A great debut for Cambridge South
Choosing to party instead of join his hockey team
The prospect of a new hockey season never fails to excite. On paper the team looked exciting too: a mishmash of old heads, Southerners imported from other teams and the odd brand new and most welcome face. The M5s' fixture beforehand saw a slightly lopsided score-line (1-4 against) so we knew this wasn't going to be easy (of course, we weren't to know that the M3s' would fare slightly worse still in the game that followed).
With the chairman and captain otherwise engaged, stand-in skipper Rob took the reigns and requested a 3-1-3-3 formation, the idea of high width and compacted centre having being a tried-and-tested hockey formula. Early exchanges were evenly shared with South looking solid at the back when questioned and making several good forays into opposition territory, mostly through wide men, Simon and Oli. The opposition were passing confidently and it wasn't long before one attack saw a Stortford forward receive the ball in the middle of the circle and strike home past a wrong-footed George.
Unrattled, the Southern pressure continued to be exerted. A decent run from Oli and scramble in front of goal led to a clear stick tackle. Central midfield maestro, JJ, injected beautifully and Dave was there to smash the ball home: a classic Monckosaurus strike. Something suggests this might not be the last time this combination works.
We were taking more control, with Ian, Stuart and Paul in particular forming a barrier which was difficult to pass and robbed the ball high up the pitch on several occasions. A few half-chances went begging for both sides but little of note at either end. It was hot and this may have explained the slight substitution confusion just before the break. We were, however, playing well, maintaining our shape and discipline, and trying to pass the ball.
As we swapped ends a formation change saw Dave push higher into a defensive midfield role, and Ky and Andy man-marking their two forwards, leaving Alan as a more conventional sweeper. This push further freed JJ to play slightly higher up the pitch in midfield. The spine of the team stretched like a giraffe reaching for a high acacia leaf. We planned to rotate the midfield in the second half anyway to maintain constant pressure until the end.
As a result of these tweaks, and perhaps a little early-season misjudgment of fitness from both sides, the game opened up and further opportunities were created. At our end the opposition forced a handful of penalty corners in a short and somewhat nervy period. One resulting passage of play led to a player overload which saw us concede a second goal when the unmarked forward had time to slot home. Darn it.
It was great to see that going behind again didn't dampen the spirits: we knew we were competing well and that there would still be chances to come. The build-up to our second goal started with a strong tackle from the back and a quick pass to JJ in midfield. Simon's run left distracted their midfield well and the ball was switched to Oli via Paul. Oli turned in the circle only to be faced by a defender and keeper. The ball was raised to knee height and Rob plucked it to the left and then pushed reverse to the right past the keeper. Paul was on hand to ensure the goal but, like the true gentleman he is, graciously allowed the trickling ball to cross the line unaided in the absence of scrambling defenders. We were level.
By this stage the team was settling into the new formation and had found a better rhythm. Laurie's energy in particular was causing the opposition trouble as we looked to exploit the renewed forward pressure. The final minutes flew by and before long that was that.
The first half may have felt like a lot of hard work, and the score may have justly ended in deadlock, but that second half was ours. If one or two other chances were converted we might easily have won, though overall that would have disappointed our opponents in what was a well-balanced pre-season opener. Still, anyone catching the end of the match would have seen a new-look M4s side, playing a fresh formation with renewed confidence. In some sense, what we wouldn't have given for another fifteen minutes of play. In another sense, we timed it well: in the game which followed the floodlights sparked to life and the gathered grey clouds opened.
The summer may be behind us now but standing in its place is genuine optimism for a decent season ahead. We just need to build confidence together and keep putting in the effort.