One of our pre-season friendlies was against Newbury and Thatcham where we came away with a 3-0 victory and the team started to take shape. We were familiar with the sandy pitch, pre match temperature checks and the fact N&T is very much a development side supported down the middle by some handy players of various vintages. They clearly had form having also won the first two games of the season.
The Magnificents started brightly with Dolly getting some good penetration into the D and Hawks being awarded a couple of short corners which we failed to convert. Shirley striking wide, Venables striking high. Then N&T settled into an assured period of play with a seasoned midfield trio controlling the ball well and feeding the ball wide to their youth element. Phil Hargreaves showed his form with some excellent saves and clearances but eventually the trio strung a series of good passes which worked through our (not so-) Magnificent defence to find one of the ‘youth’ who slotted in from the left. We weren’t quite able to put together the passing hockey we had enjoyed last week and hits out of the 16 and other defensive moves were quickly jumped on by N&T. We had our moments though and on one occasion Geoff Watson found himself in uncharted territory in the opposition D skying a ball just above the cross bar.
At half time and only 0-1 down, we still felt we had plenty of opportunity to redress the balance. We adjusted tactics with Venables and Dolly ‘man-marking’ two of the danger men and Image moving from the back 4 into a more central position. The aim to try and get N&T to force the ball wide to the youth where the wise grey haired back line defence of Stoker and Shirley could mop up and feed the relative youth of Andy Graham, Richard Webb and Rob McGrigor and the ever mercurial Steve Elliot. The tactics also depended upon Dolly have enough in the tank to see him through a whole game and more fire power from James B and Jack W.
As we got into the 2nd half it was clear the tactics were working well but the plan backfired slightly as the Magnificents resorted to a bit of football in the D conceding unwelcome short corners. We repelled several with Phil H again showing his class until N&T scored a well worked one to Phil’s left.
Now, in past seasons our heads would have dropped but times are a changing….we upped our man marking and then started to string some decisive breaks together. The first goal came from Steve Elliot receiving the ball from Richard Webb into the D and a well connected hit. Tails up, we got another break with a series of strong passes from Venables to Graham to Burroughs then finding Dolly who just about managed to find the energy to round the keeper to get the equaliser.
The Magnificents then pressed the panic button and the game of football resumed, gifting N&T lots of opportunities to get the winner. The N&T trio drove hard and got two quick short corners in the last couple of minutes but the defence worked well to avoid leaking a final goal. 2-2 felt like a good result and we continue to be joint top of the table.