And so the return fixture of what had been a less than enjoyable match first time round. Now though we are a different side, looking more solid and disciplined. But it was Wickham and you knew it was going to be hard. They did not disappoint.
Having managed to get 14 together for a trip to the salubrious surroundings of Preston Manor, we were in good spirits following recent performances. With us managing to play over half the season already points on the board is becoming crucial so we set up with our now usual 4-5-1 formation.
With Matt in goal, back four of Ziggy, Gary, Will, Charlie the goal machine. Midfield started with Elion, Nick, Jed, Ben, Connor and Alex up front. Seb and Kelvin were on the bench with Norman who turned up a little late and lost. This was going to be a hard physical battle but these are the contests we are finally getting to grips with.
As expected the game was frenetic from the start with Wicks having the better of the play although we looked good on the breakaway with Connor and Elion down the flanks looking dangerous. Wicks forced a flurry of early corners but the best chances fell to first Ben who was found dashing through the middle onto a through ball which he he hit first time but lofted wide. Then a poor clearance by their keeper went straight to Alex who hit it back first time, but his connection was poor and it went straight back to the keeper. Then from yet another corner and our failure to clear the ball Wicks struck a shot through a crowd which gave Matt no chance. But this team has new found resolve and it began to show as we took a tighter hold on midfield with Ben, Jed and especially Nick dictating play. Across the back we looked steady when threatened and did the simple clearance when needed. The equaliser came from a lovely cross which eluded everyone except our goal a game man Charlie who snuck in at the back to poke the ball home off the post. A very smart finish and proof that if you gamble with runs in the area anything is possible. Wicks looked some what shaky at the back especially in the full back positions where Elion, Connor and Charlie were constantly finding space. The clear cut chances fizzled out as the half wore on apart from a rasping drive from Jed which their keeper palmed away and a clear shot that their striker had which he blazed over. Seb and Kelvin came on towards the end of the half to give some fresh legs. Evens at the half and the game was finely balanced.
Second half saw us lose focus a little and Wicks ramped up the pressure. Although we looked solid we were tending to give the ball away cheaply which gave us no respite. Alex struggled manfully to hold up the ball but was often out numbered and isolated. Nevertheless we continued to threaten on the break with our best openings coming from wide. At our end Matt made a great save low down and they also grazed the base of the post but we held firm. By now the sleeping giant that is Jed was beginning to waken and he was now going to pull the whole team along with him. We began to gain momentum going forward with some crunching ball winning tackles going in. Then some excellent wide play saw us open their defence on the right and with a beautiful low cross which was met and buried into the corner of the net. The crowd went wild. The ref gave it and as we began returning to the centre he was surrounded by Wicks players and lone behold he changed his mind and gave offside. Firstly from where we were the ball went directly across the area, neither forwards or back and secondly the scorer came from well behind the ball to meet it perfectly. The crowd went wild again! Never in all my years have I ever seen such shambolic refereeing. Putting this set back behind us we drove on with new vigour and got our just deserts when a midfield dummy by Norman let Jed go steaming through their back line into the area where their keeper came steaming the other way and completely nailed him without going near the ball. Now I am no expert but my understanding was that if an attacker is brought down by the last man to deny a goal scoring opportunity then it is a red card. I’m probably right but on this occasion I’m wrong, silly me. So we get the penalty but the keeper stays on. Alex steps up and the reprieved keeper makes a decent save. Just time for one more crunching from Jed before full time.
Mugged, Robbed a missed opportunity all relate to this game. As for the previous few weeks we were excellent and Wicks must know they somehow dodged a defeat. The whole team were superb. Ziggy is finally looking like a defender, Gary is looking like a man half his age, Will is looking like a……a doctor and Charlie is looking like a goal scorer. Matt in goal was excellent with some telling punches and generally brilliant. In midfield a shift was put in by everyone with Nick and Jed’s partnership looking better and better with each game, both battle tenaciously but back it up with quality football. Ben showed his quality throughout and proved that he should not be wasting his Saturdays lazing around in bed, unless she’s a real looker. Seb, Connor, Elion, Norman and Kelvin all played their part and I appreciate their efforts even though none of them got 90 mins, Thanks guys. Finally Alex up front ploughed a lonely furrow against a physical defence. And he was carrying a chest injury, but he was a brave soldier and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet. But he is integral to the way we play. Put the cheque in the post please Alex.
All in all a decent result, but a case of what might or should have been. If we continue in the same form, show the same spirit and get a few of our injuries back for the remaining 8 games we give ourselves a good chance of staying in this division but we cannot afford to drop off for one minute of one game. Remember that.
By the way we have the chance to finally turn Wicks over in the cup at their place, and boy do I really want that.