Goals: Gunes, T.Spencer, Hughes
What better destination to get some fresh air into those cloistered Christmas lungs than a trip down to New Beckenham for the AP Reserves inaugural game of 2015. The year promises much for the second string so it was important to set off on the right foot against one of the easier fixtures on paper. We’ve been struggling against league minnows all throughout the season though and when we started the match seemingly intent on fashioning out chances for the opposition the sidelines may have been excused for thinking it was going to be another one of those days. After the brief opening wobble we quickly began to dictate the play though: Dan Wilding was looking as consistently fit as he did before the Christmas break, and didn’t look to have lost an ounce of composure either as he built effortlessly from the back. Mark Taylor was arguably our standout player in the first half, winning the aerial battle for every spot kick that their goalkeeper didn’t shank into touch. What Mark won, Olly Hubbard dutifully swept up to fashion presentable chances to the attacking line. The new signing was a welcome addition to the conveyor belt of talent we have flowing through midfield, and it didn’t take long for the partnership to produce chances as Les Manu raced through twice one-on-one, only to find the keeper considerably better at spreading his body than he was at goal kicks.
Our cutting edge finally took it’s toll on the scoreline when a low ball into the box appeared to be blocked in an unorthodox John Terry-esque fashion, with the wrong-footed defender flinging his head at the turf. Maybe the 11 players on the field were too bewildered by the sight or Dave Mac was just a little more eagle eyed on the sideline, as he purportedly spotted a rogue hand in the mix and decried the infraction with enough vigour to convince the referee to point to the penalty spot. After the brief moral dilemma of deciding whether or not to profit from the dubious decision, it fell to Ozan Gunes to arbitrate. The midfield maestro found a happy resolution by reluctantly placing the ball to the keeper’s right where he managed to get a hand to it but was powerless to stop the follow up. Absolved by the fact that we didn’t technically score a dubious penalty we pressed on for another goal with clear conscience and were granted the opportunity two thirds into the half as another sublime corner by Wilding was met by an imperious header from Tom Spencer. The evergreen striker timed his jump to perfection and left both marker and goalkeeper rooted. We continued our domination into the second half, playing a little more off the counter to try and stretch the lead. Both Jay Hughes and I found ourselves racing clear only to be denied by crossbar and keeper respectively. Maybe we should have had a more commanding lead when the tide finally turned, but we didn’t and it almost proved costly.
At half-time we were given my go-to Football Manager team talk of “you’re playing well but don’t get complacent”. This evidently fell on deaf ears as a third of the way into the second half we looked to break quickly. Drunk with ambition, I hared up the field as Ozan collected the ball near the half. The opportunity to set me off never really materialised and without a contingency plan my limited knowledge of attacking football had me continuing up the field in a scene reminiscent of Forest Gump’s foray into American Football. Mike Graves had apparently been taken with a similar idea, so when Ozan was left to look for an outlet, he could only find one of the many red and black shirts that were beginning to culminate around him. With both central defenders in position as auxiliary wingers, HSBC made light work capitalising on the lapse by squaring quickly to leave Mike Bardgett stranded for 1-2.
The much lauded keeper had come under a fair bit of scrutiny in the first half after goading the opposition for a wayward attempted lob straight from kick-off after the first goal. He subsequently spilled two catches and predictably got a fair bit of stick for it, but cream always rises and for a brief spell he pretty much singlehandedly kept us in the lead with a string of DeGea-like reaction saves; the highlight being a diving one handed tip to his right from an effort which was arrowed towards the top corner.
HSBC had piled on the pressure after the watershed opening goal. Their number 8 was causing all sorts of problems between our lines and twice managed to open us up. Both chances were thankfully scuppered by Bardgett and the offside flag respectively. It was clear we couldn’t keep riding our luck for long and as a sweeping move across the park left us woefully overexposed on the right, HSBC levelled the game with ease.
A good fifteen minutes left and we were on the ropes. Time to consolidate. For the second game running McLoughlin found himself making a timely cameo as Mike Graves tinkered with his football boots. Ozan also dropped into midfield to try and quell the rampant number 8. Our confident first half ball retention was a vague memory, but we began to claw ourselves back into the game and looked to attack nervously through our de facto plan B (get the ball to Les and hope he creates some magic). The exciting winger was not having one of his better days, but is man who can rarely be denied for 90 minutes. With ten minutes to go he skipped away from his marker and combined well with Gunes to play a teasing ball into the box. After a brief scramble Jay Hughes read the danger expertly and managed to block an attempted clearance to force the three points North.
A lot of positives to take out of the game: Matt Hillier played a solid 60 minutes and looked to be one of the players most alert to the danger during the opposition’s attacking spell. Olly was solid and composed in possession on a soft, awkward surface. We showed great spirit to get back in the lead, but we really need to work on our resilience and putting in the hard yards when needs be. We head to Merton next week, where those qualities will surely be thoroughly tested again.
MoM: Les Manu