Lee Valley Stadium
(Goals Ruben Straat, Alastair Whatley)
Sabres returned to the Olympic Park on Sunday with a much changed side to take on a challenging Crostyx side bolstered by a couple of their Men’s 1s.
Played out in a respectful yet competitive spirit, Sabres dominated the early exchanges, flooding the midfield to dictate the pace and style of the match. With Alessandro Onano pulling out a phenomenal quarterbacking performance and Vivek Dongha and Kiran Ghosh pushing up to support the attack, Gate were creative and fluid throughout. Ably supported with pace and skill on the flanks by Arun Solanki, Freddie Trathen and the indefatigable Raj Saha, it was astonishing that the Crostyx defence held firm.
For the first half the opposition were forced to rely on quick and dangerous breaks. That they were unable to breach the defence was thanks to expert marshalling by Mat Mitchell and the permanent class of Brian Cade, as happy as a toddler at Christmas to make his debut in the Olympic stadium. With Gate having decided to go with three man to man markers in defence to run the game from midfield this was a challenge, but the pair, ably assisted by captain Jon Huddleston and the tenacious James Rushton, successfully held out. They were however grateful to keeper Sam Levene, who pulled out a couple of exceptional saves just before the break as the better Crostyx players pushed on.
Sabres talked about stretching the width at half time and, true to their word, began creating ever more promising chances in the second half. Jack Levene up front harried the defence relentlessly, Alastair Whatley was his usual busy self, and Ruben Straat tied his markers up in knots. Yet in spite of Whatley channelling his inner Hamilton to produce a one handed reverse stick dribble along the left flank to outsprint his markers and Ruben producing the best shot ever not to actually go in as his tomahawk ricocheted off the top corner and along the goal line, the goal just would not come.
It was at this point that captain Huddleston decided to stop muttering to himself on the sideline and personally took it upon himself to inject the penalty corners. Two injections later, Onano and Straat combined to hammer the ball home.
The deadlock broken, Gate unleashed hell on the Crostyx defence and shortly afterwards trickery from Trathen and a plucky intervention from Whatley forced a second home.
At this point, Crostyx pushed their ringers fully up front to try and force their way back but the defence held firm, pressed the attack and successfully shut them out.
So all in all a fine and deserved win, great fun to play in, and all expertly umpired by Duncan Trathen throughout (Thanks Duncan!). There were so many MOTM contenders, with Mat and Brian particularly good, Ruben at times unplayable, and Vivek and Kiran so dominant in midfield, but the majority feeling was that it was Alessandro who deserved the honours for a magnificent performance dictating the play throughout.
Next week sees a switch to less glamorous Old Loughts to play Redbridge, but with two successful games under their belt, Sabres will look to go from strength to strength.