‪#‎Gods‬ vs ‪#‎O45‬ Pagewood Botany FC

Pagewood celebrated becoming Champions last Sunday (without dropping a point for over two years) so we needed to step up to the challenge and keep our own good form going through the second half of this season. Guess what? Thirteen of us out of a squad of 22 were unavailable! Fortunately the O35Bs season finished last week and three of their O45s (who play down with them) were able to join us. A few people spoke to me about the possibility of playing a more attacking formation than usual and trying to take the game to Pagewood. Pagewood thrive on unpicking sides who do that and without subs to sustain our intensity I thought it best to stay with the kind of formation that’s served us so well this season; 4-4-2 with two holding midfielders. We had a very good eleven and the presence of Matt, Gig and Graham gave us a lift.

Pagewood started well and looked to get forward as usual but the quality of Matt Wiggins and Giggsy in central midfield, with CJ and Graham out wide, soon showed. Their composure on the ball and ability to find space and pick out telling passes meant we were able to mount a few counter attacks early on that put Pagewood on the back foot. It was noticeable that they started to sit a bit deeper and the midfield were more cautious about committing to attack. They weren’t able to take control of midfield as they like to and we were spreading the ball and using space as effectively as they were.

Pete and Ade ran themselves into the ground up front but Pagewood always defend well and we struggled to put the right sequence of passes together to finish some promising moves into the final third. Both forwards ran at defenders, got on the end of good through balls and tried everything but that final bit of movement or the final ball never quite came off. Graham pulled on a pair of his shooting boots and had some shots from distance. Unfortunately he chose Johnny Wilkinson’s old boots rather than Harry Kane’s. Still, it bought us some recovery time and retrieving the ball kept their keeper fit (see footnote).

As the game wore on we tired but didn’t lose our concentration or intensity. Pagewood move opposition defenders around so well and open up the spaces for their midfielders to run into. This time we had the confidence to drop a bit deeper and pose Pagewood a few problems. Giggsy and Matt Wiggins were outstanding sweeping in front of the back four and creating those triangular defensive shapes that are so hard to break down. They also won endless challenges and used little pull backs and turns to keep close possession and switch defence into offence. Those changeovers really caught Pagewood off guard and Pagewood players who are so comfortable in midfield, struggled to make their presence count.

Pagewood also have players who like to skip past people who rush to tackle them; we were closing them down rather than jumping into those challenges, channelling players wide and tracking overlapping runners well. Even a couple of times, in the first half, when they broke quickly and had 5 against 3, our backs didn’t panic. They let the play come to them and made all the right choices. Jason was really focused and making his physical presence count in the box and you could see the back four grow in confidence throughout he first half. He dominated in the air, his handling was outstanding and he got down to a couple of shots across the goal superbly. John Sweeney had an excellent game at right back, putting Pagewood on the back foot with some good forward runs and movement inside, combining well with CJ. Pedro at left back was as solid and reliable as ever, tracking and closing down with his usual efficiency and discipline.

The whole back four were outstanding throughout but Laz and Keith Smith were exceptional. Laz’s movement, marking and selection were spot on throughout whether in the back line or stepping forward to close down a midfield run. When I asked Keith to play central defence yesterday he said he could give us more playing in midfield. I don’t think anyone else could have given us more than Keith did yesterday. He read the game superbly, made all the right choices, talked the back four and midfield through the game and was always there to make vital interceptions. He also set the tone through his endless encouragement and lifting players when a pass was overhit or went astray. Keith gets man of the match.

I’ve got a chest infection and had the good fortune to watch most of this (and play a 15 minute cameo to give Pedro a breather) and it was really enjoyable. My report might make it sound very organised; it wasn’t always but we knew what we were doing and when it broke down we scrapped with a belief and commitment that was great to see.