Saturday 18th September 2010
By Colin Brazier
Fourths Win Hard Fought Battle Against Crusaders
That old cliché WADAWM – What A Difference A Week Makes – is certainly apt in the case of the Fourths’ first seven days of the season.
Following our 8-0 drubbing against AFC Bromley we at least went into this game knowing – or thinking we knew - why we got beat so heavily. Against one of the pre-season title favourites, having no friendlies under our belt, with an untried mixture of veterans and rookies, we couldn’t afford to make the individual errors we did that day.
Whatever happened against Croydon Crusaders we would know a lot more about our prospects for the season. Being realistic, we cannot expect to win the league; we can, though, be competitive against every side in the division, get used to playing together, and have a few good performances and results along the way.
The dressing rooms at one of my old Croydon Sunday League stomping grounds, Lloyd Park, have been rebuilt since those long-gone days but the pitches are the same small sloping affairs I remember. Actually this one was quite good for defenders, as we played downhill in both halves. Of course the opposite was true for the forwards, but they tend to be younger and fitter so they can handle it!
Venturing outside the confines of the borough proved too daunting for one or two people, and with an injury to Mantas Gaiglas, we had just the bare eleven. There was some pre-match discussion over moving to a 5-man defence but we stuck to the tried and trusted 4-4-2 that has served us so well all these years (cough cough!!). This week our three sets of fathers and sons all made the starting line-up:
Jez Allen – GK
Colin Brazier – LB
Todd Arnold – CH
Steve Blanchard snr – CH
Steve Blanchard jnr – RB
Scott Barnes – LM
Neil Barnes – CM
Mark Edwards – CM
Luke Allen – RM
Matt Gardiner – CF
James Foyle – CF
The returning Matt - a.k.a. Gibbo - resumed captain duties from Mark and we set about our usual light warm-up. With one exception, Jez, who was busy marking out his goal area. As events were to prove, maybe he chose the wrong option…
With last week’s unfamiliarity and rustiness just bad memories, the confidence flowed as we took the game to the Crusaders. Scott and Luke on the flanks were particularly threatening, and Mark and Neil were colossuses (colossi?) in the centre. The home side gave as good as they got though, and their tricky forwards caused us problems at times, but our defence stood firm. There were few clear-cut chances at either end in the first half hour, and then Crusaders slowly got the upper hand, winning a succession of corners, from one of which Colin was called upon to clear a point blank header off the line (had to get that one in!). Just as we were looking to the sanctuary of half time, Luke made a mazy run across their penalty area, passed to Scott who shaped to shoot but instead passed to his old man. Neil chipped the ball forward for Matt to challenge for, but their centre back got to it first, his looping header floating serenely into the net the keeper had just vacated. Cue wild celebrations from the visitors!
We survived Crusaders’ resulting onslaught until half time, with Des’s words of “encouragement” and some last-ditch defending seeing us through.
The chat at half time was to go for the killer second goal, but after just two minutes we had to revise our tactics when Jez made a routine save by his standards but managed to ping a hamstring while doing so. Now I’m not saying participating in the pre-match warm-up would have prevented this, but…
With Mark Edwards’ chronic wrist injury and Mark Friend being away at Millwall (what a choice HE made!), it was left to Todd to take the gloves, with Neil moving into the back four and Gibbo dropping back into an unfamiliar centre midfield role. With ten men and the whole half to go, we set about slowing down the game and breaking play up as much as we could, but still trying to hurt Crusaders with our pace on the wings.
With James doing great as the lone forward, we looked as comfortable as at any time in the game, with Todd having little to do. The one save he did have to make was crucial, as he waved a hand at a ball going across him, his fingertip making the slightest contact, which meant the ball hit the inside of the post and coming out, rather than hitting the post and going in!
With ten minutes to go and the home side getting ever more desperate, it seemed we would hold out for a famous win, but then a Crusader made a good run and slotted the ball through for his striker to clip the ball past the onrushing Arnold for the equaliser. Now it was time for the home side to celebrate while we contemplated on a point still being a decent afternoon’s takings.
As the game petered out into stalemate, a Crusader strayed offside in the centre circle, the ref having indicated just one minute remaining. Todd strode up to take the kick, announcing to all and sundry he was going to put the ball around the penalty spot. He was as good as his word, Mark Edwards won the critical aerial challenge, Luke seized on the loose ball to lob the keeper, and James beat the defender to the ball to force it in. YEEEESSSSSSS!
There was no coming back from that and we had secured a terrific win, the first September three-pointer for four years for the Fourths. Last season we had to wait until April for our first – and only – win!
Credit to Crusaders who still had the sportsmanship to give us three cheers on the final whistle.
Man of the match could have gone to literally anyone, but Luke won it with a confident and skilful display that belied his youth, not to mention his male parentage!
This week we face another visit to league new boys, in the shape of Lord Hood. We need to be up for another challenge – I’m sure we will be.
(Thanks to Neil for reminding me how our goals came about).
Man of the match: Luke Allen