Southgate triumphed over 2nd place Bath in their fist Sunday home game of the season. By 2pm the clouds loured over Trent Park and by push back the umbrellas were up around the pitch as the grey skies snarled and the floodlights frowned over a top table match up with the challengers from the West Country led by coach Ian Cordwell.
Southgate were keen to bounce back after a slow 2nd half against Old Loughts which saw the teams back to the wall for long periods. Bath set up having done their homework with a strong defensive unit led by captain John Jackson. Meanwhile Southgate coach Kwan Browne had promoted Savvas Hadjigeorgio into goal and Drew Burkin was back into the team after his brace of PC’s against Teddington. The stage was set and as the whistle blew the clouds parted, the sun shone through and the game was on.
Southgate started well, the bit between the teeth. The first quarter alone saw 13 circle entries and some good chances- Matt Ramshaw getting the ball onto his reverse after the 7th minute that was met with stiff resistance by the Bath defence. It took until the 13th minute for the dam to burst and Robbie Gill speared a ball like zeus on a monday morning down the right channel finding Jose Hurtado who dribbled fast onto the baseline, into the D before puling it back finding Matt Allister who shipped his defender before polishing off nicely past Rob Foxhall Smith in the Bath goal.
It was more of the same through the 2nd quarter when the balcony ignited in approval as Teague Marcano won hearts with a superb goal which saw a sideline ball flung into the blue skies as Drew Burkin led onto the baseline, intercepted by the Bath defence but won back by a battling Burkin who in the 19th minute of play sent the ball right to Teague who picked up the ball and at pace drove into the circle, towards the baseline due to the congestion in the middle of the D, and with 4 Bath players around him threw the ball onto his reverse and collared the ball into the top right corner making it 2-0 to Southgate and it was business as usual for Kwan and his team of high flyers.
Yet imperceptibly the temperature slowly began to shift and 3 minutes later Bath won a PC which was well saved by Savvas then saved again on the rebound before John Jackson finally sent the ball past the outstretched kicker of the Southgate keeper. 2-1. From here to the half time whistle it remained Southgate’s game with 73% possession to the boys in red and black and 4 more shots at goal. Bath continued to look dangerous on the counter attack – their game plan clearly to sit back and wait for the opportunity and chance their hand. They had worked their way back into a game which had looked like one way traffic.
The 3rd quarter however saw Southgate uneasy and uncharacteristically uncertain with their forward movement frustrated and the aerial balls drying up or not finding their destination. The stats suggest a cagier affair with the afternoon sun blinding into Savvas’ eyes and Bath’s industry led to a PC awarded and a double castle presented from top D. The injection fell to Bath no.23 Jack Webb who went hard and top right, despite being half blinded by the sun, Savvas threw his stick towards the incoming ballistic and parried like D’Artagnan sending the ball clear. It was a superb piece of keeping and proved crucial as the game wore on.
Southgate maintained the possession, but into the 4th quarter could do little with it. Our solitary PC well defended and for once not finding the back board. It fell to Bath to provide the drama as in the dying minutes another PC was awarded, the balcony fell quiet and Bath stood up to claw a critical point from the game and dashing Southgate’s winning run. Another double castle, this time number 28 Stuart Loughrey flicked it low and right but once again Savvas read it correctly and dug the ball out from the bottom corner with a truly exceptional save. With that the remaining seconds ticked down and Southgate walked off the pitch to cheers from the crowd, cheering possibly as much with relief as with appreciation.
In short it was a fiercely contested, close and cagey game which despite Southgate dominating in terms of chances won, possession earned and shots taken did not translate to the much more convicting scoreline it could have been. Perhaps the high standards of the team were not quite met, but for the hardy Southgate supporters inured to years of struggle and nail biting finishes, a win is a win, and 3 points are still readily appreciated. It means that the team draw 6 points clear of their closest challengers and with a strong finish leading up to Christmas could make for one of the best starts to any season in recent Southgate history.
No doubt there will be some hard yards put in through training this week before the boys turn out on Sunday to face The University of Bristol who are still looking for their first win of the season. Southgate supporters will be hoping for more goals and an 8th win on the bounce.