Report by Jon Huddleston
A third game against OL Champagne, a third defeat, but, contrary to how the scoreline appears, there were definite green-shoots in this battling defeat that provide a degree of hope for the games to come.
Gate had the better of the opening exchanges, with Noah Lavy at the top of the diamond linking up well with Lucca Bilyard to put the OL defence under pressure. Perhaps this confident start encouraged Gate to push things a little too far and a stray pass from the right across our D left the OL right winger with a clear shot across Sam Levene and into the corner.
It was a strike very much against the run of play but it provided encouragement to the very capable Loughts attack and they began to exert a little pressure. This told as two further goals quickly followed, both from penalty corner flicks that could not be kept out.
Three-nil down early on and Gate were up against it with only about 20 minutes played. Fortunately, this deficit finally sparked the team into action. A cracking move up the right involving Will Hargrove, Guy Garner and Bilyard produced a sharp chance that skimmed the far post of the OL goal from Alastair Whatley. With Jackson Trathen pushing on from the left and Hargrove and Lavy moving the play up the field Gate began to exert a sustained period of pressure, pulling a number of saves out of the OL keeper. Sadly the line just could not be breached and the score remained the same to half time.
Three-nil at half time did not feel a fair representation of the balance of play. Os Bate and Jon Huddleston had provided a solid and slick defence to control the skilful Loughts attack, and Kiran Ghosh and Scott Ramsay on the sides both were having superb games controlling their wingers and contributing to the attack. In fact OL only had two more PCs in the entire game, and both were charged down and dispatched by Huddleston and Whatley.
This continued into the second half, and intelligent pressing by Billyard, Whatley and fellow striker Jack Levene made it increasingly difficult for OL to exit and move the ball high quickly, which had been the key to their success in previous matches. The Gate midfield held the ascendancy and when the ball did get high the Gate defence shut it down and maintained the pressure.
In spite of this, the goal still would not come. Shot after shot rained in on the OL goal, Garner, Trathen and Lavy all made forays into the D, but the keeper was just on top form. As the game broke up towards the end the OL number 2 provided the sucker punch with a beautiful tomahawk on the edge of the D and left Sam with no chance.
And so it ended. 4-0 at the end of a game that felt like it should have been 2-1. A frustrating scoreline but after two chastening defeats, finally a feeling of hope for better things to come. The defence had its strongest game so far with tight marking, ably supported by a hardworking midfield and intelligent press. When passing and moving the ball quickly, the attack found real purchase, and good use of the right flank provided a constant threat.
As we move forward, we need to keep ball pace high, avoid overdribbling and make better use of the left hand side, where there is a lot of space to be capitalised upon.
Once more unto the breach, that positive result is coming…