I'm currently sitting at home having a nice cup of tea, trying to figure out how on Earth to write up what I've just witnessed. There's an awful lot to decompress, and the cup of tea is very much needed.
Let's start with a bit of context:
Last year, were were knocked out by Broadfield in the semi-finals. We were without our 'keeper and, despite our best efforts, we just weren't good enough on the day. So there's that to begin with.
Add to that a little bit of history repeating - today, one of our defenders went home unwell. This meant that we would once again have to be the sub-less wonders. It may have worked in our previous match, but we were up against a team that won their mini-league. This was going to be tough at the best of times. (I'm reluctant to play the 'we're only Year 5's' card, but it is definitely a factor when up against giant Year 6s.)
So anyways, the match got underway, much like all the other matches. And just like our last match, we conceded an early goal. A defensive clearance was charged down and Broadfield had a couple of attackers bearing down on goal. They couldn't miss, and they didn't. Going 1-0 down after 2 minutes was not the dynamic opening I had been hoping for.
This setback did not seem to dent our confidence in any way, though. A lovely passing move saw Albie play a great through-ball to Kieran, who slid the ball past their approaching 'keeper. After their great start, Broadfield didn't have an answer to our free-flowing passing and movement. This was certainly the case when Alfie was played in and confidently made it 2-1.
Now then, I can't quite remember when exactly the niggly fouls started, but start they did. Maybe it was the fact that several players had faster feet than those tackling; maybe it was because several players were just quicker than others; or maybe there were several players who were doing everything they could to make sure that ball/ player was not going to get past them - no matter what.
Whatever the reason, both teams were equally guilty and the general play began to bubble and simmer and occasionally go off the boil. Fouls were committed all over the pitch and the general play became quite disjointed.
Nothing could be done, however, to stop Albie dribbling the ball through on goal, and chipping the ball over the 'keeper in into the net. We were 3-1 up and looking really good. If we could get to half time with that score line, we would really be in the driving seat.
That was a big if...
Unfortunately, just before the whistle, they had a free kick inside our half. Having made several tremendous saves with his body earlier in the game, Lewis was unable to prevent a powerfully driven shot from reaching the back of the net.
3-2 was a good scoreline, but not a comfortable one.
The half-time team talk was mainly about positional responsibilities, keeping calm in pressure situations and not continually asking the referee for fouls to be given. (Spoiler alert - not all of those words were heeded.)
The second half began in similar fashion, but as time ticked on they had several players who really came into their own. One player in particular became particularly untacklable (I'm pretty sure that's a word)- looking like he was going to score or create a chance every time he got near the ball.
Incredibly, we went 4-2 ahead. Another good move ended up with Ollie having a free shot from close range, which was diverted in by Alfie from even closer range.
And that's when it all went a bit wrong. After a few more passages of play, the referee stopped the game to talk to all the players. He commended them all on their quality football, but politely reminded them about playing fairly.
The game restarted, our lack of substitutes began to take its toll. We were very quick to attack but progressively slower to get back in defensive positions. It was going to be a very long last ten minutes. I tinkered with the formation to give us a bit more defensive stability, but the tide was already turning.
Broadfield got back into the game from a corner. The ball in was met powerfully in the air by their giant striker. There was absolutely nothing we could do about that one. And then, with their tails clearly up, they equalised.
Once again, tensions rose on the pitch. Some quality tackles from our players led to some over reactions by their players. Some desperate moments of defending and some heroic goal-line clearances by our players kept the scores level.
Tensions also rose off the pitch! Supporters of both teams were asked by the referee to move away from the pitch (and each other). You could tell just how much this game meant to everyone involved.
Broadfield were in the ascendancy and time was running out, but extra time was not going to be needed. After another free kick was awarded (this time to us) and the ball was hoofed into their box. I can't exactly recall what happened other than there being a bit of a scramble on the goal line. The ball came to a standstill and before their goalie could react, we hammered it into the net. I think it was Alfie, but who knows?
And soon after that it was all over.
What a match - at times amazing, at times unpleasant, and by the end - utterly, utterly draining.
Let's hope for a friendlier match in the semi-final.