Hartley 4 v 2 Abbey Rangers
Post by KOB - 09-10-2016, 11:57
Well, how nice to get back to watching a proper game between two true footballing sides! There were different views on our second half performance, a few in the bar afterwards feeling we'd performed well below par, but I personally felt it was more to do with how well Abbey Rangers upped their game. At 4-1 down they had little to lose but a lot of pride to win back, and they worked hard in the first 20 or so of the restart.
Rewinding back to the very start, we weren't at our defensive best early on when gaps were exploited on both wings and their striker fired in a fierce shot from wide left which Jake Maddock, though getting a hand to it, wasn't able to turn around his near post. He'll be disappointed in that but it was well hit, and Jake's handling in the air and of shots down low was very good all afternoon.
With Sam Argent, Shane Hollamby and Ian Jones unavailable, Steve Noakes returned to the defence alongside Liam Eagle after his lengthy injury layoff, and Dean Stow made his return after the injury sustained at Badshot Lea, going up front with Ross Cook. And we were soon back in the game. An excellent and clearly rehearsed corner routine saw Steve Duff deliver the perfect ball for Dean to ghost in unmarked and glance the ball powerfully beyond a static keeper.
Just the response needed after the less than convincing start, and we were soon 2-1 up thanks to another finely worked goal and finish by Dean Stow. 2-1 became 3-1 when Ross used his pace to get beyond the left back and he calmly looked up, picked his spot and rolled it across the keeper into the far corner, making the finish look a lot easier than it was.
Our visitors were rocking a little at this stage, but the 4th goal was all about Ross Cook and almost came from nothing. Our pressure was constant and the ball came to Ross who fired one in from just outside the corner of the penalty box. It wasn't his sweetest strike but it came off a defender and fell nicely back into his path, begging for him to have another go, and this time he connected full-on with the ball, which flew passed the keeper at his near post.
I wouldn't say 4-1 at the break flattered us, but Ross's second goal did put a gloss on the scoreline, and the second half was very different. Abbey played some very attractive football right across the pitch. Yes, perhaps our tempo wasn't quite so good, but I feel the visitors deserve a lot of credit and I'd expect them to take points from several of the teams around us, despite their current league position. They looked a lot better than a team in 14th place, but then this is a very competitive league. In fact I feel the quality of football from the majority of sides in the CCL Premier has never been higher and is good value and well worth watching.
Their pressure paid off eventually and they got a second, and there was a short period after that when a third looked a distinct possibility, but whether the effort they put in started to take its toll, or we selected a gear higher it's difficult to say, but I felt we then saw the game out pretty well. Noakesy seemed to get stronger as the game went on, probably needing that first half to find match fitness, and Dean Stow did very well coming back after that injury before being replaced by Mark Vockins.
Young George Frise came on for Ross late in the game to make his senior debut at the age of 16. I saw George for the first time just a few weeks ago, coming off the bench for the youth team, I assume returning from injury because he instantly had an effect on the game. He strides away with the ball in a way that reminds me of Holla, also because he's similarly long-legged and tricky to tackle. He's good on the ball and can pick out a pass - I expect to see him progress well with us.
Man of the Match went to Steve Laidler and that was also my own personal choice. Steve was, as usual, very busy in the centre of midfield and instrumental in keeping the tempo up throughout - it dropped off but would have dropped a lot more otherwise - and especially in not allowing the visitors to run rampant in the second half.
Also a shout out to captain for the day, Steve Duff. He took on the captain's role well, shouting out encouragement and even responding to my concerns at times by assuring me he had it covered :-)
I have to say I was pretty happy with yesterday's performance overall. Abbey Rangers are a good footballing side and to handle that the way we did, also after Tuesday's bruising encounter, was good enough for me. It would have been a lot closer had it not been for Ross's goals, especially that fourth, but then both teams would have come out for the second half with a different mindset if it had been, for instance 2-1, so it's always impossible to predict the outcome of a 'what if'. It was a solid 3 points, particularly as our good friends at Colliers Wood were denting Westfield's very impressive start to the season.