Saturday 31st March 2007
By Shaun Keddle
Squad: 1. St John; 2. Small; 3. Wright; 4. Davis; 5. Judge; 6. Clark (14. Head); 7. Williams, J; 8. Perkins; 9. Harrigan; 10. Williams, L; 11. Cleaver, B (12. Cleaver, L)
Subs not used: 15. Connelly; 16. Keddlinihio; 19. Mace
A good result with a scoreline that does not reflect what a tough encounter this was.
It''s always an interesting fixture when the same two sides play each other in consecutive weeks and this was no different. It''s like a game of footballing chess. Cray came to us with the same 3-5-2 formation but with one or two differing faces from the previous week. We continued with the same 4-4-2 formation with only one change at left back – Wright in for Cleaver. We were full of confidence in the performance from the previous week and all three points were vital if we have any aspirations of promotion this season.
We lost the toss and unlike last week, Cray opted to defend the wind in the first half. The wind was worth a goal itself so we knew we had to make this advantage pay. However, it was Cray who once again got off to the better start seeing plenty of the ball and knocking it around well. The Cray team looked quite comfortable on the ball but sometimes overplayed. Cray were obviously looking to keep the ball and not concede in the first half and really push on in the second. It was a good twenty five or thirty minutes before we played any really penetrative football, then we hit a 20 minute purple patch. A good ball into Cleaver, B was well taken in his stride, a little feint to shoot sold the centre half allowing him to cut between two defenders into the box, draw the keeper and coolly finish into the corner – 1-0 up against the run of play. This gave us a little boost and 1-0 could have been 2-0 when Cleaver, B again caused panic in the Cray box when his low and purposeful effort was very well saved by the Cray no. 1 – hard and low to his left. Five minutes before the interval we doubled our lead when Williams, J struck a wonderful 25 yard free kick into the top corner – his second in as many weeks. The Cray keeper must be sick of the sight of him. 2-0 at the half and this gave us a little cushion to take into the second period.
At the half we spoke that again we had the advantage and that the game was only ours to lose. We spoke about keeping hold of the ball and doing what Cray had done for the first half an hour or so. If we could keep Cray at bay for around 15-20 mins without scoring, frustration would set in as well as mistakes and we would be there to capitalise.
The second half started and Cray attacked with purpose but we held out well. However, within 10 minutes an individual error allowed the Cray forward an opportunity which he finished well from an acute angle. Cray’s tails were up and we shot ourselves in the foot. This really gave Cray hope and it was time for us to stand up and be counted. We knew we had to dig deep and the last half an hour or so would seem a lot longer. Again Cray pushed and pushed and we started to sit deeper and deeper. A speculative effort from the right was hammered against our post and Cray came close from two corners. Our own poor clearances were providing chances for the opposition. With around 20 mins to go we lost Clark to a foot injury. The pack was shuffled and Perkins dropped into a deeper midfield position, Harrigan was dropped in front of him and Head was brought on up front to add a fresh pair of legs to proceedings. Cray continued to attack but as good as they were with possession, the more resolute and stubborn we came with defending. Cray were finishing the game strongly and we were limited to breakaway opportunities. With 15 to go Head should have done better after an excellent cross from Small. We were holding on here and desperately sought a third goal. With only a couple of minutes left Williams chased a lost cause to the byeline and did well to wrap his foot around the ball and find Head who blasted the ball over the keeper and into the net. A really important goal. The pressure was off now and we played out the remaining minutes with no cause for alarm.
Cray will come away from Fortress Farnborough disappointed and feel as though they should have had at least a point and maybe more. However, we took our chances well and scored three very good goals. It’s the sign of a good side when you can perform under pressure and learn how to contain a side. We defended with vigour and everyone came off that pitch knackered because they worked hard for the result. It’s always a greater achievement when you know you have worked hard for the outcome. On the development side - we do need to start to keep the ball better under pressure as this was exposed in the second half and something that we are traditionally quite good at. There were also some verbal niggles that crept in that needs to be eliminated.
Some good performances all around. The back four managed a dangerous front two very well. Cleaver, B had a good first half capped with a wonderful goal that adds further to his growing collection of ‘goals from midfield’. Williams, J was always dangerous and Williams, L worked himself into the ground. Managers’ Man of the match, which was backed by the players'' was Matty Wright for an excellent match at left back and containing a dangerous customer despite lack of games of recent times. Great work Matt – you are not as old and slow as you think – start believing in yourself!
This was a really big result. The away win would not have had as much value if we did not follow up with a home win. We worked very hard and have a really good spirit in the ranks. Cray are a good team and we have beaten them twice. I really don’t think many (if any) teams will take 6 points off them this season. They can and will beat teams in this division and I expect them to rise up the division and be amongst it come May, provided they do not lose heart from this loss. They can gain a lot of positives from their performance. I wish them all the best for the future and have enjoyed playing against them in two very good games with lots of goals, played in the best of spirits.
In terms of the league, it’s still really difficult to determine where we truly are. With a full programme on Saturday and Easter Monday we will better understand our intentions and position after the long weekend. There are still some massive games to be had and lots of points up for grabs. If we can remain as a complete squad and nick 6 points over this Easter break then this would be a significant step in the right direction. Once again be reminded that we will have a full fixture list in April and midweek fixtures during May. Please do not make any commitments before this time. We still have a great opportunity to have a say in this league and we must not shoot ourselves in the foot. The next two games are both away from home. After this we have 6 of the remaining 8 games at home – where we are really strong. We can also gain a lot of confidence from our recent away form which has been excellent.
10 cup finals to go…