It would be a little self centred of me to not write a match report for last Saturday’s game purely on the basis of giving away a penalty, especially after a stoic performance by the reserves. This was a game packed full of the controversy and excitement of last seasons 5-4 barn burner: The only thing that was missing were the goals.
The game started off well with a more settled defence, owing much to the calming presences of Mark Taylor and Dan Wilding back in the fray. The team had a lot more balance than in recent weeks further up the pitch too: Mark Guildea had been enlisted to bring some much needed industry to the middle of the park. Aaron Akrong and Adam Reader were linking up brightly on the right hand side, and the ever impressive Les Manu was a constant threat on the left. Even Mikey Hubbard was tracking back: A feat especially noteworthy on account of an apparent lack of sleep the night before!
We got our just rewards for a bright start after a decent flowing move on the right. Wilding swung the ball into the danger area from deep which was dummied by Adam and expertly killed by Hubbard. The dummy and first touch somehow managed to buy him a ridiculous amount of time one on one with the goalkeeper which he used to calmly chip the ball in with enough nonchalance to make football look like the easiest game in the world.
1-0, and it looked like it would be a case of how many we would get as we seemed to be oozing control. Michael Bardgett had been very well deputised by Matt Thompson whilst running around various parts of England for the last few weeks, and the marathon man displayed a fine spring, in spite of some worn out limbs with a fine Hollywood save from a header which was destined for the top corner. Apart from that his attentive sweeper keeping kept EBOG at bay for most of the half whilst we squandered a few golden chances at the other end. Hubbard eventually ran out of gas a good 20 minutes (but what a 20 minutes!) into the game, so we shuffled the pack a little with Reader dropping back into the engine room and Konrad Stoklosa using his ample presence to hold things up in the business end.
Now for the controversy: You know I don’t like to speak ill of referees, but this guy had already proved himself a little eccentric by handing Jacob Scipio a yellow card for backheeling the ball in the direction of a foul whilst none of the opposition were in the vicinity. He then came up with a baffling assertion when their winger was passed to in an a blatantly offside position. Despite the fact that we had to cut the ball out at the expense of a throw in, the player was not deemed to be interfering with play because he hadn’t touched the ball. We would come to rue the decision in the classic manner that football clings to controversy as the resulting throw was lofted to their midfielder. I got a little too tight and a little too eager to snuff out the danger by guessing he would cut outside and when he switched back in and left me for dead the resulting last ditch challenge upended the guy for a surefire penalty that somehow took an age to be given.
Despite – or possibly because of – the striker slipping as he struck, the ball found it’s way past the Onion to tie up the score 1-1 just before half time. We weren’t too disheartened about this though; more frustrated that we hadn’t capitalized on the glut of chances we’d made already. We were determined to put this right in the second half but had similar fortune to the first, flashing a lot of balls across the box but failing to find that killer touch to put the ball in the back of the net.
To make matters worse with 25 minutes to go, the referee once again took exception to Jacob tapping the ball after the whistle (despite the fact that it was our throw) and gave him a second yellow. Now I’ve seen referees go crazy for foul throws in order to stamp their authority on the game, but to send someone off for absent-mindedly wasting about 5 seconds of game time seems a little harsh personally. With 10 men we pressed for the winning goal and looked a far more potent threat than the opposition, but we still couldn’t find an opening. Aaron might have stolen it at the end, but the ball was adjudged to have gone out of play as he was rounding the keeper. At the other end Bardgett was responsible for two technically fine saves: One shot across the face of goal expertly parried with soft hands for a corner, and a daisy cutter free kick on target that was well smothered.
Honours even, but a proud performance, and a return to the solid base that kept us in such good stead at the start of the season. Shouts to Adam for filling in with tons of energy in the middle, and Les for some ridiculous tekkers! Time now for a morale boosting cup run to really get us back on track!