Month: April 2014

Lions Finish Season In Style Before Post-Match Drama

The Waltham Lions u7s served up another feast of football in their last game of the 2013-2014 season on Sunday.

Facing Grimsby Borough Juniors at Mount Pleasant, the Lions welcomed back Ethan Lowe and Leyton Bolton who had missed last week’s game.

The game got underway and was immediately being played at an exciting pace. The Lions started the first quarter with Ethan Lowe in goal and Rhys Racey sweeping behind the other 3 outfield players. Ethan carried on where he left off before his life-threatening hand injury (see the previous game’s write-up) in terms of his goalkeeping. He showed great goalkeeping technique to parry shots away and claim loose balls into his grasp and hold onto them. He made good decisions taking goal kicks too, playing short to Rhys most of the time so we could build attacks from the back. I was very happy with how the boys used all the space on the pitch, especially from goal kicks. Ethan often played short to Rhys, who turned to see Ben Crolla stood near one touchline and Lucas Jex doing likewise on the other side. And this allowed us to build plenty of great attacks in the first quarter.

Rhys Racey was often left 1v1 or 1v2 against attackers but was always alert to where the danger was and made sure he recovered well when the ball was past him.

GOAL!!! Lucas Jex opened the scoring when his tricky corner was fumbled in by the goalkeeper.

Lucas Gill nearly added to the score when he broke forward and dribbled past a player in the penalty area, only to end up being a little wide of the goal and was crowded out when he turned back. Leyton Bolton played some good passes as he again showed he has an awareness of what’s around him before the ball comes to him. Oliver Hendry and later Benjamin Harrison were also a threat playing the furthest forward role in the team, driving forward with the ball and looking to get into good positions when the Lions attacked. Whereas in a lot of games recently we had only got going later in the game, today the Lions looked in the mood straight away.

In the second quarter Leyton Bolton took a turn in goal and Ethan Lowe lined up to anchor the rest of the team by playing in defence.

Developing Dribbling

Lucas Gill carried on from the first quarter in dribbling past players for fun. This was without doubt the game when Lucas has beaten the most players in 1v1 dribbles to date. He’s certainly grown in confidence in the last couple of months when he’s been running with the ball a lot more and has been comfortable twisting and turning to cleverly shield the ball. This lead to him beating players with the kind of success rate normally seen by the Jex’s and Crolla’s of this world. Lucas looks like he’s becoming accustomed to people trying to tackle him and bumping into him, as several of his dribbles came when opposition players came steaming in to try and nick the ball from him. This got him into several dangerous positions in the first two quarters alone, but he was thwarted at the end of the runs each time by the goalkeeper or more defenders smothering him.

Calm and Composed

Ethan Lowe’s calmness in defence impressed me too. At one point in this second quarter Ethan had the ball deep in our own half and in a central area. He was closed down and faced with an opponent right in front of him. But instead of panicking and getting rid of the ball, he held onto it and tried to dribble the ball to his left to try and enable him to take the ball forward. As he did this he was risking being tackled, as you do with any dribble, but he tried to do it the right way and used his head to take the ball wide rather than trying to go straight forward into the attacker. The fact that he had the confidence and composure to try and work the ball out of defence like that fills me with confidence for the future. If our players panic in those situations and end up just booting the ball away, then I’ll worry that we won’t have players comfortable with the ball and that will surrender possession whenever we are closed down.

This is why coaches and parents should be fined, banned and maybe even jailed, for shouting either “Get rid of it” or “boot it up” etc. I wouldn’t have cared one bit if Ethan had lost the ball and Borough had scored from it. I would’ve wanted him try the same thing again and, if necessary, just learn from a mistake by running at a different angle or trying or trick or a feint. But that’s irrelevant because Ethan managed the situation very well. As he ran left with the ball, the opposition player tracked him well. So Ethan stopped the ball and looked up again. By now, he saw that he could get the ball to Lucas Jex. So he passed to Lucas and the Lions attacked again. This isn’t to say that I want the defender to dribble out from defence all the time. It’s about them making the best decision at that time. At first Ethan had no available pass to make, and didn’t have that option until Lucas became available. So in my eyes he made good decisions and did the right thing.

Using Both Feet

GOAL!!! We also had another goal that was worth £5 in this game. And I couldn’t be happier to be £5 poorer. Exactly 4 weeks after winning the first £5 for the first Lions goal scored from a left footed strike, Oliver Hendry has done it again. Since I initially made the offer of £5 to the first left footed goal, I’ve been massively impressed by the attitude by many towards practising with both feet. We’ve always tried to encourage this in training anyway and I make it clear to the boys that I’m genuinely impressed when they use their left foot. When we do games that involve shooting or passing, several of them practice with both feet. Arguably the keenest player to try and become both footed (as he now tells me he is), has been Oliver Hendry. And the way he smashed the ball in with his left peg in this game made it seem like if he carries on working with both feet, he’s capable of becoming completely both footed. The advantages of that won’t even be clear to these boys just yet at their age, but even so, they have all responded brilliantly to accepting it as a way of developing.

Late in the half, with Ben Crolla, Rhys Racey and Oliver attacking the Borough goal, the ball was loose in their penalty area. Ben and Rhys saw shots blocked by defenders and the ball fell nicely to Oliver at a bit of an angle to the goal. It was just on his left, and he had no hesitation in smashing it with his left foot. In fact I had to rub my eyes and check who it was because it looked like a young Mezut Ozil the way he slammed it in with his left foot. It has to be said that in a crowded penalty area, Oliver would have lost the chance to shoot if he would have needed to manoeuvre the ball back onto his right foot to shoot, as a defender would have got to him by then. His confidence in his left foot, brought about by practising using it, was such that he could hit it first time and make sure his name was on the scoresheet for a 7th successive match.

Putting Learning into Practice

One of the things that is always pleasing as the coach, is seeing the boys do things in the games that we have worked on in training or before games. It shows they’re learning and also confident enough to try things when there is more of a competitive opposition.

I couldn’t help but notice today that Ben Crolla was the biggest example of putting some learning into practice. I’ve commented before how Ben loves to dribble the ball and often ends up in areas wide on the left at the end of a long run. At this point he often finds himself at too tight an angle to shoot, or in a position where he has to run around the ball a bit to get a run-up at the ball to shoot facing the right way. What we’ve done a lot of in training lately is focus on using different parts of the foot to move the ball. Even before the game today, we did a little exercise encouraging the players to use the outside of their foot to cut in-field and shoot. Today, Ben Crolla showed great variation in how he approached 1v1 situations. He showed he can still take it with his instep around the defender to his left. But he also, probably for the first time, showed plenty of times when he used the outside of the same foot to go the other way. Not only does this keep the opposition guessing what he’s going to do, it sets him up for a quick shot on his right foot if he goes that way with the outside of his foot.

With Leyton Bolton making some fantastic saves in goal and Ethan ensuring not a lot go past him, the Lions were looking good. Leyton’s distribution was also excellent. Sometimes choosing to bypass the defender if he saw Lucas Jex or Rhys Racey in a lot of space further forward near the halfway line near the touchline. Again, a great awareness of space and an ability to make quick decisions very well.

Building from the Back

In the third quarter, Rhys Racey went in goal and made a couple of great saves from point blank range to keep Borough at bay.

Leyton Bolton lined up ahead of him as the defender for this quarter and showed how this role is important as the first line of attack, with most attacks starting from Leyton either winning the ball in a tackle, or receiving the ball from Rhys from a goal kick. Leyton was then able to dictate and decide how the Lions would attack. With the boys generally making great use of space on the pitch by spreading out, especially from goal kicks, Leyton was free to choose whether we would attack to the left, right or down the middle. I’m always confident Leyton will make good decisions in these instances as he seems to have a good football brain for a 7 year old.

Benjamin Harrison’s enthusiasm to win the ball for the team was also a feature. Benjamin worked tirelessly chasing back when we lost the ball and even if he didn’t win the ball, he always did enough to delay the attack or force them away from goal. Often when Benjamin won the ball for us, he would turn with the ball very quickly to get us facing the opposition goal. And he showed how much he always wants to be involved in the game by always wanting the ball and trying to make himself available for a pass.

GOAL!!! Ethan Lowe, returning after missing 2 games with injury, scored his second goal of the season in the third quarter. Showing unbelievable determination, he powered through a crowd of bodies to get to a loose ball before the Borough defender and goalkeeper that were also trying to get there. Ethan got there first, sliding in to get good contact on the ball to send it goalwards and it rolled into the net with the goalkeeper stranded.

GOAL!!! And as the third quarter went into the final seconds, the Lions scored a great counter attack that had the spectators wandering it they were watching a game at the Nou Camp or at Mount Pleasant. Borough had a good period of sustained pressure on the Lions goal and had 4 or 5 corners in succession. On the last corner, Leyton played the ball forward to Oliver Hendry who beat the last defender on the half way line and ran the rest of the pitch to get in a position to shoot from and made no mistake – scoring his second of the game.

In the final quarter, Lucas Gill had a similar break away to Oliver’s second goal. Breaking forward from the halfway line on the counter-attack, Lucas dribbled around the last defender with ease as the defender committed himself to a challenge, and had a clear run at goal despite other Borough players chasing back. As Lucas got close to the goal, the Borough goalkeeper came rushing out of goal to clear the ball very well. But the fact that Lucas has got himself into lots of scoring positions in the last few weeks (whereas he probably didn’t really get these chances early in the season) fills me with confidence that he will score goals next season.

GOAL!!! Oliver Hendry added another goal in the final quarter to complete his hat-trick and take his total for the season to 21 goals. This gives Oliver an amazing run of scoring 11 goals in his last 7 games. His great technique in striking through the ball to get power in his shots is something we’ll be looking to replicate in some of the other boys who may need a bit of work on this, when we do some second sessions starting next month. It was another period of good pressure on the Borough goal that led to Oliver having another chance inside the penalty area. And his technique shone through again here, hitting a shot instinctively that the goalkeeper couldn’t react quick enough to and it was in the back of the net.

GOAL!!! Lucas Jex then added another for the Lions with his second of the game and 16th of the season. This was a long distance free kick near the half way line after he was fouled in one of a number of times that the skilful and confident Lucas was fouled. Only he will know if he was shooting or just trying to put it in the box, but he hit it with enough power to go all the way in as Oliver and the Borough goalkeeper couldn’t get on the end of it after it bounced in the area.

Borough had some spells of pressure towards the end but Rhys Racey was up to the task in goal, saving just about everything that came at him. And we were rescued from a goal-mouth scramble when Lucas Gill cleared the ball out for a corner from the middle of the goal just a couple of yards out when Rhys was stranded on one of the posts.

Grimsby Borough Juniors scored a few goals of their own but it was such a great bonus for the Lions to have a win to end the season with, to match the great performance they put in today.

Man of the Match

The Man of the Match award today was won by the boy who calls himself “Sexy Jexy” – Lucas Jex. He took no end of kicks today from the opposition (not maliciously obviously) as he often does. But as I’ve told him before (and Ben Crolla who is also often assaulted on a regular basis) he should take it as a compliment that other teams can’t get the ball off him fairly. The fact that other players commit so many fouls against him shows that he is so hard to stop. Lucas again showed the confidence he has in his own ability to beat a player, often waiting for someone to close him down before then going to take them on and skip past them. He also played some good passes today to players in good positions, but his dribbling caught the eye. And also for me, so did his willingness to hang back in space rather than crowd around areas where the ball and other players already were. As a team we’ve been learning that over the course of the season – that if the ball breaks away from a crowded area where people have followed the ball, it often breaks to someone in a lot of space. And Lucas has shown he’s learnt this as much as anyone in the positions that he takes up.

Post-Match

Croc

A few things happened after the match that not everyone will be aware of. Firstly, Lucas Gill (who waited patiently for me to finish putting everything away in the pavilion) and I did some good business swapping some of our Panini World Cup stickers.

Panini Stickers

 

Then came the news that will send shockwaves through the village of Waltham.

I later discovered from one of our reporters, Emma Crolla, that her son Ben along with Rhys Racey had made a shocking discovery during the game around the beck that runs around the Mount Pleasant fields.

When Emma interviewed Ben after the game he had this to say: “Me and Rhys saw a crocodile in the beck.”

When asked if he was serious, Ben’s defiant response was: “Yes, I even heard it growl.”

I am told Ben went on to pull a face to suggest the way in which the crocodile looked at him, but this is unfortunately not publishable.

As Kerry Racey later interviewed her son Rhys to continue the investigation, Rhys also confirmed Ben’s version of events.

When Kerry questioned why Rhys had not told anyone or reported it to a figure of authority, Rhys’ response was: “We did. We told Ethan.”

I returned to Mount Pleasant later in the day to look for any evidence of this and you would not believe what I saw when I reviewed the beck’s underwater CCTV camera………….

 

The Crocodile

People of Waltham beware.

 

On a serious note, Sunday was a fantastic performance from the Waltham Lions and they all deserve a pat on the back for how well they played. It was a great game to watch, a great performance and a fantastic bonus to end the season with a win. They can all be proud of a great first season in junior football in which the development and progression has been there for all to see. And we’ve enjoyed watching their progress almost as much as the boys have enjoyed playing.

 

Up the Lions!!!

 

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Why Rooney Shouldn’t Start for England in Brazil

Rooney 2014

 

Wayne Rooney’s career has had some highs and lows. Several of his lows, have been whilst wearing the England jersey. And now with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil less than 2 months away, I take a look at Rooney’s place in the England eleven.

Tournament Experience

Rooney, now at the age of 28, has played in 4 major international tournaments. The only tournament in which he performed well, was his breakthrough tournament – Euro 2004. In Portugal, a young Rooney showed a real hunger, raw ability as well as great athleticism in helping England to the Quarter-Finals. He scored 4 goals and was named in UEFA’s team of the tournament.

 

Rooney Euro2004

 

However, his England career since has flattered to deceive on the biggest stages. His qualifying campaigns haven’t been too bad. He has been England’s top-scorer in qualifying for the last two World Cups. He hit 9 goals in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and 7 goals in qualifying for this summer’s World Cup. But his personal performances in the major tournaments since that 2004 breakthrough have been disappointing.

In the World Cup in 2006 he was taken in the squad despite not being fit after a metatarsal injury in one of the final league games of his Manchester United season. When he was introduced to the team his performances were lacklustre and he was red carded in the Quarter-Final defeat to Portugal.

In 2010, the World Cup in South Africa actually saw Rooney criticise England fans in a rant into a TV camera as he walked off the pitch after a poor performance in drawing 0-0 to Algeria. Rooney was disappointing in the tournament and England were thrashed 4-1 by Germany in the 2nd round.

 

Rooney 2010

 

Before the European Championships of 2012, there was much debate over whether Rooney should’ve been included in England’s squad. This was due to the fact that Rooney was suspended for the first two group games. Roy Hodgson selected him and he went straight into the team when he became available.  Despite scoring the only goal in the final group game against Ukraine, Rooney’s performances in that and the Italy game in the Quarter-Finals were still underwhelming.

World Class?

I’m not suggesting Rooney should be left out of the squad altogether. Neither is this a piece to write off his talents altogether. He is a good player. He doesn’t possess the same burst of acceleration to take him away from defenders as he did so often in his excellent Euro 2004 campaign. But he remains a good player. However, I don’t go along with the Sky pundits and tabloid writers that repeatedly ram it down our throats that he is “world class”. Obviously that is a difficult term to try and define. But Rooney hasn’t performed against top opposition in a way that would actually suggest he is anywhere near the same level as Messi and Ronaldo.

At one stage, Rooney may have been considered Ronaldo’s equal at Manchester United, but Ronaldo usurped him and eventually took over his position in the team, with Rooney having to play wide to keep a place in the team. In Alex Ferguson’s last couple of seasons, he would often leave Rooney out of his line-up for big games against the best sides. So did the Premier League’s most successful manager see a player in decline?

More recently, Rooney has come under scrutiny after signing a deal for a reported £300,000 per week. For me, the only issue with that was how he, for a second time in just a few years, appears to have threatened to leave in order to engineer a massive pay-rise. But my opinions on the matter in hand aren’t affected by this. Manchester United can pay him whatever they like. And their supporters still idolise him despite his two half-hearted attempts at leaving the club.

What has been apparent this season is that Rooney has been poor in most of the games against ‘top 5′ opposition. He’s played in 8 league matches against this season’s top 5 (Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal & Everton) and scored just 1 goal.

I’d also point to games in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League. Away to Olympiakos in February, Rooney was poor. Again in the away leg in the tie against Bayern Munich, Rooney was wasteful in possession, struggled to control the ball at times, and didn’t offer any attacking outlet for Moyes’ team, before eventually being moved back into midfield. Granted, Rooney may not have been 100% fit in this game, but if that was the case he shouldn’t have played.

My belief is that Rooney no longer does enough against good opposition, to merit the status as England’s talisman and being the automatic-pick he seems to be for the starting eleven.

The Present England

Currently, England seem to have plenty of options in terms of attacking players.

With several young players emerging as genuine talent in this season’s Premier League, Roy Hodgson has a bigger pool of quality attacking players to choose from. Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley, Andros Townsend, Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana have all shown they’re capable of playing for England since the last international tournament. Add to those Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Jay Rodriguez and Danny Welbeck, and there is a very youthful and dynamic group of attacking players for England to choose from.

Rooney is still part of this group. Of course he should go to Brazil. In terms of actual strikers, there isn’t much real quality behind Rooney and Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge. Jermain Defoe’s transfer abroad could’ve scuppered his chances and Andy Carroll has spent most of the season injured. The only English striker to have enhanced his reputation in the last 2 years (besides Sturridge) is Ricky Lambert. So there isn’t a great deal to choose from in terms of centre-forwards.

Square Pegs, Round Holes

What I would be hoping Roy Hodgson will do, is choose a system that will give England the best chance of success, and then select the best/in-form players for each position. For too long, England sides have just tried to get all the big-name players into a team, even if it meant forcing players to play unfamiliar roles or unsettling the balance of the side.

The most criminal example of this was forcing Paul Scholes to play left midfield in a 4-4-2 to accommodate the inclusion of Frank Lampard. Also, the persistence for years in playing Gerrard and Lampard in a central midfield partnership, when other countries would have chosen one of them to play at a time, alongside a more disciplined midfielder. This approach of putting square pegs into round holes is possibly through pressure from the English press, and managers not wanting (or being brave enough) to leave out a “big name”.

If England are to get anywhere in a major international tournament, we have to place a team ethic above individual ego’s. The so-called ‘star names’ don’t all have to be in the team if form or the system being used dictates.

Not many countries in the world cup will be starting games with 2 strikers in traditional centre-forward roles. This seems to be a thing of the past in the modern game and England themselves have finally begun to adapt in the last couple of years. If Hodgson does go with a single central striker, it is likely it will be either with two wide forwards on either side (4-3-3), or with three attacking players with a bit of freedom behind the striker (4-2-3-1). Both of these systems have been used by Hodgson in the last year or so.

The question then becomes – where does this leave Wayne Rooney?

If we’re looking at having one central striker, surely we should go with the man who has been THE outstanding English striker in the Premier League this season. With 20 goals in 26 league games, that man is Daniel Sturridge. It is not only Sturridge’s goals that have impressed. His great level of confidence and self-belief is rare in England internationals. He is skilful, quick, creative and able to beat a player in a 1v1 situation.

 

Sturridge  

What would be a travesty (yet sadly I can see it happening) is Rooney playing centre-forward while Sturridge is forced to play out wide. This would be a waste of Sturridge’s talents and another case of putting square pegs into round holes to avoid making a big decision by leaving someone out.

Options

The options for Hodgson include playing Rooney wide with Sturridge up top, playing Rooney in the middle of the 3 in the 4-2-3-1, playing Rooney up top with Sturridge wide or on the bench, or leaving Rooney out.

Personally, I don’t see an argument for not playing Sturridge at the head of the attacking line-up. That leaves Rooney fighting for a place deeper in the team, or competing with Sturridge for that starting place and coming off the bench when needed. Currently, Rooney’s form isn’t so good that you would feel a huge need to have him in the starting line-up. And his ability to pick the ball up deep, turn and attack seems to have deserted him as he’s lost that dynamic edge he had earlier in his career.

So to have him in a central role at the head of an attacking midfield area, in my opinion, wouldn’t utilise the attributes he currently has. I’d rather see someone with the intelligence and fluidity of movement of an Adam Lallana, an Oxlade-Chamberlain or a Ross Barkley in that kind of a role.

To have Rooney in a wide attacking role makes even less sense. The apparent strengths that the modern England team will have, include being able to counter-attack quickly and have pacey, confident dribblers on the flanks. With the likes of Andros Townsend, Raheem Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain and even Danny Welbeck who is often used in a wide attacking role all available, they would all be better options for the good of the team in such a position.

Rooney’s Role

So with Rooney not in good club form (another poor display in the Easter Sunday game at Goodison Park), and with it being 10 years since his last positive impact at an international tournament, the time to leave him out of the starting line-up is now. Of course I would still take him in the squad. But I’d have him competing with Sturridge for that central striking role.

I expect to be disappointed by Hodgson not being brave enough to leave out a player that the press/media have spent years hyping up. But it would be a great signal of intent to move England forward into a new era, if Hodgson goes with a more youthful, fearless and skilful attack, all without ego and willing to put the team first.

Further ahead, Rooney will be 30 by the time the next European Championships come around. That will probably be his last chance to play in a major tournament in his prime. He shouldn’t be written off as an England regular, but as he may need to adapt his game. At present I don’t see him playing in the no.10 role he once did. He appears to me to be more of a no.9, without the quick movement between the lines and combination of strength and speed that saw him picking up the ball deep and running at defences in Euro 2004 all those years ago. Many have suggested that he would convert to be a central midfielder in his later years. That may be something he does depending on his club manager, but there would be doubts around whether he could find a new position and be competent enough with it to be international class in a new role.

So Mr Hodgson, leave Rooney out of the starting eleven, for the good of the present England team.

Lions Recover with Goals and Smiles after Tough Start

 

Waltham Lions struggled through a difficult early period of their match this week; to end up being a shining example of what junior football should be all about.

 

The Lions welcomed back Lucas Jex after injury and then being away after an international call-up for the UK Skiing team. Ethan Lowe was missing again as he recovers from a hand injury sustained whilst wrestling a wild tiger in Bradley Woods. And Leyton Bolton was unavailable, working away for the government in a top secret location. So Oliver Hendry (despite running in the London Marathon earlier in the day) and Jay Crichton (taking a break from searching for his lost Lions shirt) were called into action.

 

In a match against Clee Town JFC, the Lions found it tough-going in the first 10-minute quarter. Finding it difficult to get out of our half at times, the Lions couldn’t quite dribble their way out of trouble against some good tacklers in the Clee team. Despite being under pressure, the Lions did still mount attacks of their own in this quarter. Lucas Gill got into good positions near the opposition goal and used the ball well. And Ben Crolla was the main attacking outlet, breaking forward well on a few occasions and causing problems for the opposition. The Lions conceded 5 goals in the 10 minutes, with most of those, I think, coming from one big and strong player in the Clee team who had an absolute hammer of a left foot.

 

Conceding a flurry of goals in the first quarter didn’t bother the boys in the Lions team though. They were still enjoying themselves and getting plenty of touches of the ball to ensure the game was a valuable development exercise. Not only that, but we were a much better team in the following 3 quarters. Improving in each quarter, we scored but were narrowly outscored in the 2nd, conceded the only goal of the 3rd, and outscored our opponents in the final quarter when confidence was still rising. In addition to the improvement in the Lions performance as the game wore on, the boys showed a great attitude towards playing and enjoying themselves, summed up in the last 10 minutes and post-game with them laughing and smiling, enjoying playing football together in the way grassroots football is intended.

 

The Lions’ first goal came after Oliver Hendry chased the rebound to his initial shot. He retrieved the ball wide of the penalty area and only a few yards from the goal-line. Yet even from this tight angle he opted to shoot, before any defenders could catch up with him. As the ball lay dead, Oliver took a short run-up and hit a thunderous shot with great technique, low and hard, that went through the goalkeeper’s legs before he could react. This was the 6th consecutive match Oliver has scored in, so he will no doubt be gutted there is no game on Easter Sunday to keep his run going.

 

The Lions also had some better thought-out attacks in this 2nd quarter. With Rhys Racey starting many of them by winning the ball in defence, Oliver Hendry, Lucas Jex and Jay Crichton attacked in support of each other, rather than in the way of each other. With one carrying the ball forward, the others seemed to run towards space or in a position nearer the opposition goal, rather than being attracted to the ball. As much as being attracted to the ball and running towards is probably a sign of eagerness to get involved, it often reduces the options for the player with the ball, crowding out a possible route for a dribble or blocking a possible pass to another team-mate in space. Although most seemingly now understand this, we will try to work on it in the final game in 2 weeks, and in the summer, to make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn-sheet and we can help each other just that little bit more as a team.

 

That said, it is no longer a consistent thing in our games as may have been the case at the start of the season. After the game when I asked the boys to tell me what some positive things from the game were, Rhys Racey responded with “We spread out really well”. And in general he was right. At one point in the 2nd quarter, two players were so determined not to get in each other’s way that a promising attack was delayed slightly. Oliver Hendry and Jay Crichton both ran forward after a Rhys Racey tackle had ran loose into the opposition half. With the ball in between them, Oliver and Jay both initially made a move towards the ball but then both recognised that and pulled away to leave it for the other player. This may have been seen as a bit of a mix-up but I can take it as a positive that instead of getting in each other’s way or taking the ball from a team-mate, a sense of team-work and unselfishness kicked in as they each left the ball for the other player, so they could run forward into space.

 

The 3rd quarter was a very closely contested 10 minutes. But despite both goalkeepers being called into action plenty of times, the only goal of the quarter was one for Clee. Oliver Hendry made some fabulous saves in goal, mostly with his feet, and rushed out well to confront oncoming attackers and clear the ball from off their toes. Ben Crolla assisted Oliver in keeping the score down by having a solid 10 minutes as the defender. Ben is used to being in the thick of the action in the middle, but has shown a few times recently he can also adapt to meeting oncoming attackers when playing in a deeper position.

 

Lucas Jex was having plenty of dribble attempts in this quarter, resulting in him taking a few bumps and kicks. And Jay Crichton got his foot into some good tackles and looked up before passing the ball at good times during the quarter. Lucas Gill, playing as a striker for much of this match, was dangerous whenever he had the ball in the opposition penalty area. A few times he was composed and turned left and right with the ball, and he had a few shots saved by the Clee Town goalkeeper.

 

In the 4th and final quarter, Jay Crichton went in goal and made a few good saves pushing the ball out for a corner or saving with his feet. And the boys outfield began to ramp up the skill level as they showed they were enjoying possession a bit more than in the difficult first quarter.

 

Benjamin Harrison showed us a great drag-back to turn a Clee player in our defensive area, which is encouraging that he would do that in that part of the pitch where most adults wouldn’t. Rhys Racey performed a lovely back-heel turn right near the touchline to deceive a Clee player and leave him for dust as he charged towards goal. And Lucas Jex went on some rampaging runs down the left and had enough arrogance to shout “bye” to players as he went past them.

 

As said above, the Lions showed the complete turn-around in the game by outscoring the opposition in the final quarter. Rhys Racey grabbed his 16th goal of the season by smashing a shot low and hard through a crowd of defenders and past the goalkeeper. And then Oliver Hendry added his second of the game, and 18th of the season, after latching onto a Lucas Jex pass. Oliver took the ball forward and hit another shot with seriously good technique – getting over the ball and striking through it with power, but also sending the ball to the far corner of the goal, as the goalie was stood slightly towards the other side of the goal. Lucas Gill again went close in this quarter, hitting a shot that hit the goalkeeper without him knowing much about it and coming back out for a defender to clear.

 

Man of the Match this week went to Jay Crichton for a good all-round performance. He showed an unselfish attitude towards the team on more than one occasion, for the instance with Oliver as described earlier, as well as volunteering to go in goal for 10 minutes at the end. Jay played some good passes to team-mates, showing he had clearly looked up before making the pass. And he also nearly scored himself in the second quarter but the goalkeeper made a good save to deny him.

 

It was great to see the boys showing yet again, despite a difficult opening to the match, that they:

  • Enjoyed the game
  • Played fair and with a great sporting attitude
  • Were respectful of the referee and the opponents, and
  • All had good plenty of involvement in the game for it to be useful as the learning environment that it is.

 

The increased intelligence and understanding in the way the team attack is looking promising. And the way we continued to play it short out from goal-kicks, despite at times struggling to get out of our half in those first 10 minutes, is something for the boys to be proud of.

 

Just a quick, polite reminder though to ask everyone watching the games to try not to shout instructions to the boys when they’ve got the ball. It could be confusing if it contradicts things I’ve said to them, and it won’t help their development, problem-solving and decision-making if they’re just following orders when they’ve got the ball. I’m not criticising our great group of spectators because we’ve generally created a great environment at games over the season. But in the two blogs below I go into more detail as to why this is so important:

 

Developing Creative Talent vs being a PlayStation Controller” (from 02/03/2014)

 

My Coaching Philosophy And The Environment I’m Trying To Create” (from 10/09/2013)

 

Up the Lions!!!

 

Persevering With Long Term Skill Development Over Short Term Success

 

Waltham Lions again showed some good individual skill today, in a game where the goalkeepers of both sides were often the stars of the show.

The Lions played with the usual freedom that allows the boys to learn by playing – making choices and mistakes on their own. I mention this most weeks in these write-ups, but I see it as a hugely important thing that these boys aren’t being shouted at from the side to “pass it”, “shoot”, “pass to xxxx” or “run with it” when they’ve got the ball. It will benefit the boys in years to come in ways that will only become clear in a few years time. And judging from our games this season, our players already have far more experience of decision-making on the pitch than most.

We could choose to shout and tell them what to do. It would probably work in the short term, and maybe bring more wins. But it wouldn’t achieve much in the long term. It wouldn’t help their development half as much as the way we’re doing things now. And I’m surprised at the number of teams we’ve come up against this season whose coaches are playing the kids’ game for them, rather than letting them play it themselves (see my piece on ‘Being a PlayStation Controller’ from a few weeks back).

Today the Lions played well. Not as good of an all-round performance as last week, but we came up against a team today who, it seemed to me, were set up to win the game rather than use it as a development opportunity. It wasn’t a pretty sight seeing their goalkeeper have the ball in his hands, them putting 3 players deep in our half and in our penalty area, and the goalie (who had a strong kick) then boot it right up the pitch to them.

I appreciate that in senior football there is more than one way to win a football match. Tactics will come into play and different patterns of play can be worked on and practised. But I can’t help but feel that an under 7s team purposefully playing this way (I can only assume under instruction to do so) is seeing them miss out on a weekly opportunity to develop technical ability and learn how to play through the pitch and work the ball into shooting positions.

That approach is not for me, and I hope our parents are on board with my prioritising of enjoyment and development over the “immediate success” of winning a match. To be honest, apart from the games against Discoveries GB and Clee Town Pattesons in 2013 (before the red/blue groups were re-arranged), no-one has comfortably beaten us anyway and we’ve generally always played well and been well in the games we’ve lost.

With Lucas Jex away on international duty, Ethan Lowe nursing a broken finger suffered in his great goalkeeper training session on Saturday and Jay Crichton at a family rave, the Lions were down to 6 players for this game.

Leyton Bolton started in goal, and along with the Discoveries Colts ‘keeper, was one of the best players on the pitch for that 1st quarter. Making several great saves with his feet and some great athletic dives to save with his hands, Leyton limited the opposition to scoring just once in the first 10 minutes.

At the other end, Oliver Hendry was unlucky not to score as he went through on goal, but his attempt on his left foot went just wide. The opposition goalkeeper also thwarted attempts from Oliver, Rhys Racey and Ben Crolla.

There was a lovely move in this quarter when Ben Crolla broke down the right, ghosted past a defender and as another one came towards him, he crossed the ball into the middle. The cross landed straight at the feet of Oliver Hendry who struck a shot with good technique, planting his standing foot next to the ball, getting his knee over the ball and hitting the target, although the ‘keeper was there again to push it out. It didn’t result in a goal but that was the best move of the match in the first half – Ben doing what he does best winning the ball and bursting forward with pace, putting a great cross in, and Oliver lurking in space away from the crowd and hitting a good shot matched in quality by the save.

Lucas Gill showed his confident trickery on the ball again, weaving left, then right, then back again to turn a defender inside out. On one occasion he eventually got crowded out and tackled after a few quick changes of direction. When I later asked Lucas to try and look up after doing a skill to see what he can do next, he told me that he did, and he didn’t see anyone who he could pass to. For me that was a fantastic sign. Not that he looked up. Not that he was looking for who he could pass to. The huge positive I took from that was that because there was no-one available to pass to, he was happy to hold onto the ball himself. If he takes that approach, I couldn’t care less if he loses the ball sometimes. I won’t be coaching that calm and relaxed nature on the ball out of him. Some kids start with that way of playing but have it coached out of them by adults wanting them to “get the ball forward” or not wanting them to take risks. Another occasion in the 1st quarter saw Lucas shielding the ball with his body brilliantly. We’ve done some work on this before, when I ask the boys to protect their ball by using their body as a shield if I approach them in a free-dribbling area. Lucas often always grasps this concept well, so it wasn’t surprising to see him being the one to show us the best example of this during a match against competitive opposition. As Lucas chased a loose ball and got their first, an opposition player came towards him from one side. Lucas had the ball under control and turned away to one side, leaving this player behind him, unable to even try and tackle him. Then when this same opposition player chased aftet Lucas and went to run around him to try and get to the ball, Lucas must have seen him coming by looking over his shoulder, as he then turned away in the other direction, keeping the other player behind him and with no chance of being able to take the ball from him.

In the 2nd quarter, we were denied by some more very good goalkeeping from the Colts ‘keeper. The best attempt coming from a powerful Rhys Racey shot that the goalkeeper unbelievably managed to tip up onto the crossbar before it went up and out for a corner. I’m still not sure how that didn’t go in.

We saw the best bit of individual skill in the whole match during this 2nd quarter. And I couldn’t be happier that it was a skill I only introduced to them 7 days ago. I mentioned it in my write-up last week and included some links to youtube clips of it (see last week’s write-up here). It was of course the Ronaldo Chop. Cristiano Ronaldo does this all the time as a way to change direction in the blink of an eye. Before the game today I tried to break it down into a few steps to help them grasp it. And in the 1v1 practices of it in the warm-up, Leyton Bolton looked like he had mastered it. I said to him I wanted to see him do it in the match if a chance to do it comes up. And did it? He was running with the ball down the right. A defender ran towards him and he chopped it behind his left foot, to his left, taking the ball infield and wrong-footing the defender who was running in the other direction. Awesome!

Oliver Hendry took a turn in goal in goal for this 2nd quarter and probably surprised himself with some really good goalkeeping. He came out of his goal to kick the ball away from oncoming attackers a couple of times, and his passes out from his area were excellent, always clearly picking out a player who was in a bit of space.

In the 3rd quarter the Lions got back into the game with a goal that Benjamin Harrison and Lucas Gill had a hand in making. Benjamin Harrison won a good tackle on the half way line and the ball fell into Lucas Gill’s path. Lucas recognised space in front of him and was positive in moving forward into the space with the ball. As a defender came towards him he took a touch inside away from the player. And as a second defender came towards him he saw Oliver Hendry in space (again) and saw a clear line where he could get the ball to him. He poked it through before being confronted with a tackle and Oliver continued his scoring streak (this the 5th game in a row he’s found the net) by ruthlessly smashing it in the bottom corner after taking a good first touch to get the ball out in front of him.

Rhys Racey had to be alert in goal as Leyton was often left outnumbered on his own in defence. But he made good saves when called upon. And Leyton also read the game really well to intercept some of the passes that the Colts players played forward or across the pitch.

In the 4th quarter the Lions got another goal. Oliver Hendry slotting away his 16th goal of the season after another Benjamin Harrison tackle in the middle of the pitch allowed Oliver to get on the ball and drive forward into space towards goal and get a shot off.

Ben Crolla did his best to carry on his own scoring run, having a good run down the left before shooting just wide. And his usual energetic bursts forward with the ball were as forceful in the last few minutes as they were in the first few minutes. Ben asked me if he could play as the defender for the 2nd quarter, which he did. That’s pleasing too as he’ll learn and understand the game from different points of view. This will help develop his overall game understanding, so it was good to see him keen to learn in this way.

Despite Rhys Racey making some good saves as he stayed in goal for another quarter, him and Lucas Gill were left on their own defending at times. This helped the opposition score 3 goals in this quarter to give the scoreline a bit of a slanted look to it. The game was a lot closer than the 3-goal margin might suggest, and with 2 players often in front of our goal, Lucas was up against it trying to stop one of them from shooting. One of their late goals went in off a player’s thigh, and another was a tap-in after Rhys had made a great save to parry out the first shot, only for the ball to land at the feet of one of the Colts attackers.

Man of the Match

Man of the Match today went to Leyton Bolton; not just for his Ronaldo Chop skill in the 2nd quarter, but a good comtribution to the game to compliment that. He almost got on the scoresheet himself when Ben Crolla laid the ball across to him, but Leyton cut across the ball a little as it came across from the side and his shot span just wide. He had some other confident runs with the ball too, holding onto the ball when he thought that was the best option, and passing to a team-mate when he could see someone in space. Seeing people in space is a strength of Leyton’s. He has a good awareness of what’s around him on the pitch as he consistently looks up to assess his options quickly. It’s difficult to make a good decision on what to do if you haven’t looked up to judge what the best option is, and Leyton always gives himself the best chance of making a good decision by looking up/around first.

All in all, we had some good skill again which I was delighted with and played really well in patches. The performance didn’t quite hit the heights of last weeks consistency over the 40 minutes, but I think it was a strange/new experience playing against a team drilled in where to position themselves to score a goal, and especially from the goalkeeper kicks. So despite not winning I continue to be pleased with the way we try and play, which will pay dividends in years to come (especially by the time we move up to 7-a-side games, when the opposition won’t be able to get the ball past all our boys with powerful play/strong kicks as easily.

Up the Lions!!!!!