Result: Lost 2-1 (2-0 at Half time)
The 4pm Water game saw full squads from both sides compete in a high quality match. Both teams started at a frenetic pace with H&W settling quicker showing an early superior first touch, winning 50/50s and looking the more composed side. With this, H&W took an early lead on 10 minutes with a rapid two-touch passing move being clinically finished from the top of the D by the red-headed (he probably prefers to be referred to as strawberry blond!) inside forward “Duke”– Veysel Demir in goal having no chance being beaten to his right.
H&W further extended their lead within 15 minutes of the start with a less attractive but equally decisive second goal. Two-Nil to H&W, but Southgate were very much in the game. Their pace, first touch and shape improving as the first half continued. Security and experience at the back by stand-in captain Andy Richardson and ex-3s captain Josh Hedley-Dent created the platform for control in midfield by TJ Hubbard and Tom Murphy (playing a particularly good game). Overlapping runs and good movement from Sam Marshall, Freddie Shiret and Rob Gill creating good chances to penetrate the D, one such run from Marshall drawing a foul on the by-line being rewarded by a penalty corner (which came to nothing….). Another speedy move down the wing that combined Lucas Jaehnig, Shiret and Harry Haynes created a sharp chance for Kabir Bowry to convert from close range only for his effort to be well saved by the goalkeeper’s right foot – a slap to the GK’s left would have been the more profitable choice!
So going into half time two down, the message from captain Richardson was get to the ball first, we are younger (except me!) and fitter than them, they will tire before us and let’s at least win the second half. This team talk, aided by the important visuals on the mini white board, proved to be prophetic. Ten or fifteen minutes into the second half a breakdown in play created by Alex Gibson gave Southgate possession, a neat exchange of passes between Gibson and Murphy threaded the ball through to Gill who was charging forward at pace, beating a couple of players but never quite having the ball under control as he jabbed the ball past the goalkeeper, seemingly to be running off the back line, at which point Gill launched himself full-stretch and, on the reverse, clipped the ball from the tightest of angles into the goal. A great (and rather surprising) finish. 2-1 and game very much now on.
Southgate continued to press. Debutants at this level – Mitch Read, Noah Lavy and Josh Chandler both performed well, moved with pace and contributed huge energy in the second half. H&W had some fit, strong, robust, experienced players but it was going to have to be their experience and cunning that was going to have to see them to victory. They were tiring towards the end and were thankful for the final whistle to sneak the victory.
The game was played in a very good spirit and was a pleasure to umpire – thank you to my colleague Will Hargrove who is always a pleasure to hear in the umpiring headsets (a must for a game of this speed and level).