A 4.30pm pushback on a blustery autumn day at Henley is never an appealing fixture but the Magnificents turned up with a squad of 15. Notable absences from recent weeks were top goal scorer Elliott and keep Phil Hargreaves. Coming into the side we welcomed Simon Thompson for his first game this season and returning Pete Hobbs and James Armstrong. Otherwise the same solid squad and Chair Higgins on hand to organise the bench and enforce COVID protocol with his Hawks brolly (he had clearly seen the forecast…)
There is something special this season that defines the Magnificents with some uncanny resemblences to the 60’s western classic…..whilst we don’t come on the field to the iconic Bernstein sound track (note to self this will change for next week), we have developed a collective desire to do good and reach deep. We’ve got our own Yul Brynner (if you squint it could be Mike Image)…the resemblances probably need to stop there… Mark Shirley is no Steve McQueen nor Karl Hack a Charles Bronson. But what we are doing is working as a team with collective belief.
So, to the game. We started well with good moves down left and right channels and good intercepted ball. We won 3 short corners in a row but this isn’t a strong part of our game and we failed to convert. Henley then got their act together and proved to have a strong right attacking game and solid midfield possession and territory flowed their way aided by some gifted passes from Hawks. One such ‘gift’ was from Simon Thompson. It is hard to find a nicer man on the pitch. He’s clearly had a hard first half of term at the school he teaches, and he decided to generously kick a ball that was going safely wide to Henley’s centre forward who duly scored. A tough one to take especially after the early possession.
The Magnificents came straight back though. Pete Hobbs and Andy Graham moving the ball nicely on our right won a free hit. Andy Graham connect well with a hard hit into the Henley D to find Richard Webb who with the deftest touch deflected the ball from the top of the D to the far left of the goal. Webby couldn’t quite believe it, Henley certainly couldn’t and Hawks were simply agog… It was a cracking goal (possibly one of our best in terms of quality and timing). ‘Who needs Elliott’ came the chorus from the bench.
The game then yoyo-ed with good moves from both sides until Father Christmas (Thompson) scuffed a ball back to Henley who again said ‘thank you’. He is a lovely chap though.
Half time….2-1 down…but Chair Higgins instilled belief. We need to tighten our game and stops these gift wrapped passes.
Hawks immediately started to put more pressure on Henley and we simply won more ball and broke them down. Our defence of Hack, Watson, Hobbs, White and Stoker were solid throughout and we got the ball safely out of the 16 on most occasions. Thompson took off his red coat and white beard and made a couple of good saves.
In the midfield, Dolly, James A, Image, Venables, Hobbs and Graham started to exert control. Within the first 10 minutes we found Dolly in a high position and with some deft stick work he rounded the keeper to make it 2-2. Hawks were upbeat and we knew we now had the game in our hands.
The last quarter was a true ‘epic’. Firstly, the rain. Higgins brolly was frankly useless against the wall of water that descended. The pitch slowed right down and seemed to suit our game.
Higgins made sure there were regular substitutions. Dolly’s fitness again a cause for concern. Richard Webb having started in the front line suddenly popped up as right back. It was from a forward position that he executed a sort of Barnes Wallace bouncing bomb and a ball which skimmed the watery surface, deceiving two defenders and found ‘McQueen’ Shirley who power a shot home.
Five minutes later we found Shirley again. This time to the right and from the base line he drove (meandered) into the D. Venables on the P spot was desperate for the ball. Shirley clearly had water on the ear and decided to go for it from the tightest of angles…4-2!
The remaining 10 minutes saw plenty of Henley attacks and they got a goal back but there was no way we were going away with anything other than 3 points and so it ended….4-3.
MOM....difficult one...everyone did their bit ....but has to be shared between Webby for the finest of goals and the assist and Shirley for a fine brace.
That’s now an unbeaten run of 6 games....can we make it a 'Magnificent 7' next week?. We felt justifiably pleased this week and look forward to a beer at a suitable distance next week at BRN.