Gaffer James Owen had the luxury of a full bench and it was a strong 14 who made their way out to warm-up (well, it was 14 once birthday boy Michael Warburton finally showed up - that'll be a fine next week mate!). After a good warm up and an in-depth team talk, there was just time for the ref to call me to one side to tell me that he was considering showing a red card to one of our players (who shall remain nameless to save any embarrassment) before the game even started, after he had seen him going to the toilet in the bushes by the bowling green. Warning for future games lads... Luckily the referee kept his cards in his pockets and Actonians got the game underway.
Norsemen started brightly, confidently knocking the ball around and dictating the pace of the game without really causing the away side too many problems. We forced a few set pieces which were well delivered by Shane, but the Actonians defence, marshalled by the big centre back, dealt with them well. After 20 minutes or so the away side really started to get a foot hold in the game. The forwards pressed the defence high up the pitch, meaning Michael Kalli was forced to play long rather than out from the back. The high tempo of Actonians game forced a few misplaced passes, which in turn led to a couple of half chances for the West Londoners, however Michael was only called into action once or twice and dealt with everything without much trouble. Half time came and the match was well poised at 0-0.
The second half started as the first half ended, with Actonians on the front foot. They were looking to get the ball out to their pacey right winger frequently as he was getting the better of Murray on a few occasions. Actonians had upped it all ove the pitch, and this time had found a final pass. They created two one-on-one situations in 5 minutes, but Michael was equal to them with two very good saves. The Norsemen keeper (making his first appearance since a couple of games in the title winning side 3 years ago) was getting called into action more and more, and made several good stops. Just when Norsemen started to get into the game a bit more and start playing a bit of football in the final third, Actonians took the lead. A quick break led to the left winger slip the ball through to an on-running midfielder, who the referee deemed to have beaten the off-side trap, who struck and early shot to beat the dive of Kalli. 1-0 Actonians and in all honesty no more than they deserved.
The difference in the Norsemen team of this season compared to the last couple is that there is a lot more belief, and we don't know when we're beaten. As such we used the goal as a shot in the arm and started to play a bit of football. A nice move in midfield led to Clifford playing the ball into Darran, who turned his man, and dinked a fantastic cross into the back post (perhaps showing the rest of the team the kind of service he's been crying out for all season), for birthday boy Michael Warburton to nod beyond the keeper. 1-1 and still ten minutes for either team to find a winner. That wasn't to be however, as a couple of half chances came and went without too much worry for either keeper, and then the ref brought a hard fought game to an end.
For Norsemen a case of one point gained rather than two lost - Old Actonians are a strong, well disciplined team and played some good football at times. I would suggest that they will be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.
The whole team had to work hard and defend as a unit which we did, but man of the match has to go to Michael Kalli in the Norse goal. Some great saves and organised the defence for the whole 90 minutes.
Next time is the long trip to Merton.