Waltham Lions showed the first signs of the strong characters they may mature into, displaying an incredible “never-give-up” attitude to complete an unlikely comeback against this week’s opponents.
Having told Leyton Bolton just before kick-off that it was about time he scored again, I was delighted to see him score in the first few minutes of the match. It was a lovely, controlled strike driven in low past the goalkeeper at his near post, despite him being under pressure in front of goal from two defenders. It was his second goal of the season and they’ve both been against the same opposition.
Ethan Lowe showed some good handling skills in goal early on, holding on to shots several times rather than needing to push them away. However he was left exposed a few times when all of his outfield teammates had pushed forward, leaving the opposition with several opportunities where they were one-on-one with Ethan. And despite the opposition getting a couple of goals, Ethan made sure it was only a couple with some fine saves. At one point he showed great bravery diving onto a loose ball in his goalkeeper’s area when two opposition attackers were running in to try and score.
Lucas Jex decided during the 2nd quarter that it was time to unleash one of his unstoppable thunderbolts that leaves goalkeepers only able to stand and wave at the ball as it flies past them. This one was from wide on the left, and flew high into the back of the net, probably nearly breaking it in the process. That sparked the whole team into celebrating together (including Benjamin Harrison running out of goal to join in) which was great to see.
Benjamin Harrison had a good 2nd quarter in goal, making a great double save from point-blank range at one point but being unlucky in that the ball had crossed the line after the second of those shots. Benjamin was making good decisions when taking goal-kicks, choosing to pass the ball short to a nearby player every time rather than kicking it up the pitch.
Ben Crolla was covering every blade of grass on the pitch trying to win the ball for the team and scored for the third match in a row. After a typical run forward he shot across goal and the ball went in the bottom corner. Ben was his usual energetic self (it’s tiring just watching him sometimes) and combined winning the ball with going on runs with the ball himself. He never just smacks the ball up first time when the ball comes to him, always making a decision after a quick look-up to see what’s in front of him.
Lucas Jex was going on several runs of his own down the Lions left side. And if he and Ben Crolla can have a little more confidence in using their left foot, they could use it to work the ball back onto their right foot when they get near the goal, or (eventually) actually shoot with their left foot. This is something we will work on in training and before games though. This is not a criticism of Lucas and Ben, but just me trying to improve them. And while it was evident a few times for those two today because they went on so many runs down the left side, the principle stands for all the players too.
Here’s a little incentive: the first player to score a goal for the Lions with their left foot, will WIN £5 from me.
Lucas Jex went in goal for the 3rd quarter and at times came off his line very well to sweep up loose balls and oncoming attacks. In this quarter Leyton Bolton really showed his quality. Several times when we were attacking 2v1, Leyton had the ball and waited for the defender to start coming towards him, before noticing that left his attacking teammate in a lot of space and passing the ball across to them. Leyton is probably the top passer in the team in the sense that he sees when there is an opportunity to pass better than anyone else. He recognises he can’t dribble with the ball himself every time he gets it, and is more aware than most that football is a team game when we have the ball. He also got in at least one nutmeg on an opponent that I remember, and in time he will learn to shout “megs” as he does this.
Benjamin Harrison was back outfield and getting more involved in the game by this point, getting in some strong tackles and now starting to run with the ball himself.
Ethan Lowe was a commanding presence in defence, not allowing any opposition attackers to get past him, and getting the ball forward to Leyton and Ben Crolla when he could. Ethan was also the one organising the team when we were defending corners, telling his teammates where to be. Ethan and Benjamin Harrison were quick to answer correctly when I asked, between quarters, how many players should be running to the ball to make a tackle at a time – one. And Ethan in particular showed this in defence by recognising he didn’t have to go up the pitch chasing the ball and trying to tackle. Understanding when other players were already closing down the opposition, he hung back and waited to see if the opposition got further up the pitch before making his move, which was usually timed to perfection today. With Ethan not allowing any attackers past him, this limited the opposition to score just the one long-range goal in this quarter.
Before the 4th quarter began, Leyton Bolton lost a game of rock-paper-scissors with Ben Crolla which meant Leyton would wear the green goalkeeper shirt for the last 10 minutes. As he has done previously, Leyton heroically refused to wear Ethan’s Manchester United gloves and was ready to go in goal with bare hands before I found the spare pair in my bag.
The Lions conceded a couple of goals early in the last quarter, one of which took a wicked deflection to take it away from Leyton in goal, to put us 6-3 down. But the boys never gave up. Still playing with smiles on their faces and enjoying playing the game (which is what it’s all about), they started to have a bit more belief as they became more and more dominant in the game. It was wave after wave of attack as the Lions looked for goals to get themselves back in the game.
Benjamin Harrison showed great confidence and skill to dribble past two payers one after the other down the right hand side, and had another run down the left when it took two opposition defenders to run across and stop him. Benjamin had a great 10-minute quarter here and if he can replicate that every time he’s on the pitch, he will be a threat to any team and a goal won’t be far away.
As we poured forward looking for goals, Ethan Lowe did a fantastic job of keeping the door shut at the other end, continuing where he left off in the 3rd quarter by not letting anything or anyone past him. This became even more important a job now, as the rest of the team went forward and the game became very open.
And it was Ben Crolla and Lucas Jex who helped drag the Lions back into the game. I lost count of the number of rampaging runs the two of them went on and they were unlucky not to score more than they did. Sometimes, as mentioned earlier, they ran down the left but couldn’t manoeuvre the ball onto their right foot quick enough to shoot, so ended up taking an awkward snap-shot with their right foot despite the ball being on their left. Other times great goalkeeping from the opposition goalkeeper kept them out.
In the last 5 minutes, the Lions amazingly scored 3 goals. Ben Crolla got his second from close range after his first shot was saved and came back to him. This was Ben’s 9th goal of the season and the second game in a row in which he’s scored twice. Lucas Jex scored twice in the last 5 minutes to complete a hat-trick for the second successive game. This took his goals tally to 14 for the season, but more impressively – 11 goals in his last 5 games. One of these strikes came after a run through the middle and the other was a controlled, low shot from the edge of the goalkeeper’s area that squeezed past the goalkeeper and into the net.
All in all it was a fantastic, entertaining game, with both sides playing their part and showing lots of skill. There was some great individual play from the Lions all throughout the match, but we perhaps looked a bit rusty when it came to playing together as a team up until that last quarter. That’s understandable after this was only the 2nd match since before Christmas, but when it seemed to click in the 4th quarter, there was less getting in each other’s way and more thinking behind what they were doing, as we dominated long spells of that last 10 minutes. Hopefully if we can get back to playing matches every week now, they’ll get back in the swing of things and get more and more familiar with the concepts of team play again.
Man of the Match for the Lions today went to Leyton Bolton, who got himself a goal, but also showed more than most during the game that it’s important to be aware of where your teammates are. He must have comfortably made more passes than anyone else on the pitch whilst also not losing his ability to dribble and beat players with his close control in tight areas. But all 5 players were fantastic, well done. Also a special thanks to Adam Bolton for refereeing the match and allowing me to concentrate on my job as coach.
Up the Lions!!!