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.
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.
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.
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………….
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!!!