Saturday had all the makings of a classic game. England were storming forward on multiple fronts: Twickenham, Auckland and Brisbane. Cambridge South M1s were playing at the Lee Valley National Hockey Centre, the home of UK hockey and as good as it gets for our devoted away supporters. After a slightly awkward warm up in front of the tea room (there must have been somewhere more appropriate!) we were ready to take on Crostyx M1s in what proved to be a giant-toppling (well, stagnating) battle. In a ridiculously tight league, Crostyx were in pole position with seventeen points. However with only only goals separating the highest from the lowest goal difference and every other league’s top placed team on over twenty-one points by now, Crostyx were on a not-so-high perch ready to be knocked off.
South started brightly, attacking well and comfortably absorbing Crostyx’s advances, almost capitalising on this with a scrappy chance created by Chalky and Wizard squandered at the goal mouth. All good stuff. Mariano at centre half settled into his new role and began to link nicely with Aston, Hockley and Pearson. Crostyx, although not dangerous in the midfield, were aggressive in the D and soon earned themselves a string of penalty corners. Rosselli, in usual fearless style, chased these down, deflecting numorous direct strikes and drags. However after someone shouted, ‘That’s all they’ve got!” Crostyx promptly pulled a nice right-slip, back to P-spot, slap, routine out of the bag and it was one-nil. Shortly after, a second scuffle in our D resulted in a penalty flick being awarded, which Jason could do nothing to stop. South worked hard as the half drew to a close and Bhav even had time to practise his hitting, almost knocking the umpire to the ground with his yet-to-be-perfected aim.
At two-nil down at half time South could have given up, resigned to the fact that The Valley was not ours for the taking, that a lowly regional team from the backwaters of East Anglia could never succeed at such lofty venues as the National Stadium. But we didn’t. With roaring Lions drifting on the four winds, South upped their game. The team rallied round; comfortable and confident in their fellow team-mates’ abilities, they took a step forward and met Crostyx head on. In the second half, South dug deep, using their twelve players to maximum effect with everyone putting in a full shift. Jack Chalk quickly found the ball in the opposition D with two players surrounding him. He ducked, he dived and then he did his trademark spinny-thing and slotted it into the bottom right past the keeper. Two-one. Minutes later, a well worked attack from midfield, with Mariano sending another penetrating ball into the D, saw a deflection off Pearson ricochet into the net. Suddenly we were level and the game was afoot. Fifteen minutes remained on the clock and South worked hard to quash everything that Crostyx threw at them. Owen had a cracking game running the length of the pitch and supporting the forward attack; earning him MOM. As the game came to close, a series of probably six penalty corners went against South, making for a tense finish to a hard worked two-two draw. England would have been proud.
The M2s are like unto a bargain store
And we may have just what you're lookin' for
If you don't mind the fact that all the merchandise is used
But with a little mending it could be as good as new
Why you take for instance these old broken bodies
If you will just replace the missing parts
You would be surprised to find how good they really are
Take it and you never will be sorry that you did
The bargain store is open come inside
You can easily afford the price
Love is all you need to purchase all the merchandise
And I will guarantee you'll be completely satisfied
Another week for the M2s meant another trip to Lincolnshire. The fixture list from mid-January onwards really does look an awful lot friendlier in terms of mileage.
The match against our own 3rd XI had proved a very useful scouting mission, even if it didn't ultimately bring us all three points. With a couple of regulars away (notably including Barney Stuttard, who was last seen chowing down on a Full English at Heathrow with fellow 'Bon Viveur', Andy Goode, before boarding a plane to New Zealand), it was only natural that we were able to welcome Chris Matson to our defensive line and Ash Dookun to our attacking trident.
All twelve players located the patch of fertile ground that Bourne Deeping call home without too much difficulty and we thrust ourselves into the pre-match preparations. The air in the changing rooms was thick with the heady brew of deep heat and tragic bantz, as befits an ageing team of nearly-could-have-beens. Heading out into the fresh air to limber up was a sound idea. Hamstrings sawed against one another. Achilles tendons hawed in the wind. Toby vaped. (You can get all sorts of different flavours, apparently). Chris Walsh, to the chagrin of ramblers and farmers up and down the land, opened the gate but refused to close it. You can buy lots of things, but you can't buy class.
Our hosts were quick out of the traps , with a couple of lads at the back who could give the ball a biff and some coordinated and energetic movement up top. It evidently wasn't going to be a straight-forward proposition for us to head back to Cambridge with the win that we really needed.
After about ten minutes, we broke the deadlock. A long pass out of defence found Asbo Dom on the right, who helped the ball on adroitly to Jon Mann. Jon was in menacing mood all game, incising his way around the field with all the latent intent of an alpha shark - the kind that kills people and then doesn't even bother to eat them. After removing a couple of tastier titbits from his dripping jaws, Manny squared the ball to Toby to do the rest.
A second goal would have been lovely but not really suited to the dramatic narrative.
As the sun set dramatically over the wilting cabbages, seemingly signalling the end of all life in this and every other known universe, the home side equalised.
With the first half drawing to a close, Jon again sniffed the pleasant scent of chum towards the baseline. He homed in, did his ruthless business and squared to Ash. Goal.
Bourne Deeping came at us again. In the melee, one Chris Matson clearance out of the D was deemed not dangerous as it was only likely to hit Dom Reeve in the head, where the umpires quite rightly adjudged there was nothing sentient in any danger of damage. By this point, Tom Anns was struggling a little with his mobility, but thankfully nobody noticed, not even his teammates. Menzies was idling around in midfield, looking for all the world like a mildly hungover Diana Henry patrolling the aisles of Waitrose. 'Ooh, I really fancy something fresh, light and scented this evening,' I could see him thinking. 'Perhaps that pomegranate, orange and dates number I sometimes rustle up with flower water syrup.' At one point, a Bourne Deeping player attempted to purloin something from his middle-class basket. 'No you don't, you cheeky scamp!' he admonished. 'I'll need that Kurdish rhubarb tomorrow.'
A third goal for us would have been lovely but not really suited to the dramatic narrative.
The award of another penalty corner against us spelled danger, as we lined up to defend it in a manner akin to a group of naughty boys reading our Just William book under the covers by torchlight. We needed new batteries in the torch. Two-two.
Needing a final flourish to seal the deal, we delved into the box of rotten tricks that is the M2s' archive. After being awarded a shortie with about ten minutes still to go, there was only one thing for it. It was time to feed the Menzies.
Like taking freekeh from a baby.
With our unbeaten record extended to eight games, thoughts now turn to the visit of Cambridge City next Saturday.
I was asked to give individual feedback this week but don't really remember every detail of the game. The following is therefore plagiarised from today's Observer (admittedly this is based on the England v Samoa rugby match but each sport can learn from others):
Jon Mann, full back, 6/10 A perfect start creating South's first try but unusually sloppy handling thereafter. Trademark run up the middle after the break but his distribution is still a problem. Either he does not pass or does so at the wrong time.
Toby Watson, wing, 6/10 Took it upon himself to get involved, taking a sideline to himself before a mazy run and often cropping up at scrum-half – the usual barmy stuff, really, but to limited effect this week.
Ash Dookun, wing, 8/10 Kept his head up for Watson's try and took his own very well, each time stepping in off his left foot. His dander was up after his first and he continues to grow as an international winger.
Chris Walsh, fly-half, vice-vice-captain, 7/10 His size makes him an obvious target but showed how robust he is when an opposition player injured himself trying to leave his mark. Clearly relishes the added responsibility of vice-vice-captaincy and played with real poise.
James Menzies, prop, 6/10 The message from Paul Visagie was to focus on the set piece first and foremost and he did put away the second-half penalty corner. Has sharp footwork for a prop but was limited to the hard yards before he was hooked.
Joe Whittaker, hooker, 7/10 No problems at all at the lineout – dovetailing well with Matson and then Dookun – and often popped up out wide. Very little wrong all match but remains likely to make way for Harry Chalk during the Six Nations.
Tom Anns, prop, 6/10 A few touches – which is normally a few more than he wants – and the trademark penalty conceded. Rock-solid at the scrum, though, and made himself a nuisance at the breakdown.
Darren Farmer, lock, 6/10 A mixed bag. He is worth persevering with, certainly, despite South's riches in this position.
Douglas Gibson, flanker, 7/10 A pick-and-go for Watson's try and was his usual authoritative self at the lineout. Rose to the physical challenge as well. Put simply, if this autumn has shown anything it is that South are much better when he plays.
Simon Cooper, flanker, captain, 7/10 He would never admit it but surely a cathartic experience back here with the No69 jersey on his back. No frills – when are there any with Cooper? – but typical industry, and lots of it.
Chris Matson, No8, 8/10 Supposedly not big enough to play No8 at Test level but this was an excellent first international start. Not the largest but he is slippery and was among South's best carriers. We’ll see him again.
REPLACEMENTS Dom Reeve 7/10 (for Watson, 7) Set about his task well.
Their centre-forward with the greying hair, centre-forward, 10/10 Just a really nice bloke.
Long Road is defrosting quickly. GAME ON!
This was the message from our skipper at 10am. What a rallying cry to battle. I must admit I was a bit disappointed that no lemon-worthy comments had been made on the group chat asking if the game was still on because it’s a bit cold today. Well done,chaps.
All week we had heard that selections for all teams this week had been hard due to low availability, shown by our skipper when only my name appeared on the laminated team board. How relieved I was when the rest of the patched up squad arrived.
After a bit of warming up, the skipper had won the toss and put the sun on our backs and into the faces of our enemy (only for the clouds to come over in the second half to help us, genius move. Matt Kern is a weatherman).
The game started with a quick pace, at least if you were wearing black and white. The ball was being moved quickly and crossed into Souths D. I was forced into a save, only for the rebound to come off a purple foot. PC!
Okay, we have this covered. The ball is shot to the left post, I have it covered and so does my skipper. After seeing us concede the PC last week to the 2s, Matt K decides he can also score the same way, past my leg. Great touch though.
We restart and the ball is brilliantly worked up to Dom N, who puts the ball into their net. One-all, we have got this. Oh, hold on, here they come again, black and white shirts streaming forward. They cross the ball into the D and a stick nudges the ball inside my far post. Damn it!
'Heads up, boys,' is the shout. Yep, our heads were up looking at the guy with the ball dribbling through four defenders and facing me, one-on-one. I got this; hold on, where did the guy on the back stick come from? Ball across me to said opponent, three-one Bourne Deeping. Halftime.
Lots of talking, analysing and musing and the second half begins. South start quickly and very soon Dom N is on the score sheet again. Three-two. Game on! South now have their tails up and push for a third.
My feet and legs are kept busy as Bourne Deeping push to extend their lead. I think I had to make a flying volley save at one point?
South get the ball into the Bourne Deeping D, it’s up in the air off a black and white stick, Pash chests it down and Jimmy has it in back of the net. Three-three, epic!
All we have to do now with two minutes left is play sensibly. Except if you're Dom N and have the need to bulldoze the opposition and give away a PC. Okay South, concentrate. OUT! The ball is played to the right, clear shot on goal, I have it covered. My foot is stuck, WTF! I try to kick a slow shot and my foot won’t move, it goes past me. Ah, Engine is on the line with his stick down, get out of jail free. It bounces over Ali’s stick. Three-four to Bourne Deeping. Ah, &£$%!
It had to be said, South did play some great hockey today building on a really good season so far.
A number of lemon-worthy events this week: green cards for Ollie and Dom N, Matt K for the spectacular goal, and Pash for getting stuck in the netting retrieving the ball.
Was it the smooth hard-ish pitch? Was it the lovely, cool, morning sunshine? Was it the bracing pre-match warm up consisting of much goal-moving? Was it over-confidence? Whatever it was, the M4s started sluggishly and a surprised St Ives decided to drive the pace, resulting in an excellent opening goal from an unmarked forward from close range.
This wasn't how it was meant to be.
Back to normality…temporarily.
A dose of Oli Anderson left wing magic, with a mesmerising run and thumping equaliser, followed by the old one-two of a Jason James short corner to hot-shot specialist and man of the match, David Monckosaurus, made it two-one at the break. Cambridge South could have had more if returning skipper John Greaves and Robby B had directed shots between the posts rather than to the (outside of) the sideboards and above the bar.
Time for a rethink, and some rabble-rousing tub-thumping from Sir Winston Monck at half time galvanised some much-needed impetus. Not always effectively so, as some over-enthusiastic man-and-ball tackling led to a Paul ("I was retreating from the free hit as fast as I could, sir") South green card. Messrs Monck and James took the alternative approach of diving/falling to the ground to attract sympathy rather than censure after their own robust tackles.
Nevertheless the half saw a lot of good expansive moves across and up the pitch, with everyone playing their role, finding space, looking to attack. Things only foundered when the ball was held for too long rather than passed, or tricky long passes were attempted rather than a simpler alternative. The home team had numerous chances and the St Ives D was a busy place, with accurate Greaves crosses, sharp hits-in from JJ, Stu Creed and Mr Monck, and frequent incursions by Oli A, Ian Marshman and James Mathews not getting the deserved reward. Through all this the South defence were firm, including new wide-backs Ellis Liu and Seb Dias, who were always in the right place, and goalkeeper George Toynton reassuringly LOUD behind them…so the lack of conversions at the other end of the pitch was not penalised.
A win is a win. Just.
The M5s turned up to St Neots in plenty of time and with a stubborn determination. Low temperatures maybe, but sunny and wind free. Shahzad liked the sunset so much he based his positions, substitutions and initial direction of play on how best to view it. It felt like quite a balanced game, with both sides keeping good structure and making plenty of runs and passes.
We were ahead for most of the match after an early goal from Man of the Match, Pip Ho, being backed up by captain Adrian Granger Brown and his broken finger, took South to one-nil. After no goals were scored for quite some time, Howard Steed decided that confusion was the best tactic and deployed a deceptively slow short corner injection. The clean sheet was held right until the last few minutes, when one of several strikes from Saints finally made it in, to equalise the same.
Ben, in goal, made a number of great saves, including one where he managed to use his stick to save a fast and high ball from a short corner. Another highlight was from Ky who, not satisfied with providing a solid defence, made his way to the front to try and get his second goal in as many decades. Peter Creed and Andy T both made a number of great runs and shots on goal. In fact, Peter Creed provided such a convincing threat that the keeper at one point decided it would be best to forget all about the ball and throw him up into the air.
Stuart Creed defected to another team at the eleventh hour and rightly earnt multiple Lemon votes for doing so. Having five players for four midfield positions proved sufficiently complex to confuse just about everyone's substitution routine. Unfortunately, this title was inevitably taken from Stu by Andy T. Despite turning up to the right pitch, at the right time and expertly locking his vehicle, he found the challenge of serving himself chips too great and spilled an entire pint of cider all over the food.
As the sun began to set at Long Road, the L2s set out on their road to redemption following their first loss of the season against a feisty Saints team last week…
Katie came prepared in full fashion prowess in a sexy pair of oompa-loompa-doompa-dah-dee socks - (Vogue, if you'd like her number let me know!) Ellie was less prepared with no shoes!
The warm up was improved by the presence of Harley (he's such a dude!) and a carefully thought out programme of stretches (well, the ones Izzy could remember…).
As usual, we spent a long time discussing where the sun would set and which end we should go for. We lost the toss and got the end we wanted… However, the sun disappeared and the whole conversation became slightly irrelevant. Oh well, at least we had a nice long time on the pitch to perfect our stick skills, or just under five minutes (who needs to warm up the goalie…!)
The game started strong and we thought the phenom-eimear (this pun will work) might bless us with her magic and score in the first five minutes, but somehow City stole the first goal from under us (maybe warming up the goalie might be a good idea - only joking; Emma is always on point). After the sneaky goal against us, from a short, we reassessed what this might mean - we can't lose twice in a row! So we turned to Izzy for some ten out of ten action… She didn't disappoint and slipped the ball between the goalie's legs with perfect precision and we drew level.
Today was a lucky day: we had Tuffers to boost the frontline with unrelenting determination and dives. After a couple of very near misses, Tuffers found the back of the net (a reverse flick, I hear). She then went on to strike a short corner with conviction for it to be stopped on the line by a City foot: cue a penalty flick! Annie stepped up to the mark and delivered a perfect man of the match performance, bringing the score to three-one.
The final goal came from pure team work, finishing with Eimear passing a beautiful ball to Izzy for her to smash it home.
Throughout the game, South really brought their A-Game with some classy work at the back with Ellie, Jess, Jenny and Harriet working as a solid unit, delivering the ball up all the channels to the mids and on to the forwards.
The mids had a stormer throughout and Annie, Katie and Kate drove down the sidelines with intent and skill – with Annie and Kate taking joint MoM.
Although Eimear didn't break the five minute opener with a goal, she did make a break in the second half, went one-on-one with the goalie and cruelly found the post – a close one and she fell over in surprise that it hadn't gone in!
Naomi supported us throughout despite the bitter cold and being taken out by Harley (apparently a song called 'Rawhide' comes to mind on this occasion' – thank you!)
So we're back…back again… Bring on the trip to Sudbury!
Post-match update: after a nasty fall (take out), our ten out of ten has been damaged and will need to heal some nasty grazes!
Attack! Attack! Attack! Despite the L4s only having two defensive players they put up a strong fight against St Neots today. The pre-match warm up proved a little stiff with the team feeling slightly like snowmen on a freezing Saturday lunchtime… However you wouldn't have noticed by the time the ladies reached the pitch.
With fingers and toes melted, the makeshift defence players dodged some typically strong hits by St Neots. Goalkeeper Cassie demonstrated her alternative sporting talents in gymnastics and ballet. St Neots popped in three goals before half time, but the sprightly Cambridge team took control of the second half with Emily scoring for South.
LOM was awarded to new player Zara for successfully taking out an opposition player. Charlotte walked away with her hat-trick MOM for the season so far.