With Whetstone having literally failed to turn up to our two previously scheduled fixtures, it would appear that we were somewhat unjustly treated In having to play our first mid-week fixture of the season against a full strength Pumas side with us only able to field 8 players and without our regular keeper, Matt.
That said we did not set ourselves up to defend or simply treat this as a damage limitation exercise, but tried to boost the boys’ confidence with reminders of past victories and of how we have played previously when up against the odds.
Not for the first time, this incredibly resilient group of boys rose to the challenge, took the game to Whetstone and deservedly ran out 3 – 1 winners.
The first half was an even affair with both sides creating opportunities but, most notably, our 8 boys were putting in the graft to ensure that the extra Whetstone man made no impact in the flow of the game.
Playing with no striker made it very difficult to relieve some of the Whetstone pressure at times, but the strong running of our mid-field meant that our attacks were purposeful and, when we won them, we looked incredibly dangerous from set-pieces.
We had a few efforts fly high and wide from corners before Ben played Sammy through for a strong run and neat finish in the 28th minute to send us into half-time with a 1 – 0 lead.
The biggest compliment that we could pay the boys at half time was that we honestly didn’t believe that Pumas had worked out that we only had 8 players on the pitch, such was the effort that they were putting in.
It was clear, what with Pumas making regular substitutions, that we were going to tire and we warned the boys that whatever the score, the last 10 minutes of this game were going to be hell for them but that they needed to unite as a team and help each other through it.
A second goal for us, relatively early in the second half, came somewhat as a bonus after another tricky run from Sammy into the box led to him drawing a foul and winning a penalty. The pressure on that penalty was immense as a two goal cushion would definitely put us in the driving seat and James did not disappoint, blasting the ball into the back of the net.
The game remained open but we were now playing with the confidence of old, defending from the front and pressurising Pumas at every opportunity. Some intelligent cross balls from TJ out of mid-field gave us further opportunities to relieve the pressure and allow the boys some welcome respite.
When Pumas did attack, the three boys at the back, Barsa, Ollie and Ben were rock solid and Keiran was playing the keeper role to perfection, his handling being assured and his distribution being terrific.
Pumas were still a threat as our boys were tiring and it was a blow when their 6’ (well, nearly) centre half rose above the crowd to head in a corner with plenty of the game still to play.
Heads did not go down as we continued to battle, continuing to pressure and really giving them very little at the back.
When we won a free kick on the half way line, Ben delivered a beautifully flighted ball onto the penalty spot where TJ’s quick feet enabled him to restore a two-goal lead for us.
At 3 – 1, but still with time to play, we actually started to look quite comfortable.
We were giving Pumas little time on the ball and our back three simply seemed to have the measure of Pumas’ attacks.
When the final whistle went, whilst a relief, it strangely felt like a game where we posed the bigger threat throughout … and again, we still don’t believe that they figured out that there were only 8 of us !
In a game like this it is near impossible to pick a man of the match as we could make a case for each and every player, but the management ultimately picked Dillan for a great team performance on the right wing, pressuring Pumas at every opportunity, running back to support when required and giving us a great outlet when we did have the ball.
Special thanks again to Keiran for standing in as keeper, an incredibly tough job, especially given the standard set each week by Matt, but one he carried out to a tee.