Saturday 24th March 2007
By Shaun Keddle
Squad: 1. St John; 2. Small; 3. Cleaver, L; 4. Davis; 5. Judge; 6. Clark; 7. Williams, J; 8. Perkins; 9. Harrigan; 10. Williams, L; 11. Cleaver, B
Subs not used: 12. Wright; 14. Head; 15. Connelly; 16. Keddlinihio; 19. Mace
A big win against decent opposition to maintain our excellent run.
We went into this fixture in real good form, full of confidence and a full strong squad. Selections were difficult, but they were always going to be given the rich vein of form that we are in. The venue obviously had a lot of history associated to it as it’s officially the second oldest club in the world and that toll could be reflected in the surface. The pitch was hard and bobbly and the slope meant it could be a game of two halves. We won the toss and decided to ‘tough out’ the first half and defend the slope. Cray had a decent defensive record, so we knew we would have to be patient with our chances.
The game started well for Cray who had the better of the early exchanges, starting with a 3-5-2 formation. They appeared to have a lot of the ball, but with nothing clear cut on goal. Their three in middle were out-numbering our two. Cray’s shoot-on-sight policy was a wise tactic given the wind and slope, but the shooting was always wayward and off target. After around 25 mins, we made a tactical switch to deal with this and then started to get more of the ball. On the half hour mark, Williams, J curled a lovely free kick over the keeper and into the top corner – a wonderful strike to open the scoring. This goal against the slope and the wind gave us confidence and we really started to up our game. We came into the game more and more and started to see much more of the ball. However a couple of minutes from the break, Cray pulled back an equaliser after an individual error and failure to clear a ball. The ball came across from the right and the centre forward was presented with an easy chance which was duly dispatched. 1-1 at the half, which we would have taken before kick off.
At the half we did sense that the hard work was done but we did not need complacency to set in. This half was all going to be about heart and patience. With only a few minutes into the second half, Cray took the lead after good work holding the ball up from the centre forward found an unmarked midfielder who blasted an exocet missile of a strike past St John at the near post. Every keeper will be disappointed being beaten at the near post, but this was a sweetly struck effort to say the least. Despite not playing badly, It was at this point where we really pulled our socks up and really upped our game. We really started to play with intent and started to impose our good football on a good, energetic footballing side. We attacked with purpose down both flanks ad got to grips with the middle of the park. After a couple of corners in succession a ball to the back post was won by Judge who headed the ball back to Davis. A spectacular overhead kick was sent towards the goal and was diverted into the net by the ever alert Harrigan for a well deserved equaliser. 2-2 swiftly became 3-2 with twenty to go as a long ball from the back was brilliantly finished by Williams, L. Definitely one of the goals of the season. Nobody expected Williams, L to try his luck from there and the keeper was left with no chance – a superbly struck volley fitting to win any match. This appeared to give Cray a body blow and entailed a couple of changes and tactical substitutions. We were now clearly on top and with around 5 mins to go we put the game beyond doubt when a poor kick from the Cray no. 1 was pounced on by Williams, L who outpaced the defence and arrowed the ball into the net with the best toe punt in football history.
In all, it was a real good game to watch with not a bad tackle to be seen. There was some good football played by both teams and a few good goals to add. I was surprised at the number of goals scored, given the defensive credentials of both teams and I do think that the best team won on the day. Manager''s MOM went to Williams, L - not just his brace but all his hard work as well. This was backed up by the players with Williams, L taking 8 from 16 votes. Other performances to note were Clark, Perkins and Cleaver who worked hard in the midfield.
From a team point of view this was an excellent result against a dangerous side with a good league record. We are still in eighth position, but this does not reflect where we should be. The league is so tight that only three points separate eighth and top place. There are lots of big games to play and there are still a number of sides in it with lots of points up for grabs. We have 11 games left with 7 at home. There is an immense and tense league schedule left to play so we must ensure that everyone is available all of the time – we have an opportunity here, we are on good form and we have a strong squad. Let’s remain committed, full of confidence and spirit and take the opportunity that is there to be had. Another positive to note is that we uncharacteristically found ourselves behind and played our way back into the game. In seasons past and probably the beginning of this one, it would have been an away fixture that would have just rolled over and died. We showed character and heart to not only come back and win in style but play well in the process. Please be reminded that we have an away fixture on Easter Monday 9th April.
We are a good team full of confidence, good form and good players, today proved just that. There are 11 cup finals to go.