A disappointing weekend for AP Reserves title hopes. One that could have seen some breathing space open up at the top: unfortunately this was a weekend of missed opportunities.
Whilst other promotion hopefuls are starting to mould into solid, hard to beat outfits, the Reserves seem to be revelling in a charitable demeanour that has seen us go 3-0 down in our last three big games. This has rarely been carried out as compliantly as on Saturday. Actonians are a team that will work hard all the way up the field and make it difficult to play out of the back. Their efforts were richly rewarded in the first ten minutes when two errant passes created assists. I didn’t see either goal but I will say that to concede in such a way is a failure for the whole team: it’s a failure of the people not making the right angles for an outlet; it’s a failure of communication by those around the ball carrier; it’s a failure for those who aren’t at training to work on defensive shape and it’s a failure by the jerk who didn’t get to the game on time (apologies, guys). That said, if I were going to point the finger at someone directly it would have to be Gallaway: The Body had come out with the best of intentions, swinging by to hand over the 9’s kit. Unfortunately, a few too many of the Reserves had probably seen the racy pictures posted on twitter over the course of the week. The notion of being watched by such a prime physical specimen was probably making us a little anxious.
We began to settle into things with the stoic acceptance that we’d be facing another uphill battle to claw anything out of the game, and began to put a few chances together. Matt Kelly rattled the bar with a cheeky free kick; Tom Spencer was also put through once, but in truth we were just as likely to concede on the counter: Mike Bardgett made a crucial save at his near post and Mark Taylor made a crucial recovering tackle from a spilled corner. All said, both teams were lucky not to concede further going into the break.
Half time and the right words were said by captain and manager to underline how important this match was: Our promotion push hinged on the next 45 minutes. We wanted it. We certainly didn’t lack desire in the second half: Harry Thatcher had put his frock away for a weekend to make a very welcome return to AP, and his contribution rejuvenated the centre of the park. It also allowed Ozan Gunes to drop into an anchor role and orchestrate the play as he has done so exquisitely this season.
Such is the manner off football that the fine margins that saw us race to a 5-4 victory against EBOG a fortnight ago totally eluded us this weekend: James Spencer almost slid in to break the deadlock; Kelly hit the post; Fevzi Demir went one on one to bring out a save from the keeper and hit the side netting with the follow up; new signing Adam Reader went within a hair’s breadth of capping his promising Reserves debut with a goal, coming up marginally short for a cross; one of the numerous spilled catches by the opposition goalkeeper managed to find its way to Mike Hubbard whose shot couldn’t quite find a way past the covering defender. Conversely, in their only real chance of the second half, a peach of a cross managed to skim off their hapless substitute striker and wind up in the back of the net for 3.
We did grab a goal back eventually: The opposition had struggled to deal with Matt Kelly’s deep deliveries all game, and when another sublime cross was frantically half cleared to the edge of the area, the ball sat up nicely for me to volley into the far corner. Unfortunately it was little more than a consolation goal as we failed to grab the second despite a mountain of pressure in the last quarter of an hour.
Three points lost but a lot to take heart from: The Gaffer was philosophical after the match and happy to accept the scoreline was a poor reflection of a spirited second half display. Dan Wilding has been consistent quality this season, and was unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet with a rasper from outside the area; Thatcher put in a lively shift and will hopefully add a lot of steel going into the final stretch; Reader did well against a strong, organised defensive line; and teams around us also dropped points, softening the damage somewhat. We’re still in the chase, but we can’t rely on outscoring the opposition every time: the defence certainly need to do their bit. Bank of England exposed similar weaknesses to this weekend’s when we played them on the first day of the season. This Saturday’s game should be a perfect opportunity to exorcise our demons, both old and new.