Soft Start, Hard FinishNeil Sneade
It was a bit of a rocky road for the Team Hubris bandwagon this week before we eventually found smoother tarmac. A14 uncertainties meant that the team were assembled in the changing room a full hour before push back - unprecedented for the M3s - but the thorough preparation and warm-up didn’t seem to have helped us when the match did finally push back.
St Ives dominated the opening quarter pressing closely all across the pitch. Strong balls from the home team’s backline looked to bypass South’s midfield and play in their forwards, who held the ball up well before releasing runners from deep to overload the South defence. By contrast South’s game was disjointed, St Ives’ pressing and rushed decision making meaning we were struggling to string together coherent passages of play and repeatedly giving up turnovers in dangerous positions. George had already been called on to make a number of saves before the home side finally got their reward. Tight marking at a sideline ball on the left inside our own twenty-three gave full back Josh no forward options, forcing him to play it back to Neil near the backline. As St Ives’ forwards closed down the outlets, Neil decided what the situation called for was a scuffed hit straight across his own goal to the opposition centre-forward at the top of the D. The gift was gratefully received and George was left helpless as the ball was put away.
Coach Chris Graveling, watching from the sidelines, was reminding us to stop trying to force it and take our time. After another spectacular flying save from George - the ball was going wide as he later admitted he realised himself, but it looked great - eventually the messaged started to get through. We began to get our passing game going, working triangles down the wide channels to move the ball forward. The score was levelled when Peter, after some twisting play reminiscent of the young Stu Creed (for those who remember Creed Snr in his pomp), nicked the ball past the goalkeeper. With nerves slightly settled, South gained a narrow advantage before half time when a goalmouth scramble was bundled over the line by Nev.
After a half time chat from Chris repeating his earlier message - calm down, get your heads up, pass into space - the second half was something more like our earlier season form. Connor and Bhav were closing down the gaps in the centre, preventing the easy outlets from the first half, while tighter marking at the back gave the St Ives forwards less time and space. Neil and Jim were now linking up better with the full backs and midfield, winning the ball and making passes to set up counters. Seb and Ciaran were pushing the play forward, playing in Peter, with his mazy runs on the right flank, and Jimmy, with his powerful drives on the left. Peter grabbed his second goal after more great work in tight spaces in the D, Nev also getting his brace after his first attempt from a short corner was returned straight to him to finish with his second bite of the cherry. Joe scored possibly the best team goal of the game, an interception and drive opening up the home defence before a lovely interchange of passing with Peter eliminated the goalkeeper to leave Joe with a simple tap-in.
St Ives’ heads never dropped though and there was another period of pressure from the home side entering the final quarter. The score was still at three-one when South were forced to defend a number of penalty corners, one double clearance by Bhav being particularly noteworthy. George was called into action again with a combination of fine saves and some unconventional use of his deflector pads that is definitely not in the coaching manuals. At one point a St Ives shot hit a post and somehow span full across the goal without crossing the line. A verbalised questioning of a foot foul decision during this spell gave Josh a two minute break on the sideline. South saw it out though before securing the game with a couple of late goals.
There were further opportunities for Jimmy and Ciaran, as well as a short corner routine that ended with a deflection off a St Ives facemask, but the team could be well-satisfied with the final score. Having already reached our Christmas points tally from last season the M3s can start thinking about a new target for this year.