Smash & Grab – Titans run riot

We were drawn away against Herne Bay in the 1st round of the Master O50s cup. The suspicion that our voyage into deepest darkest Kent could be tricky to navigate was not helped by at least two of the squad following an old Google maps (A to Z) route to Herne Bay HC, only to find themselves at a derelict and long-overgrown building site by the beach.

However, once we were all safely assembled at Herne Bay’s modern purpose-built sports club. A trip to the seaside for different reasons and with no knowledge of what the opposition would be like, we travelled with a squad of 14 and a warm welcome to 2 new recruits, Mike Crawson who played with Howie Wilson in the Master World Cup in SA and Waheed Ahmed who joins our cup squad from Old Louts. We arrived to the clubhouse only to realise it sort of resembles the set up at Southgate with the clubhouse planted in the middle overlooking the Pitches either side.  Onto the game and with a good warm up we set off from the whistle. Within 2 mins a nasty injury to one of HB players resulted in 5 stitches above the eye from an unfortunate ricochet off Wilson’s stick. The game restarted and we were in control with our off the ball intensity and the pressure we applied to their defence.

Southgate spent much of the first half continuing to look like their satnav had gone astray the closer we got to the opposition goal. With some exceptional build up play initiated at the back by Peds and Biffy and carried on in midfield by Wilson, Crawson, Turner, Cade and Ahmed, A few more chances went begging with a few more SCs that weren’t clinical and there was a felling of frustration settling in. We just had to be patient and keep creating the chances, keep possession and find the right passes to attack. It must have been closer to the end of the 1st half when another SC was awarded and this time we changed the variation. It was something of a mystery that we turned round only 1-0 up at half time, courtesy of a Jatin strike at a short corner cunningly disguised as a slip back to the injector, which Wilson expertly converted as if he had been expecting it all along.

This somewhat made up for the skippers “goalpost challenge” effort in the first 5 minutes when he effortlessly rounded the keeper only to test the fabric of the left post as the goal beckoned.  The waywardness of some of our link-up play was perhaps best exemplified by Clayden who hooked an aerial out of the ground and across the road into the nearby housing estate. Herne Bay’s efforts when they attacked were ably restricted by the defensive security of Peds, Biffy, Clayden, Munyard and Wolffie who helped snuff out most of their attacks and restricted them to one short corner.  At half-time, we were invited to up the intensity levels and put the game to bed. Message received and understood, we did as team coach Pokey (thanks for coming all that way Mike) had instructed and the second half became even more one-way traffic. Up front, Wildesen, James (Big Hands) and the skipper really came to the party as we turned their defence inside out and gave ourselves numerous opportunities as well as practice at short corners.

Our speed of passing and movement on and off the ball was again too much for the opposition and every time they tried to clear their lines our midfield chased them down and turned the ball over again. The difference to the first half was that this time we converted 6 of our chances, including 4 from a selection of routines at short corners and 2 from open play. Our second half scorers were, in no particular order, the skipper with 3 (including two from corners and a mid-air reverse stick strike), Wildesen with a suitably no-nonsense short corner strike, Turner from another corner variation and Ahmed scoring on his debut from open play.

An impressive debut also by Crawson is worth a mention as he swept up any loose balls in midfield and was the architect for our attacks into the D and the non-stop running by Wilson as always helped the cause.  Meanwhile, our defence was so overjoyed with the impressive performance unfolding in front of them from afar, we did manage to let one in when one of their rare attacks caught us presumably mulling the state of the economy and led to a 3 on 1 situation which left Edwards horribly exposed. Setting that aside, it was a comprehensive second half performance, with some fantastic passing moves across midfield and down the right, which often left us spoilt for choice for the final ball in.

So 7-1 was, if anything, an underestimate of our superiority and there will certainly be tougher tests to come in the cup, but the first round hurdle was safely negotiated.