The earlier return fixture was fresh on the minds of a lot of the players as they met at the home of football about an hour or so before kick off with fresh memories of how the team had surrendered a 4-2 lead with literally 5 minutes left to play to lose 5-4. Revenge was something we wanted badly and given our excellent home form this year to date in the league (played 5, won 5 before this match) revenge was something we were all confident of pulling off. Not only revenge but the fact that we were now hot on the tails of the top two meant that this was a huge game for the third team to continue the run of good form subsequent to the bad weather and Christmas break and close the gap even further.
Skipper Danny has had a few issues of late (footballing related I think) with players being injured and subs not being paid and the squad at times has started to look thread bear. Add to this the non availability this week of Nick Brockhouse and Joe Morris and things looked weak, however a couple of new trailists were available for this match coupled with the return of Luke Martin from a year travelling and added to the usual suspects that turn out week by week, provided the third team finally with a nice match day squad to choose and rotate as necessary, which was required on a surprisingly warm day but especially because we were on the first team for this match.
The third team started very well and pressurised the Salesians team whenever on the ball to enforce a number of mistakes particularly from their right back (called Femy) who appeared to want the world on the ball before passing it on although I cant actually remember this “Femy” making a pass during the whole match as he usually got caught and gave the ball away!
We were playing well enough in the first 20 minutes of the match without really threatening as the final ball was always letting us down. Joe who had come in up front alongside Danny was holding the ball up well and we were getting in behind down the flanks on numerous occasions but unfortunately maybe because of the size of the pitch we weren’t punishing the opposition from the opportunities that we were creating. The main efforts of note were a Danny effort from the right hand corner of the box which flew over and a Deano worm burner that was straight forward for the keeper.
Norsemen were winning a number of set pieces and the keeper who initially looked a little dodgy began to play quite well and command his 6 yard box better, however as the half went on we knew that something was coming and after about half an hour the deadlock was broken.
From a Salesians free kick Bevers rose like a salmon just inside his own half to win a towering header which was directed straight back into the Salesians half. The header fell to Joe who held the ball up really well and played a slide rule pass into the box where Danny had made a diagonal run and had managed to get the wrong side of the defender where he managed to reach the pass and poked it first time past the onrushing Salesians goalkeeper to put the third team 1-0 up. It was nothing short of what we deserved and the only surprise was that it took so long in coming.
For the remainder of the half, Salesians created nothing really. There players were quite skilful on the ball but loved to overdo it and to be fair the only time the third team looked in any danger was when the Salesians team broke from an attacking Norsemen set piece or when Norsemen gave away some silly free kicks around the box. This happened on a couple of occasions however resulted in Dan Howard in the Norsemen goal never being troubled.
The first half ended with a glorious chance for Norsemen to go 2-0 up. From a Norsemen corner the ball was delivered from the right of which the Salesians players failed to clear. The ball fell to Joe three yards out in the six yard box slightly on the stretch however he somehow managed to get a full connection on the delivery and put it high over the ball. With Norsemen players lined up behind Joe ready for a tap in this really was a chance to go 2-0 up and finish the match. As it was it was all to play for in the second half.
Danny decided to take the team into the changing room for a team talk this week where we were obviously happy to be 1-0 up however very disappointed not to be more than 1-0 up. The main stay of the team talk involved us staying switched on a trying to get this second goal. Of course if we didn’t concede though we would win the game and get the vital 3 points.
The second half began and Salesians came out of the blocks extremely fast and for the first 5 minutes of the half played their best football and had their best spell by far. This resulted in a couple of corners but thankfully no saves of note to be made by Dan Howard.
Norsemen finally began to get a foothold in the game again as the half progressed and began to exert their experience and enforce those Salesians errors again as we were seeing in the first half. The match was by now being played in the Salesians half mainly and once again any threat to Norsemen was a break away or a long ball. Salesians best chance came from a long diagonal ball over the top which cut the back four in half which the Salesians striker managed to get to first however Dan Howard also came steaming out and the strikers touch thankfully hit Dan flush on the nose and any danger was cleared. The Salesians players cried out for handball and a sending off however the resulting nose bleed that Dan had to endure said everything that the ball was nowhere near the hand.
Despite this scare Norsemen continued to press and had two stonewall penalty shouts turned down by the referee. Firstly Danny was tripped inside the box and told to get up and secondly and the much more blatant one of the two was a ball into the Salesians box which their centre half decided to practically catch, however once again the referee waved play on to the bewilderment of the players and the spectators watching on the touchline.
However the pressure eventually told on the Salesians back four and the referee in the end where with about 25 minutes to go, Danny turned into the box and was clipped down where finally the referee had no choice but to award Norsemen with a well deserved spot kick. Danny stepped up and drilled the ball into the bottom left hand corner to give the three’s a well deserved two goal lead.
The remaining 25 minutes passed without much incident really. A couple of long shots by the Salesians team, one of which from a free kick that was tipped over by Dan Howard with about 10 minutes to go was as close as they got to getting back into the game.
From a Norsemen viewpoint a couple of changes were made by Danny to freshen it up at 2-0 and although control was never surrendered by the three’s further chances were limited apart from a glorious opportunity for Ryan who had come on as a second half substitute where a long cross was knocked back to Ryan 6 yards out again in front of goal where he resulted in hooking over the bar. Ryan however persevered and got his rewards in the 93rd minute and the last kick of the game when a final Norsemen breakaway ended with Tom Collier squaring to Ryan with only the keeper to beat of which he managed to do with aplomb. As the ball hit the back of the net, the referee blew the final whistle and it had been a very good solid performance by the three’s and more importantly kept the run of wins going as we enter a defining period in the season.
Special mention must go to the whole team today on a large pitch where after only playing a couple of games after returning from a long weather break, fitness is something that is still coming back to most of us. It goes to show that if the team plays as a unit and supports each other we can go forward this year and achieve something special.
Special praise to the back four today as they really did look like a well drilled unit for a change and in particular to Richard Pett and Bryan Keye who I don’t think lost a header all day long!
A few beverages were sunk in the bar after the game to celebrate the good performance where it filtered through that Alexandra Park, Old Parkonians and Old Actonians had all won above us. That left us 6 points off the top team Alexandra Park with a game in hand, 2 points behind Old Actonians where we have played one more game and 1 point behind Old Parkonians with 2 games in hand.
Next week is a massive week where we travel to Old Parkonians and Alexandra Park play Old Actonians on a SAL Super Saturday in this league. The results of this forthcoming weekend will go a long way to shaping the final outcome of promotion and who will be the champions of this league.
We know also that Alexandra Park and Old Actonians have to play each other again and we have to entertain Old Actonians and Alexandra Park at home still also so ALL IS STILL TO PLAY FOR AND YOU COULD SAY THAT OUR DESTINY IS IN OUR OWN HANDS……………
UNTIL NEXT TIME WALK TALL YOU BLUE GIANTS!!!!