Laurel Park FC vs Finchampstead Rovers
Location – Laurel Park, Lower Earley
Kick Off – very early 9.00am
A very early start for a Saturday!!, and I am sure the parents had as much fun as the boys on getting up on a slightly overcast and pretty breezy morning, after the longest month of the year…
The drive to Lower Earley turned out to be very quick, and in fact the walk to the pitch through various housing estates and community centres was actually twice as far, (which almost made today’s match correspondent late….)
However, after finding the pitch at the end of a long alley, the very exposed nature of the pitch and pretty muddy conditions underfoot gave an early sign that this game wasn’t going to be one for the “purists”, and would suggest a bit of battle and early indications suggested the team who would be “up for it” most, may be at an advantage.
The Finch boys, sporting a good line-up, were out on the pitch, seemingly trying to get warm - given that temperatures on the side-lines were dropping dramatically, we were all nearly prompted into some shuttle runs, as Steve very enthusiastically and loudly was trying to get the boys moving, and up for the battle.
As kick off approached, the referee instructed the mass of Finch supporters to move to the opposite side of the pitch – (a move which wasn’t altogether welcomed, as limbs were already stiffening at this point).
Simon and Steve issued the final instructions to the boys, many of those messages along the lines of trying to instil some drive and passion for the game ahead. The referee called the teams together, and after the toss Finch have the unenviable task of kicking up hill into a strong breeze and into a blinding winter sunshine.
Laurel Park – befitting their league leader status, start strongly. Uncharacteristically Finch start the game sloppily and start losing possession easily. Laurel have a pacey attack with their Number 11 looking a handful. An early corner signals the start of a lot of early pressure on the Finch defence. It could have been the cold, the early start, the dramatically sloping pitch or a bit of post January blues. But the Finch boys seemed a bit off the pace early doors…
Luke clearly struggling with the farmers field like conditions, and without the benefit of a super long stud, slips making a goal kick, the ball lands at the feet of the Laurel Park Number 11, and from the left side of the six yard box, expertly lifts the ball over an diving Luke, and the ball nestles in the corner of the net. 1-0 Laurel Park. The early goal is a blow, but the Finch supporters are lifted after the ball comes out from the back, and with a turn reminiscent of a young Johan Cruyff, AJ’s deft piece of skill sets Finch forward – something for the away fans to cheer, however after a thrown in breaks down in the final third, Laurel start reapplying pressure on the Finch back 4.
Another corner is won after some robust defending from Cameron, but Laurel keep pushing with Finch struggling to clear their lines properly. Number 11 again proving to be a nuisance to the back four. A mis-judged back pass from Finch leaves Luke in no-man’s land and Laurel lift the ball over him, as the crowd expect the ball to fall into the net, Sam T makes an amazing last ditch header to clear the ball off of the goal line, but yes, you guessed it, Number 11 from Laurel steals in and lifts the ball into the back of the net. 2-0 Laurel Park.
Clearly not the best of starts and Simon and Steve organise a reshuffle to try and get Finch back into the game. Finch continue to be a little sloppy but a speculative through ball from Captain Jake – sets Leo through, who with a 50-50 challenge makes minimal contact with the keeper. Free kick Given to Laurel Park.
The break in the game seems to lift Finch, and the game into the second period of the half is swinging the away team’s way. George Sheterline – (aka Rory Delap), causes panic in the home defence with a long throw in, and Nathaniel goes close with a half chance. Come on Finch. AJ – with his languid and strong style was causing problems for Laurel dropping into the gaps between midfield and the front men, and with a good show of patience feeds Jake after holding off a couple of men, and a neat pass from Jake into the inside channel allows Nathaniel to show off his speed and tenacity and smashes an unstoppable drive through the keeper. Finch back in it 2-1.
The game really has swung, and Finch suddenly are moving the ball around with purpose and playing the game in the Laurel half. Jake, beginning to impose himself in the midfield picks up another loose ball, and releases a lovely ball down the line to Nathaniel. Yet again with a real turn of pace and a lot of strength, Nathaniel holds off the full back and centre half, and from a pretty acute angle on the right side of the box angles a thumping drive to the right of the keeper and into the net. Great finish. The game all square 2-2. Laurel seem stunned but start to find their rhythm again, but the back four are playing well and battling for every ball, Josh and Cameron putting in some really strong challenges. Finally the ref has seen enough and sensing the crowd need a hot drink, blows up for half time. 2-2
After some sage words from the Finch management team, and the away fans refuelled with hot beverages (and some very tasty post Xmas sausage rolls – courtesy of Pam – thanks Pam!) the ref restarts the second half. This time Finch with the benefit of the slope and prevailing wind.
George playing in an uncustomary centre-mid role, manages to get an early shot off for Finch, but it doesn’t trouble the keeper. A quick break by Laurel gets Finch on the back foot and another corner is won. The ball is whipped in by the Laurel winger – right under the bar, and Luke does well to tip it over and keep the scores level.
Finch continue to try and push and AJ and Jake thundering into tackles try and lift the away team. However, the ball breaks loose again in the midfield and a speculative punt up the pitch catches the Finch back 4 on their heels and the Laurel Park 11, breaks free and slots home to complete his hat-trick. 3-2 Laurel Park. The goal seemed to have punctured the comeback of Finch and the game enters a scrappy period. A few niggly tackles, and the game starts to peter out. A free kick is won in midfield by Laurel and the ball is hopefully looped into the Finch box. The ball is headed away by Finch, but from the edge of the box, the Laurel left-wing lashes a shot goalwards with a hint of a deflection which spins high and up over Luke into the roof of the net. 4-2 Laurel Park.
The fourth goal looks to have sealed it, but the crowd are heartened by the real battle, spirit and heart shown by all of the Finch boys. The game typified by a challenge by Jake, who looked to have picked up a knock, but unfortunately (for Jakes Dad), it’s a massive split in his boots. They really don’t make them like they used to, albeit I am not sure the league would allow hob nail boots anymore – a little bit of gaffer tape (and an expensive trip to JD Sports), Jake re-enters the game.
The ref finally blows the whistle – and Laurel run out winners 4-2.
In summary, a tough game against a good side, and played in pretty bad conditions. I think all of the fans/parents were very proud of the boys and the fight that they showed and how they kept their cool. The game again showed that when we play our football, we are a match for most teams. Big thanks to the fans, who again showed up in numbers. And a big thank you to Simon and Steve for their enthusiasm, support of the boys and getting them to play in the right way.
Onto the next one.