It was somewhat fitting that the long awaited start of the second half of AP 6’s season saw us back at Southgate Olympic, playing the same team that we had met on the opening day of the first half. Unfortunately, whereas on that sunny occasion back in September 2013 we had several weeks of pre-season behind us and were able to catch Olympic cold in the first half, on this occasion the (mud caked) boot was very much on the other foot: we were coming off the back of a frustrating, lethargic, 12 week layoff, whereas Southgate were playing their 3rd game in as many weeks – a run which had included a spanking of AP 7s the Saturday before.
The game began tentatively, as the two opponents sounded each other out, like a couple of cautious heavyweight title contenders circling the ring. Also the grass was very long, so kicking the ball was quite difficult.
As the first half progressed the tactics of each of the two sides gradually began to take shape, and similarities abounded: both teams were looking to keep 8-9 men behind the ball at all times, leaving their two attacking players a little isolated. However, whereas Southgate looked to long diagonals for their strikers to run onto, we tried for the quick ball into the feet of Tris and Banny which would allow them to turn and run at goal.
The net result of this was that Southgate created a few more chances, but we perhaps had the clearer cut ones. Our back four dealt with most of the long balls comfortably and, when Farhad was called upon, his handling was as consistent as the likelihood of Derek pulling out a sex move in the pre-match stretching. He also found some time amidst (literally) dictating the play to pull off a great near post stop – the 5s don’t know what their missing.
At the other end Tris also brought a fantastic save from the Southgate keeper and a few times it seemed we had got in behind, only to be unable to make it count by actually putting the ball in the goal.
At half time the game was in the balance but we perhaps needed to get more of a grip in midfield, where Southgate were making use of their extra man. This was immediately addressed at the start of the second 45 when Scants entered the game in Toure-esq fashion (obviously Yaya, not Kolo) and sparked a ten minute spell of AP ascendancy. However despite Tris, Gerry, Pete and Robin all looking dangerous, and Ditmir agonisingly chipping over when through one on one, the goal still wouldn’t come.
As the half wore on Southgate rallied and we began to look a bit leggy, despite our use of subs. They started to pull us around more in midfield and the defending became a bit more last ditch, with Oli and Mike P making some important interceptions and Mike ‘Materazzi’ Myers managing to simultaneously make a blinding tactical foul in the area and roll away from the penalty box while maintaining a look of complete innocence, to ensure only a free kick was given.
When the goal came it was a sickener. With a few minutes to play another hopeful Southgate ball was only half cleared by the tiring defence, Farhad made a great save, the rebound was fired back in and came back off the stanchion and this time it was sliced into the back of the net.
Disappointing and because I think it’s fair to say we deserved a draw at the very least. Still these things even themselves out over a season and the good thing is the league is still in our hands. As I write this the weather forecast is looking better so hopefully we can now get a run of games, get back some momentum and re-gain our attacking fluidity to go with our defensive resolve. This starts with three points on Saturday. Come on AP!
Man of the Match: Oli Pugh