Our League cup game against AC Finchley saw us produce a truly Jekyll and Hyde performance along with one of the greater come-backs the boys will probably play-in.
AC Finchley have had a great season to date and with us having lost a keeper and centre-half mid-week through injuries, we had to make some forced changes going into this game.
Keiran, for the second week, stood up to take on goalkeeping duties and Sammy stood in for Ollie at centre defence to give us an injection of pace at the back.
That said, all that planning came to little avail as despite a warning, our boys set out in the first half with the mind-set that we were the red division side and thus the game would come easily to them.
AC Finchley went about their work like a team that was full of confidence and it wasn’t long before they registered their first goal … then their second, their third, their fourth and ultimately their fifth, all before half-time.
The fact is, none of the goals that were conceded were as a result of the changes we made to the formation, more that we did not work hard, never got close enough to the man with the ball, gave the ball away far too easily when we did have it and lost far too many of the 50 / 50 challenges.
Each of the goals could have been cut off at source but we simply allowed AC Finchley to walk all over us.
At half time, we did not believe we had a game winning performance in us, but sent the boys out to win back some respect and to at least win the second half.
We made a few changes, switching Buddy into goal and moving Keiran out of goal to striker, both of which paid dividends, and moved Sammy into a more natural wide left position.
Within a few minutes it was clear that AC Finchley were going to struggle with the dual threat of Keiran and Sammy and we started to make more and more frequent raids on their goal.
Our first goal came early in the second half, slightly fortuitously as a near post corner from James was not dealt with and the keeper fumbled the ball into his own net.
Not wanting to look a gift-horse in the mouth, the boys started to sense more goals and it was clear that each and every ball that we played through to Keiran had the AC Finchley defence in disarray. It was just one of these balls that Keiran neatly put away for us to take the score to 5 – 2.
We continued to apply pressure with the mid-field, dominating possession and TJ, who covered pretty much every blade of grass in the second half, getting just reward for his effort when he pounced on a ball across the area to make it 5 – 3.
At this point there was still 10 minutes to play and the boys continued to up the urgency as they sensed how fragile AC Finchley were becoming.
At this point Sammy stepped up for the first of his two goals, again making an intelligent run off the ball as the Finchley defence tried to cope with Keiran making his runs through the middle. Sammy’s goal brought us to 5 – 4 with a matter of minutes to play.
At this point the boys were starting to look tired and whilst Finchley were struggling to cope with us at the back, they started to make a few raids of their own and, having already tested Buddy with a few simple shots, they then tested his alertness by knocking a couple of balls over the back of our defence and running onto them. Buddy proved himself to be more than a match and was quickly off his line in both instances to ensure that we still had a life-line.
We were also now carrying a few injuries with Luke having had to be retired for much of the second half and Adam now struggling with a knock to his ankle.
When Keiran burst through with a few minutes to go, only to be brought down in the penalty box, it seemed like everything had been in vain when the referee did not award the penalty.
The boys though, admirably did not let their heads go down and Sammy broke through for his second goal to level the scores at 5 – 5 a minute before the final whistle.
With the momentum with us, we were confident that we could dominate extra time, however the thought of penalties was not one we wanted to contemplate without a first-string keeper.
The first period of extra time was again tough for the boys and neither team could break the deadlock.
The second period of extra time was a real slog as all of the boys had to dig deep into their reserves to just get through the half, never mind to dictate the pace.
Keiran and Sammy were again causing havoc and we simply instructed the boys to work the ball up-field as quickly as possible.
Both Ben and Adam started to deliver more and more frequent balls of quality and, as if to script, Keiran found himself free to slot in his second for a 6 – 5 lead, the first time that we had led the game in 75 minutes of football.
With a minute or so remaining, James found himself free on the right hand-side. Miss-understanding our shouts of “go for the corner”, implying we wanted him to run the clock down by the corner flag, James took that as an instruction to shoot for the corner and looped a lovely ball into the far hand side of the goal for a final score-line of 7-5.
In the heat of the sun, every boy ran themselves into the ground and were fully deserving of their victory.
The two biggest take-aways from this game have to be i) that you cannot go out in any game assuming that you can play anything other than at your most intense to live with many of the teams now in the WFL, and ii) that a game is never lost and so long as your heads don’t go down, miracles do happen!
We won’t pretend that every boy had a cracking game to-day as some were in and out of the match more than others, but the most notable performances have to be Keiran (our man of the match) and Sammy for their hard running up front, TJ for a truly all-action performance in the middle of the park, Buddy for a well-earned clean sheet in the second half and Adam for playing through the second half with a very sore leg, but still tracking back and delivering some great balls to the boys up front.
Congratulations also to James, for being the first player this season to meet our target of getting into double figures in terms of scoring. There are others that we will need to do the same to progress further in the cup … current leading candidates are Ben (9), Dillan (8), Luke (7), TJ(6) and Keiran (5)