very rarely enough to settle a game.
Referee Evans blew to announce the second half and not to repeat last weeks poor effort in the early stages of the half Sporting were out of the blocks from the off winning a corner almost straight away, the resulting short corner failed however Sporting had set the bar and shown their intent. Several corners later and it was Barton, tasked with coming in the back door who would set up the half for Sporting as his intelligent run led him in front of Elmsett's Keeper to meet Herrera's pinpoint corner and put Sporting 2-0 up after 57 minutes. The introduction of the returning Andy Benwell injected some much needed life into the right hand side as Herrera's legs began to fail. Benwell set his intentions for the season as he commanded at right back, chasing and tormenting any Elmsett player who dared go near. Nathan Krogh was warmed up and ready to make his debut in the place of a fatigued Herrera midway through the second half. Again Sporting showed their class as Ginn ran the centre of the midfield as if second nature to him and it wasn't long before a brilliant piece of skill and guile let Rodwell open up his body and lay a beauiful through ball for Bailey to slot past a helpless keeper, 3-0. Benwell had asserted himself well at right back and continued to battle hard whilst playing some brilliant balls down the right flank to a buzzing Krogh who slotted into his new team as if he were a veteran. Some good work from the towering Barton released Bailey down the left who dodged and weaved his way to a great position to cross for the onrushing Krogh at the back post who tapped in to mark his debut with a goal and put Sporting 4-0 up. Elmsett were the proverbial wounded animal in a corner now and tried their best to hit back with several threatening attacks and if not for some great defending they would of surely been rewarded. Elmsett released their striker through on goal and if not for an utterly superbly uted challenge from Benwell would of grabbed a much needed goal.
Late on in the half and it was an error from Honeyball who brought down an Elmsett player in his box leading to Referee Evans awarding a penalty.
It seemed as though a clean sheet was to be out of Page's grasp once more and after a stellar display, making several key saves he locked eyes with the Elmsett penalty taker.
The penalty blazed over a relieved Page as he, as well as the rest of Sporting began dreaming of their first clean sheet in over a year.
Manning who was introduced for Collinson was making a nuisance of himself and expressed his authority in the latter stages of the half striking fear into the hearts of a now depleted Elmsett side.
Bailey rose again to dink his way through a hapless defence and saw a low shot blocked in the dying moments of the half. The ball rolled kindly to Manning however who on the stretch swung his glowing left boot at the ball to plant it firmly in the roof of the net.
At 5-0 the whistle blew and the jubilation could begin with last seasons goal total matched in 2 games, a first clean sheet, man of the match award for the outstanding Page and a team performance that will be hard to top.
Crawford who had to deliver some rather sobering news after the game could take solace in the fact that his team are unaffected and will no doubt continue to match or better the result and performance in their next game.
(Unconfirmed reports that M. Crawford began 'Twerking' after the result are coming in and will look to be clarified at a later date.)
For now Sporting can hold their heads high as they lead the scoring charts and sit aloft as one of the better teams in Div 6.