Month: February 2014

Young Lions Show Character to Complete Inspired Comeback

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.

Waltham FC Badge

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!!!

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Waltham Lions Roar Back Into Action

Waltham Lions u7s played their first match of 2014 today after the disappointment of 3 successive Sundays of postponed games. A reshuffle of the teams grouped together also saw a new opponent, in the shape of Clee Town BJB Lift Trucks.

WalthamFC-Logo

The game was end-to-end, and was an entertaining match full of skill, great goals, and a great sporting approach from the players, parents and coaches of both teams.

Leyton Bolton had spells as a midfielder, striker and goalkeeper during the game. Leyton showed the brilliantly close ball control, even in tight areas, that we’ve become used to seeing from him. This allows him to twist and turn, changing direction to leave defenders feeling dizzy. Leyton also has an awareness of what’s around him, and an appreciation of ‘space’ that is far beyond what I would expect of a player at this age group. He is often pulling away from the crowd and staying in space, and is aware, when he has the ball, of who else is around him. He has the confidence with the ball at his feet to wait for the defender to come and close him down, before dragging the ball away from them or bursting past them. He showed this today with several skilful runs with the ball.

Lucas Gill continued on from his form before Christmas – continuing to show a growing understanding and what I would call an increasing level of ‘game intelligence’. When playing as a midfielder he recognised when a team-mate was chasing the ball down, meaning he didn’t have to. And when playing as the defender, he read the game well to intercept any danger and make well-timed tackles. Lucas is still visibly growing in confidence and is more and more involved in games each week.

Rhys Racey played as the striker, the goalkeeper and a midfielder at different times today. Rhys is always a danger to the opposition when we are attacking, and is now starting to show good signs of positioning himself well when we attack. Today, he was consistently getting into positions in the middle (near the goal) rather than being drawn closer to the ball when we attacked down the flanks. This usually left him in space shouting for the ball, as opposition defenders were drawn out of the middle to try and tackle our dribbling attackers. The passes didn’t always come, but I’m pleased he is positioning himself like this and thinking (whether he realises he is or not) where he needs to be. Rhys also made a memorable save when in goal, using his feet to save low down to his right when it looked like a certain goal going past him.

Ethan Lowe played parts of today’s game as the defender, the striker and lastly as the goalkeeper. Ethan’s enthusiasm to play football is fantastic, and I think rubs off on the other players. He’s been desperate to play a match again and I think he was there with his Dad at sunrise this morning having a kickabout, waiting for the rest of us to arrive. Hopefully Ethan will think it was worth the wait though, as he had a very good game today. Firstly as the defender, he “destroyed” any attack that went near him and showed great instincts to spot any danger and get across to cut it out. As the striker, he almost got the chance he’s been waiting for to stick one in the onion bag. Some confident running with the ball and strong tackling almost got him into several shooting positions. But he did create one of our goals in the 2nd half. It is also encouraging to see Ethan showing signs of good leadership qualities. He’s always telling people which players to mark when we’re defending corners. And today in open play he was telling people where to be and letting them know what he was doing. During his 10 minute stint in goal, Ethan showed great goalkeeping technique using both hands and diving on the ball. You can really tell he’s had proper goalkeeper training. His short distribution from goal kicks also helps us start attacks from deep before the opposition close us down from the retreat line.

Ben Crolla had spells both as a midfielder and as the defender today, and scored a brace for the second time this season. He scored his first goal within a minute of the game. After Clee Town had scored in the first 30 seconds, we restarted with a kick-off and Ben took it upon himself to dribble right through the middle of the Clee team and slotted past a helpless goalkeeper in a frantic first 60 seconds of the match. Ben was his usual tenacious self but what also impressed me today was his confidence to just run with the ball himself. He went on plenty of mazy dribbles, especially in the 1st quarter. Ben played the 4th quarter as the defender, and played this role the best he has done to date. He stayed disciplined and maintained his position as our deepest player, allowing him to see the danger in front of him and easily cut out attacks that came his way. He scored again in the 2nd half. After Ethan Lowe won the ball and dribbled towards goal, the last defender came towards him and as he knocked it to his right, Ben ran onto the ball, evaded the challenge of the defender to go through 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper and score his 7th goal of the season.

Lucas Jex is continuing to get better and better as the season goes on. He rattled in a hat-trick today to make it 8 goals in his last 4 appearances. The opposition today couldn’t handle Lucas when he had the ball at his feet, whether he was flying past them or tying them in knots with his drag-back turns. He has a composure on the ball much like Leyton Bolton, and is confident enough to tempt the defender in to make a tackle, knowing he can skip round or past them at the last moment. This ability to be calm and have confidence in their own skill is something I will try to instil in the rest of the team over time. Lucas seems to have a knack of making you think he’s about to be tackled, only to quickly skip past another player when on one of his now-trademark solo runs. It was from one of these runs that he scored his first goal, beating 2 or 3 players in running over half the length of the pitch before unleashing a shot that was too hot to handle for the opposition goalkeeper as it went past him. In between the 3rd and 4th quarters I asked Lucas to continue going on his great runs with the ball, but to also try to look up as well, so he can decide if the best thing to do is carry on dribbling or to pass the ball to someone in a good position. I told him that I wasn’t going to make that decision for him or tell him what to do – that he would have to decide for himself. So I was delighted to see a great move early in the 4th quarter when Lucas beat a couple of players down the right wing, looked up to see Rhys Racey taking up a great position in the middle of the goal area, and swung over a low cross to him. Rhys’ first time shot went just an inch wide of the post, but it was a fantastic move and Lucas had clearly taken on what I had said, but still made the decision to pass himself. His 2nd and 3rd goals were almost identical. Both were long-range shots from the inside-right channel, so accurate (just inside the post nestling in the side-netting) and so powerful that even James McKeown wouldn’t have stood a chance of saving them if he had been in goal.

Today’s Man of the Match award went to Benjamin Harrison. As I said when handing the trophy out, this was by far Benjamin’s best game since we began playing matches. He was far more involved today than he has been previously, getting more touches of the ball in the process. As well as his usual eagerness to chase after players and win the ball back for the team, I was also pleased to see Benjamin having the confidence to run with the ball today. He seemed to either have an idea of what he wanted to do before the ball came to him or just made quicker decisions today. Either way, it was great to see. In training, Benjamin can sometimes be one of the better players at running with the ball at speed. So it was good to see him less concerned about the opposition trying to stop him today, and just getting on with his own thing by transmitting some of what he shows in training to what is a different match environment. He was also fearless in winning tackles today, often appearing like a man-on-a-mission to get the ball back for his team.

So a massive well done to all the Lions players for today. Thanks for giving us all a great game to watch as always. When you consider this was our first match in 7 weeks, it was a great performance that got better as the game wore on. Apart from a couple of minutes at one stage where we started getting in each other’s way, we also worked really well as a team too.

Up the Lions!!!