The Reds started brightly, creating a number of chances in the first ten minutes that Jake and Sam M didn’t convert. The inevitable then happened and Phoenix twice got in down our right to score to leave the score 0-2 after 12 minutes.
In what was to be a hallmark of the day, the Reds’ heads didn’t drop and Sam M, firstly with a strong run that punctured Phoenix’ defence and then latching onto Jake’s cross-shot brought the game level within the space of a minute. 2-2 after 15 minutes and it’s fair to say the Reds’ coaches are wishing they had written just a little smaller in their respective notebooks.
Although the Reds have opportunities – which the Phoenix keeper does well to block or smother, for the rest of the half, the pattern of a long ball by Phoenix that puts James and his defence under pressure, becomes worryingly regular. Although the various different defensive partnerships of Ellis, Angus, Ewan and Connor deal well with most opportunities, the goals duly come. Helped by a couple of direct free-kicks, Phoenix take a 5-2 lead into half-time.
I’ll be honest here readers – we expected some quite low boys when we gathered for our half time huddle. But, what we had instead were a group that all were determined to play themselves back into the game. That tells you more about what happened in the second half than the simple message we gave them – ‘be positive in everything you do and the opportunities will come – and we don’t have to rush to score either’.
The second half started slowly, with Phoenix sensing a resounding victory, but the Reds defending a couple of corners well. From one of those positions, the ball was played up to Sam P who battled down the right wing, but got his head up to see both Nikhil and Jake tearing up through the middle in support. Sam’s ball across the edge of their box agonisingly dissected the pair of them and went for a throw-in.
This near-miss felt like the galvanising moment. More strong play from Sam P, this time down the right, initially forced a corner that wasn’t well cleared by Phoenix. Then, the ball dropped to Jake on the edge of their box and he didn’t rush his shot despite all the bodies round him, bursting the keepers hands and it’s 3-5 on 32 minutes.
An immediate round of substitutions brought Ellis onto the right of midfield. He links well with Sam M on the edge of their box – his first time pass into the path of Nikhil allows him to sweep the ball past the ‘keeper at the near post – 4-5 on 33 minutes. It’s fair to say that everyone is getting quite excited.
More chances follow, then in a seven minute window, Sam M scores a further 4 goals to take us into an 8-5 lead. I apologise to Sam M for not being able to recall them in the detail I have the others, but I will credit him with the fact that for some of them he forced himself into the position to shoot and was clinical when he did. Equally, the coaches were now massively regretting writing as large as we had earlier – every day is a school day.
That isn’t to say it was a solo effort from Sam M – the usual precision passing and strong tackling of Louis held the centre of midfield together, while the strong running of Nikhil, Ellis, Jake and Sam P at various points in the second half meant he had support on both flanks, whilst the defensive group of Connor, Ewan, Angus and Matt were given as much committed cover when Phoenix did get into our half. Last, but not least, James was decisive and brave in coming out to clear any potential danger when the long ball tactic came back.
Phoenix did score the fourteenth goal of the game – a well worked move down our left that was finished sweetly in the 49th minute. By then, though, it was merely a consolation.
The fourth win of the campaign brings another title very close – but most of all the boys need to remember what they are capable of when they work as a team. It was a pleasure to witness.