A benign autumnal day greeted the Titans on their arrival at Indian Gym’s Osterley base. Traditionally this has been a difficult place for visiting Southgate teams so how would this current Titans team fare? Would the hockey mirror the weather or would something more tempestuous be in the reckoning?
Southgate were required to take a travelling umpire – no bad thing considering the combustible nature of this fixture, and so Ben Turnerand Brian Cade were tasked with doing a half a piece.
Despite losing the toss Southgate started with push-back. A steady beginning saw Titans quickly settle and take up a great shape with the back line being marshalled by the two calm and controlled middlemen Nick Robinson (Biffi) and Pedro Attala (Pedz) whilst being ably supported on the flanks by Howard Wilson and Toby Munyard. The defence saw much of the ball in the early stages, not as a consequence of IG pressure but by design. The Titans were seeking to probe enemy defences, they were calm in possession and these fab four helped spread the ball progressively and with purpose around the pitch.
It was noticeable that Pedz was playing a higher central position, the knock-on benefit being to allow our CM impresario Nigel Knight to ply his trade further up the pitch thus forcing the oppo to retreat deeper. Link up play with Nigel, and the right-sided players, Ben Turnerand Tony James proved fruitful where a combination of accurate passes and penetrative running led to numerous intrusions into the oppos D. A long ball played by Pedz out of defence to El Capitano who just had to keep possession and calmly advance to the IG D whilst pursued by 2 advancing defenders. There was no waiting for the on-coming support as he manufactured a short corner. The classic first choice PC routine was deployed which saw Howie inject, Greg stop and El Capitano Jatin Patel strike with his signature speedy looper down the keepers left, splatting the backboard in the process. Titans fire into a 1.0 lead
IG are good in possession, however things slow down considerably when they have the ball. They are an ageing side, they don’t have many options to pass to willing runners. Instead they rely on what I could see were two tactics: either shell it hard and find someone up-top, or rely on their undoubted individual skills to draw you into a tackle and then win something. Care therefore needs to be taken to defend both of these tactics. Shame then that Titans were undone in part by the former IG specialism, where they managed to find one of their own up top in our D. David Wolffe however was on hand and he initially dispossessed the oppo ball carrier but Southgate were then undone by a comical Chuckle Brothers sequence which saw a fluffed clearance, and the ball rebounding in a “to me, to you” style between Wolfie and keeper Justin Edwards with the ball ending up around Justin’s feet, where it stayed for an alarmingly long time before being bumbled over the line by the grateful oppo striker. 1.1
Somewhat embarrassed but undeterred, Titans restarted in the same vein as before. Patient but potent build up saw marauding moves come from the left this time in the form of tag team specialists Anand Shukla (Arnie) and Greg “Wild Thing” Wildisen. Baseline hogging and D penetrations were the order of the day. Out of this pressure a melee situation developed which saw Titans and IG players keenly contest the p-spot ball. It needed the ice-for-blood serenity of captain Jat to own the chaos, claim the ball and then spear it above the keeper’s right shoulder into the top bin. 2.1 Titans
From a scoring point of view the first half was done however, noteworthy passages of play were still being served up. Such a moment saw Pedz lift a cross field aerial to the right wing where Howie, already in mid-sprint, collected the bouncing ball lovingly and then contrastingly, punched it towards the backline, eliminating two IG players in the process. A race was on between man and ball but Howie, applying the afterburners, managed to run it down and inches before it sped over the baseline, and at full-tilt he crashed the ball heroically into the D to the audible gasps of surprise from the Titans and IG dugouts. Remember – this is vets hockey, moments of such athleticism are not commonplace.
The second half began. Brian Cade came in on the right side of mid field in place of Ben Turner (now officiating) . Indian Gym were trying to get a foothold and they attempted numerous times to find their forward players with crash balls. However these were invariably being snuffled up by Titans, in particular Howie once again contributing this time in a defensive capacity as he consistently stepped in front of his man to collect the ball and then set up the attack. Also evident was the fine link up play to Tony James who often found himself in possession high up on the right where he had choices to go one-on-one or to recycle.
In the middle Nigel was beginning to assert an ever increasing influence.. He was beginning to control possession and was continually providing the building block for Titans attacks. At times too he would go solo and when the moment was right, demonstrate his signature move of rolling the stick ahead of the ball in a bluff to pass left but only then to shoot, strong sided at the oppos goal.
IG feeling the pressure, looked to unsettle things by continuing their barrage of dialogue directed at the away umpire (noticeably, the home umpire had a much quieter time of things ) but Ben’s experience and even handedness helped to dissipate the tension.
Numerous Titan short corners were forthcoming. We saw the zig, zag, the pass to the injector and other variants but none bore fruit. So it was time for Joergen Jaehnig to step up and to make his mark on proceedings. In this regard, an attack down the right saw James drilling a cross ball into the advancing Joergen (in his own words) “masterfully deflect the ball” into the back of IG’s goal.
With Titans now 3.1 up , it felt, to me at least, that Indian Gym had no way back into the game. We were simply too energetic, organised, disciplined and technically adept to let it slip and so it proved to be.
So on this bonfire night 2022, a potentially incendiary fixture was played out in west London and it was Titans that sparkled and dazzled leaving Indian Gym instead to stutter and fail like an aged damp squib.
PS. Travelling with the Titans on their victorious outing was Mike Poulton (Pokey). He is to be credited with expertly managing the touchline and substitutions and with providing half-time insight and the all important in-game encouragement. This last quality, whose power it has to rejuvenate the tiring Southgate player, should not be underestimated. Kudos Mike!