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!!!