All eyes were looking at the 5A’s on Saturday – 12 noon start, at home, on the water, bright sunshine, team in fine form and all helped by a hard frost, mass cancellations throughout the leagues – there was (almost) only one team to watch…
A fantastic effort from Liz and the Centre team, together with various players and umpires sweeping frost from the sides of the pitch, we got underway just after noon. The opposition was Broxbourne, below us in the table, but always a good game and better than their position suggested.
A familiar look, as has become the habit, about the 5A’s and welcoming back Duncan and Alastair. Could we avenge last week’s defeat to leaders, St Albans?
Plenty of experience in defence and midfield and a forward line of regulars, James and Tom, enhanced by Woody moving from midfield and the high octane Alastair… we were quietly confident of early dominance…
As you might expect, therefore, the first 15 minutes was all about the blue shirts of Broxbourne – wave after wave of attacks, dominating our midfield through good skills, youth and speed. The low lying sun into the eyes of Southgate created problems with Duncan struggling to differentiate red from blue and collectively we seemed to decide that not to pass was the safest route.
After prolonged pressure and a short corner or two, a further oppo attack landed on a red foot, short corner and a great block on the line from Giles. The goalmouth scramble that followed, rightly, resulted in a penalty stroke which Broxbourne comfortably converted. We were deservedly 0-1 down.
As in previous games and seasons, conceding a goal after a lousy start seemed to galvanise the team. We started to win tackles, find our own players and open up attacks down both wings – with Tom and James showing their talent, directed by Woody and Alastair.
As the half progressed, the game was increasingly in the Broxbourne half. A short corner after 25 minutes saw Woody slip the ball right to son, James, who struck a sharp shot and the long arm of Michiel appeared in front of two defenders to push the ball into the net. 1-1 and deservedly so!
The first half continued in the same vein with much Southgate possession amongst the Broxbourne breakaways. Our midfield asserted more control with Rob, returning after a long injury, strong in the tackle and always available. Simon and Michiel covered lots of ground and Duncan set the tempo with some great passes and organisation – looked like he’d never been away.
A quick turnaround at half time due to the cold and late start. We reminded ourselves that Broxbourne had enough ability to score more goals and put us under real pressure.
But the pace of the game was this time dictated by Southgate. We successfully, and time after time, broke down their attacks and used the ball well – Woody dropping deep to play in our wingers (Tom and James) who were, by now, seriously stretching the defence and Alastair’s strong runs maintaining the momentum.
The passing was quick, short, accurate and with good ball pace which has not always been the case. The defence constantly got in front of the Broxbourne forwards with Mark and Giles seeing off significantly younger attackers and Alex seeing off a seriously older attacker. Goalie, Neil Commons, made a number of key interventions to tidy away some loose balls.
Despite having dominant possession the chances were not falling our way until Woody picked up the ball just past the halfway line and demonstrated why he is so key to the 5A’s this season and gave a great lesson in attacking play – running into the D, the goalkeeper was able to smother the shot which continued goal bound but our very own fox in the box, Alastair, was on hand to complete the goal. 2-1 up and relief amongst the defenders and growing crowd on the balcony – Raj and one other, who didn’t stay long, but the temperature was minus 1 even though the hockey was much hotter.
A further 10 minutes of good Southgate possession found Woody in a similar position to our second goal. This time just inside our half, he picked up the ball from Michiel and went on another foraging, one handed run. The 5A defence leant on their sticks and watched admiringly – a master at work! This time no assistance required, the shot ricocheted from the goalie into the net. 3-1.
5A knew we had the points in the bag. So did Broxbourne but they poured forward to narrow the lead and apply some real pressure. The midfield and defence held firm. Duncan marshalled the midfield, supported the defence and then, unexpectedly to all including himself, unleashed an aerial which not only got off the ground but also cleared the defenders and fell, as if deliberate, for James to run onto and threaten the goal once more. A great skill from Duncan to match his earlier “slip” to thwart a Broxbourne attack. As the post match beer progressed, Duncan’s aerial got longer and higher and took on a life of its own such that the 2’s abandoned their match to find out what Duncan was talking about.
A fine way to end the first half of the season. We sit in fourth place and, in every game, we have been competitive and even our four defeats could, on another day, have been three pointers to Southgate. Our youngsters are getting strong and more confident suggesting further progress in the New Year. Much to look forward to from a great squad of players.
Man of the Match was, quite rightly, Woody for a great all round game, a cracking goal and a vital hand in the other two goals. Nevertheless, a late surge of votes in solidarity from the defensive union put Mark Thomsett close after an excellent game.
Many thanks to umpires Will Hargrove and Brian Cade for overseeing a good, flowing game and for braving the severe cold of Trent Park.