'Windy? Not half!' was the general chatter amongst the parent’s on the build up to kick off vs Shinfield Rangers. The boys had played in stormy conditions a couple of times in the last month and the general consensus was 'get the ball down and play and we'll be alright'.
With several returning players bolstering the match day squad the Management team of Simon and Lee were presented with somewhat of a conundrum. Missing their midfield dynamo of Lucas C and facing a Shinfield team that had won 8 out of 8 since joining the league in January, how best to set-up the team?
The answer came with moving Kam F to right back to work in tandem with the ever reliable centre back pairing of Oliver and Sam T and pushing Jake M from centre back into central midfield to add pace and physicality between defence and attack.
The right decision? Absolutely.
Within 5 minutes of kick-off it was evident why Shinfield were on the magnificent run they were on. They could play and had several skilfully and quick forwards who worked the lines between midfield and defence well.
A great strike from the right side of the box was clearly going into the bottom left corner but for a fabulous save from Luke on his return to the team. But what was most pleasing of all was the football that was being played by Finch. A joy to watch as combinations that had clearly been worked on in training came off with some fantastic passes that Shinfield were unable to cope with.
Alfie, George, Bunny, Nathaniel, Jake M, Sam F, the front 6 were all at it! Then Lucas S stepped inside from left back and unleashed an impressive lob shot from all of 25 yards. 'It’s going in you know' whispered a parent... only to be denied by an excellent save from the keeper, tipping over the cross bar!
The Finch passing game continued until a left wing cross allowed Jacob to get a touch in the box with the ball jumping up and... handball! Penalty to Finch.
Jacob confidently took the ball and prepared himself (Finch rules being he who wins the pen takes it) and struck but denied by a decent save which was parried again but Jacob (under immediate pressure from a well drilled defence) could only knock the ball over.
James, moved into a right wing position, made some excellent runs and brought the ball forward, working well with Kam and the midfield.
A later excellent foray by Jake M saw a strong run down the right wing and good delivery into the box where our forwards could just not make the vital connection. Some fantastic further defending by the back line made sure that Shinfield attempts were limited although Luke was forced into a decent late save to keep the scores at 0-0 at half time.
Certainly one of the best halves we had witnessed all season and Rovers were showing they were a match for Shinfield.
Sadly within 5 minutes of a Scrappy 2nd half Shinfield managed to beat the line and despite some good work from Luke scored, somewhat against the run of play. 1-0 to Shinfield. Ajay then came right into the game with some typically bustling runs and perhaps more impressive was his passing and working with team mates to retain possession and create positive passages of play.
Then a real sucker punch 5 mins later. Shinfield forwards were smart and a well-timed run from their player saw him break between centre and right back and shoot, Luke partly parrying the ball which angled towards the goal. From nowhere their right sided forward ran through and knocked into an open net to the anguish of a for once static defence. Offside? Possibly but goal given. Unlucky lads.
The following 10 minutes became scrappier although we saw good work from Leo, Sam F and Bunny to try to get the goal our football really deserved. Sam T having a go from 25 yards which drifted narrowly over the right upright. Not this time Sam! Kam also looked to be struggling but manfully kept going alongside some wonderful blocks and challenges by the impressive Sam T and Oliver. Alfie having a decent effort from just outside the box to the left which narrowly went wide.
Ajay provided a couple of superb corners which again our forwards couldn't quite make contact with. Shinfield defence were superb and made no errors in some quality clearances.
With less than 5 minutes remaining a tiring defence left a through ball thinking Luke was in control and a quick thinking Shinfield forward ran in, side-stepped Luke to lash in to make the score an extremely flattering 3-0.
Did the boys lie down? No. An inspired last 5 minutes saw Nathaniel break through and smash a shot which their keeper parried at the near post for a corner. In the last minute, with some fantastic interplay saw Nathaniel smash the ball against the post. Seconds later the final whistle!
In summary the boys played a blinder. One of the best performances of the season against a very strong team who had yet to drop a point! On balance of chances and football played perhaps a draw may have been possible. But as the coaches said afterwards, It is the performance they were looking for not the result. The parents were all in full agreement as a rapturous applause was provided for every single player. Well done boys!