Today was the chance to get into a semi-final of a top cup competition but most importantly it was a chance to send a signal to the rest of the league by beating Grove FC the only other team in the league with ourselves who have a 100% record in the league.
Rain was pouring down but the pitch looked in superb nick considering, this soon changed once the game got underway.
Disappointingly once again players were missing/unavailable but like we keep saying this is why we have got the squad we have and we was still able to send out a very strong 11 with a strong bench.
The game got underway and immediately we played some beautiful stuff cutting them open at ease and with 3 minutes on the clock Philly Lennon played a raking ball through the middle and Liam Rose was onto it like a flash one on one with the keeper he delightfully dinked the ball over him to put us in front 0-1.
It didn’t stop there numerous corners followed and Groves were looking rattled as we cut them open like a hot knife through butter, after superb play between Matthew Easterbrook, Kevin Machin and Danny Curran the ball found its way to Tom Briggs on the left, he played Kieran Hamm in and he shaped to shoot and was crudely taken out in the box, the ref had no other option but to award us the penalty and up stepped Hamm to rifle the ball in the net 0-2.
For the next 15 minutes we had chances galore Danny Curran sprinted half the pitch to get on the end of a Kieran Hamm cross and agonizingly missed stretching for the ball with the goal at his mercy, then good play between Rose and Lennon found a cross to the back post and in two minds Hamm placed his header across goal when it looked better to go for goal himself.
A few pot shots from Easterbrook and Hamm followed and a wild one from Sam Adams but the Grove looked shell-shocked and didn’t know what had hit them, arguments started to flow through their team.
Then with the pitch starting to get more and more cut up the game settled into more of a battle with it being hard to play any decent football and Grove came back putting us under some pressure.
The midfield trio instead of starting attacks had to start putting their foot in and boy did they Easterbrook, Machin and Curran showing he wasn’t overawed by the quality of opponents all flew into some tasty tackles which were a wonderful sight.
The backline of Sam Yates, Lee O’Donnell and Sam Adams stood as firm as a soldier standing to attention and along with the entire team were all key in today’s massive result but joining that list was our Keeper Jason McLaughlin who in the last 15 minutes of the half pulled off probably the best couple of saves I have ever seen to keep us up.
With their striker baring down on him Jason got down superbly to save but the rebound fell to their striker and with Jason looking beaten it looked a clear goal I even went to turn around then somehow Jerzy Dudek…esque he made himself big and saved again…..stunning few moments from the number 1.
He wasn’t finished there another scary moment shortly before half time occurred, once again Grove put us under pressure and a shot came in Jason once again got down well and in similar circumstances the rebound come in but Jason scrambled saving on the line with the Grove trying to celebrate a goal.
Grove’s had some real quality in their team and one of those went into a 50/50 with Curran seconds before the ref blew, he never appeared for the second half after wincing in agony while Curran brushed himself off.
Second half got underway and we started unlike in recent games pretty well for 10/15 minutes we had chances to put the game to bed Liam Rose was unlucky with a cute effort and fellow partner Hamm was just off target with one.
As expected tho Grove come back at us and this was when we showed our real strength, Sam Adams who had played well considering he had a tricky man to mark and with Groves targeting our back 3, Sam played a header back towards goal unfortunately their extremely fast striker was onto it and with Lee O’Donnell left helpless he fired past Jason in goal to delight of the Groves line 1-2.
To try and shore up the left side as it seemed Groves were targeting that side Tom Briggs after a good shift came off to be replaced by Sean Phillips.
Most teams could have crumbled at this point….not today the Dell said! To a man everyone worked the bollocks off Captain for the day Sam Yates put in some huge saving tackles and performed superbly and Lee O’Donnel was immense alongside him breaking attacks up time and time again as Grove’s continued to pile on the pressure to level the game, one tackle by Lee was so important as if he hadn’t of won it it would have been a goal as their lethal striker was thwarted by the class centre half, once again Jason was on hand to pull off another stunning save saving low to his right after a decent chance for the hosts.
In midfield Matthew Easterbrook was another having a great game flying into tackles one was inside the box and timed to perfection like a perfect cup of tea, alongside him Machin and Curran ran there preverbal plums off, never stopping pressing all the time, it spread to others like Rose and Hamm up top who also ran into the ground…a ground which was getting worse and worse it must have been like running in sand which is an even greater compliment to how the lads continuingly ran and ran.
Liam Rose unlike in the past when he’s came off with energy left and wanting to carry on came off knackered like he had done a marathon on came Matty Smith with orders to follow suit.
With the score being at 1-2 and with Grove’s putting pressure on the back 3 too much for my liking, I looked around at the ill looking Dave Leslie behind me and asked have u got 15 minutes in you? The response was a defiant yes! as he coughed, on came Leslie for Hamm and we reverted to 4,5,1 with Easterbrook slotting into centre half.
This had the desired effect as we took charge again for the remainder of the match and had chances to go further in front, Sam Adams with energy still left found himself in the box and with the goal at his mercy delayed his decision to shoot which allowed their keeper to pull off a Jason esque save. Moments later Sean Philips had the chance to seal it with the goal gapping he missed a great chance which their keeper once again saved.
After defending a corner brilliantly in the last few minutes, Curran chased down the clearance wining the tackle he released Philly Lennon who still had legs to chase the ball he cleverly played the ball down into the corner for Curran to chase he in turn fed across to Smith who showing his experience kept the ball in the corner winning a free kick which Machin and Smith cleverly kept it in their….superb.
The ref shortly blew for full time in what was a great result and performance against a strong quality side who will battle us in the league this season. Everyone was superb today the back 3 solid, midfield 3 non-stop tackling an pressing, wingers worked their socks off, the strikers ran themselves to a standstill and the subs came on and all Had an impact but M.O.M had to go to the hugely impressive Jason McLaughlin who kept us in the game with some of the best goalkeeping I’ve seen in a long, long time.
So now we are into a semi-final but we can’t enjoy this for long an even bigger and important game looms on the horizon a league date against this same team….. the Grove in what promises to be another tough encounter one we simply need to win …win and we can deliver a blow to probably one of our biggest rivals this year!