A 6-1 victory should not be disappointing, but it was. Before you think I'm being overly harsh, let me explain...
As we move through the season, a few things should start to happen: our team play should be developing to the point where our players can start to read each other's minds; our passing should be crisp and direct; there should be composure when chances present themselves; and we should begin to feel like an unstoppable force - capable of beating everyone.
We went into the home match against Gade Valley hot on the heels of a fantastic away performance in the cup. And the first two minutes were absolutely superb. A fine cross into the box was met with a powerful header and the tone of the match had been set, or so I thought. Moments later, another shot on target doubled our lead. (Really sorry, but I cannot recall any details about that particular goal!) At that moment, I feared that this match would become another easy one-sided affair, but that was not to be the case.
Whether it was complacency or, dare I say, laziness, but we seemed to completely switch off. Our passes weren't reaching their target, shots went incredibly wayward, some player believed they could take on the entire opposition and challenges were not put in when they needed to be. The pitch was a bit of a bog, but that definitely not an excuse for some very poor passages of play.
Overconfidence led to a great big hole opening up in our defence. Their striker ran through, unmarked, to prod the ball home. Kyle's desperate attempt to sprint back and clear the ball off the line fell frustratingly short. In a match that we could (and should) have been 6-0 up in, we went into halftime with only one goal's advantage.
It was at half time that I had to remind the boys of a simple, basic fact: we are certain to play matches in the future where we won't be able to squander chances the way we had been. The second half needed to be better, much better.
And better it was - thank goodness.
We controlled the play and looked very solid at the back. This was the Hobbs Hill Wood team that I had come to know and expect. Two goals from Dieago added some respectability to the scoreline and all the players' attitudes were exactly as they should be. The final minute added some extra gloss to proceedings - a scrambled effort from a corner made it five. Then, literally seconds before I could blow the final whistle, Kyle gathered the ball in midfield, sprinted forward and blasted a shot into the far corner.
As I said at the start of this report, 6-1 sounded like a tremendous win, but sometimes the score does not tell the whole story of the match. Tougher challenges lie ahead.
Speaking of which, Friday 9th Feb saw another home match, this time against Boxmoor School.
Now then, there’s nothing like a nice easy match to see us into the half term break - and that was nothing like an easy match.
Having spoken to the teacher at Hobletts Manor, I was aware that Boxmoor would offer us a proper challenge. After the first few minutes, that was definitely true.
The first thing to note was that their ‘keeper had a fantastic kick, probably the best we’ve played against so far. That meant that when one of our attacks fizzled out, we were immediately on the defensive. All our players needed to up their work rate if were were going to compete.
A very open, end-to-end start to the game resulted in the away side taking the lead. Although we had squandered a few chances of our own, it had certainly been coming. What we needed was an immediate response and that was exactly what we got. Ethan picked up the ball on the edge of the area and unleashed a blistering shot into the top corner.
As you can imagine, our players celebrated wildly and the opposition were visibly shaken. All of their early hard work had been snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Soon after, a foul on Ethan on the edge of the area led to a free kick. Ethan, having dusted himself down, stepped up to smash the ball against the cross bar. A goal at that point would have been very valuable indeed.
Whenever I have had to referee, my concentration is totally on making moment to moment decisions. As a result, some of the finer details of the match are lost. That's usually the reason why I remember a goal being scored but cannot recall who scored it, or from where. For long periods if this game, I remember needing to keep my whistle very close to my lips at all times. The other side were incredibly physical - sometimes a bit too physical, or at least too physical for some of our players. They used their strength to win the ball, shield the ball and win back the ball. I can't recall another set of players who had been so determined to come away from a challenge still in possession of the ball. Sometimes they were close to giving away fouls never anything too blatant. This was a proper test and, for me, it was intriguing to see how our players responded to this new challenge.
At halftime, I had to remind the boys that if they hope to progress in the league to the knockout stages, they are going to face tougher physical challenges. For me, having reached the final of this competition two years running, I know exactly what is in store in the later matches. And it is very important for the boys to understand that the days of 8-0/ 6-1 victories are over. The second half was to be their chance to show what they were truly made of.
The pattern of play started is a similar fashion. There were chances at both ends and lots of boggy battles in the middle of the park. But then things opened up - a fantastic through ball from Harvey let to us taking the lead. I think it was Ethan who poked the ball past the ‘keeper, but I can’t be sure. Again, I was more concerned about us having the lead than who was responsible for it.
And with that, the rest of the match was all about defending. Try as we might to develop some attacks, the opposition had the wind at their backs and we had the sun in our eyes. As far as I can recall, they had chance after chance yet somehow we survived. In some instances it was down to some quality defending, there were some great saves from Danny between the sticks and in other instances, it was down to some very rash finishing. There were at least two occasions where I assumed we would be picking the ball out of our net, but the fates seemed to be smiling on us.
The last five minutes were a succession of corners, or that was how it felt at least. Desperately, they were cleared by any means necessary. But hold on we did! We may not have deserved all three points, but sometimes you deserve the things that you don't necessarily deserve. I think. I mean, if you park the bus because you need to park the bus then that means that you must have gotten yourself in a position where you can park the bus, and if that bus doesn’t get towed away then either it’s a really good bus, or a really heavy bus, or maybe the traffic warden wasn’t doing their job properly, or maybe it wasn't a bus at all but it was actually a rock - a large, immovable, shot-blocking rock, and I have no idea where I’m going with this analogy so I’m going to stop there. I know what I mean, and that's all that matters. And I doubt that anyone has managed to read all the way down to the bottom of this report to even notice. Respect to anyone who has. You know what I mean about the bus, don't you?
Anyhoo, 2-1 was a great win, especially in the circumstances.
(Side note - 'Shot-blocking rock' is a great album name.)