Elsewhere in my footballing world, my team Hawkenbury have been storming the Tonbridge & District second division. Still top of the league by goal difference after winning 5-1 on Saturday, this weekend will see Tonbridge Invicta host the top-of-the-table showdown between us and them. Winner will be likely to win the league.
Here's the top of the table as it stands:
PL GD PTS
Hawkenbury 21 44 43
Tonbridge Invicta 20 17 43
AFC Valour 22 18 40
Ashton Prime 23 19 39
Brenchley 22 2 37
Rusthall 20 33 35
Our remaining games are at Invicta, at Rusthall and against Roselands (near the bottom). Win all three, and the league is ours!
Here is the match report from Saturday's game, as written by myself.
Staplehurst & Monarchs 1 - 5 HAWKENBURY IIIs
Michael Purvis 2
Ian Parsons 3
Line-up (4-5-1, switching to 4-4-2)
Liam, Kev, Locky, Aaron,
Lee, Jake, Ashley
Mike for Ashley (50)
Dave for Jake (55)
Rob for Joel (80)
Jake Spiller & Russel Smith not used
I know I moan Mick and Scott are too harsh, even as we won our past two games 8-1 and 10-0, but today we were quite terrible.
The game kicked off at 2pm at the distant but lovely Staplehurst home ground, which had changing rooms triple the size of our last opponents, Paddock Wood. The pitch however, was really small, which absolutely damaged our 4-5-1 get-it-to-the-pacy-wingers tactics. So it was with a pretty messy approach that we started the match, and it took both teams the majority of the half to have a decent attempt on goal. The tiny pitch meant no-one on the field had the ball as much as they would have liked, and the front three barely had it at all. Staplehurst were giving it their all, and Hawkenbury were giving it a good old go too, but neither team could forge any decent openings. Ian glanced a header wide, Jason had a decent shot stopped and Matt Swann was called to the rescue to prevent a one-on-one opportunity.
Everyone was trying to win things in the air, attempting through balls and little passes, but it just wasn't happening for any of us. Staplehurst were struggling with getting the ball on the deck too, so there were very few passages of neat passing play in the first half. So a scrappy but even first half drew to an end, and although it wasn't an ugly game by any stretch, it can't have been that spectacular to watch.
Mick and Scott were surprisingly forgiving of our inability to create chances and pass the ball around, but urged the team to press a little harder and look for each other more. Hawkenbury began the second half in earnest, challenging a bit harder and probably getting the better of the opponents all over the pitch, though it remained tight. The increased competitiveness led to injuries to both Jake and Ashley, meaning Micheal replaced Jake on the wing and Dave was slotted into the centre of the park. Towards the end of the first half, the management had switched us to a 4-4-2, with Jason pushing up front as well, as the 4-5-1 approach was proving fruitless.
The half moved onwards, with neither team looking like breaking the deadlock, despite one or two glimmers of good play from Hawkenbury going forward as the effort intensified. Rather abruptly, seemingly with Staplehurst held at bay, Aaron inexplicably gave away a penalty after some rough and tumble with one of their forwards. Swann guessed the wrong way and somehow Staplehurst found themselves 1-0 up.
Undeterred, Hawkenbury immediately pressed for an equaliser. Jason, Ian and I were finally getting the ball to each other and we probably managed to clock over 100 attacking throws, corners and free kicks by the end of the match. One such free kick fell right on the edge of the penalty area, and after a brief dismissal of Aaron, Ian took responsibility for the kick. It was no problem for him and he placed it low in the corner with the inside of his right boot to make it 1-1.
Not long after that, and again from another set-piece, Michael Purivs somehow managed to bundle the ball into the net, just crossing the line before their defender could hook it clear. Happily in the lead, credit must go to the team, who didn't let their heads drop after going behind. Locky gave everyone a scare with a misjudged clearance, leaving them with an excellent chance to make it 2-2, but again Swann was to the rescue with a great bit of sweeping up.
I was playing toilet, barely getting the ball apart from a number of flicked headers, so was rightly substituted for Rob Gordon, as Scott and Mick looked to shore things up at the back. I must have been doing something badly up there, as this was the cue for the floodgates to be opened. In the final ten minutes, Ian managed to slam home an easy on-one-one after some good work from Jason and a slice of luck from their defender's mistake. He also completed his hat-trick with another good finish in the dying seconds and Michael got his brace with a fantastic volleyed finish off the post.
In the end, a 5-1 victory flattered us entirely as their heads dropped near the climax, and we played a lot worse than we have done in recent weeks. Good marks for effort, but things just weren't really clicking for any of the players out there.
Everyone played well, and the following criticism is constructive, not negative :)
No-one played outstanding today, but no-one played really badly either. Matt between the posts was perfect throughout, but unfortunately couldn't keep the clean sheet he deserved to. Liam played fairly well, even heading the ball at one point and did a lot of work down his line attacking-wise. Aaron was probably the best player out there. Very little came down his flank past him, and he worked some good moves going forward, assisting in at least two of the goals. The centre backs were largely comfortable, but distribution was a bit sketchy (hit and hope) and they played a bit too deep. The confined space prevented them from enjoying the control of the game that we are so used to.
This confined space also stopped any creativity in the middle, with Jake, Ashley and Lee all playing completely competently, but not really creating much or linking with the forwards very often. Dave was the best of the midfield once he came on, but was caught in possession once or twice. The wingers hated the lack of room to work with, and even the excellent Ian Parsons took most of the game to come alive. Michael was brilliant when he came on, scoring two goals in a very short space time. Jason did everything I normally do, but better, although even he didn't get the ball as much as he'd have liked. I played poorly, and was winning the ball when it came near me, but not managing to create many chances and my touch let me down far too often. One to forget for me, especially after the past few games. I apologise for not really cutting it out there today.
Man of the match goes to the unsung hero Aaron Bartlett, who did everything that can be expected of a left-back, and more. He has put together a string of good performances recently, and today's was as good as any. I think we can all forgive him for that penalty indiscretion.
So well done everyone, worked hard to grind out this result in conditions that don't suit our play at all. A cagey and rigid performance with plenty of room for improvement, but ultimately with a great end result to keep as at the head of the division.