Sunday 5th May 2019
By Patrice Mongelard
Tough examination for Farnborough at the University Ground in Chislehurst
Absenteeism takes its toll, in sport as in education. Today we were down to the barest of elevens and we needed to call on Steve Blanchard for his first game of the season. His fitness regime – entirely hop-based, is geared for him to peak on our European Tour at the end of May. Some of us were still traumatised by our last encounter with Bird in Hand Vets a year ago but this time, true to their word, they put an older side out. But as we found out quality ages well. This was our thirty-fourth game of the season and some of us were feeling the effects of such a long campaign.
On a dry, but cold and blustery day with the sun struggling to dissipate the clouds we could at least look forward to probably the best playing surface we were to experience this season, and measuring up against a side that knows a thing or two about how to play football.
Steve Blanchard, Michael Hills, Patrice Mongelard;
Waine Hetherington, Sinisa Gracanin, Jay Hardy, Hamed Lafia, Gordon Thompson;
Peter Harvey, Kypros Michael.
Supporters: The Hills gang - Steve and Sarah Hills + James, Josie, Max and Sienna Walker; Neil Mackenzie and Chris Webb.
Director of Football: Mick O’Flynn.
Chief Football Correspondent: Patrice Mongelard.
We made a calamitous start. We were a goal down after two minutes with the ball yet to leave our half. We were caught cold, surrendered the ball just outside our box, failed to clear the danger and the wise old bird leading the opposition attack did the rest with a simple yet slightly scuffed effort which Rob could not get to as his line of sight was obstructed. Despite this early reverse we could see that we would be able to compete if we took care of the ball and went through the phases as Mick O’Flynn put it.
As often happens in football – we fell behind further on the quarter hour. Again, it was self-inflicted – a clearance went astray on the edge of the box, the ball was picked up by the second crafty operator in the Bird in Hand forward line who shot low and early, surprising Rob Faulkner in goal.
We showed a lot of character to prevent things from getting worse. We created chances – Kypros Michael headed the ball straight at the keeper from close range after a peach of a cross from Peter Harvey. Jay Hardy hit the side netting from fifteen yards out. Waine Hetherington chose finesse instead of power with a seemingly empty goal from a central position just inside the box. Sinisa Gracanin flashed a low drive across the goal just wide of the far post. These were encouraging moments. Kypros Michael seemed a tad more sluggish than usual – the cause later revealed to be a tight hamstring, perhaps strained while reaching for another kebab at the Greek Easter celebrations last weekend. Peter Harvey, up all night laden with the anxiety of a hospital visit for a loved one in Essex, was receiving some muscular attentions from defenders which induced a few linoleum moments. Gordon Thompson was his usual bag of South American tricks.
All of these positive things meant that we were not too dispirited at half-time. We were up against arguably the best Super Vets side in our programme and a neutral spectator unaware of the score would venture the view that here were two well-matched sides playing rather good football on a Sunday morning. Of course, our opponents had too much quality to let us have it all our own way. We had to defend and Rob Faulkner had recovered his poise in our goal after the two early infelicities.
The second half was an equally well-contested affair. It appeared to me that we managed to spend more time in our opponents’ half. I recall two very good chances for Kypros Michael and Gordon Thompson. In both cases the Bird in Hand keeper had been lured off his line, left empty-handed as the ball was lifted or poked beyond only to trickle narrowly wide or encounter a covering defender. Bird in Hand remained dangerous on the break and with the enduring quality of their crosses. Rob Faulkner made two great one on one saves which gave us great heart. Michael Hills was having to use every inch of his pace to cover the ground. Steve Blanchard did not look like he was playing his first game of the season. Although we had little to show for it the measured connectivity of our play was encouraging.
There was a little less of the measured approach on seventy minutes when Waine Hetherington connected with a tricky Bird in Hand forward in our box. The contact was real, you could hear it but the forward stayed on his feet, kept control of the ball even, but somehow planted the thought in the referee’s mind that a penalty ought to be awarded. The spot kick was converted and 3-0 felt harsh – almost like the Barcelona v. Liverpool game the other night. (There, I have mentioned it – part of the healing process along with my Barca beanie today, despite being accused by Mick O’Flynn of being a one-armed butler (He can give it but he cannot take it)). Michael Hills was delighted that another Farnborough player had conceded a penalty with a careless tackle. Peter Harvey felt compelled to point out to the referee that far worse challenges on him had gone unpunished in the first half. I could see the merit of Peter’s argument but it had no bearing on the outcome.
In the end we could not reduce the gap. We had come close with a few set pieces and the chances I mentioned, but did not have – on the day – the cutting edge which Bird in the Hand had. The handshakes at the end were genuine as was the mutual respect. The game had been played in excellent spirit. The most tanned one in the Bird in the Hand midfield had put himself about a bit but wiser heads ruled the day.
Unfortunately, the caterers were having a day off but at least we got to experience superb showers.
Man of the match – Michael Hills and Rob Faulkner who garnered five votes each. Hillsy had the spur of a huge following in the crowd which drew an envious comment from Waine Hetherington. Rob Faulkner found himself in A&E later in the day with possible concussion – not sure how this could have happened, although we recall Rob showing great courage to dive at the feet of forwards more than once. He recalled catching a trailing boot – all entirely without malice. Latest news is that Rob had mild concussion but is OK, thankfully.
Man of the match: Michael Hills and Rob Faulkner