While avid readers await Jane’s epic match report from January’s Witney game (she’s just finishing off chapter 7, I believe), it falls to me to sum up this weekend’s wrong-end-of-the-table clash with Banbury 2s. Preparation started early in the week when Coach Tam undertook the ambitious mission of helping us actually convert an attacking short corner while keeping the opposition out at defensive shorts – more on that later. Captain Susan meanwhile focussed (unsuccessfully) on trying to get us all to turn up on time (not helped by Becky starting a sunbathing group outside rather than meeting in the changing rooms) and factor in pre-game loo trips so that we also had time to warm up.
We started the first half nervously, not playing our best hockey. Kelly came closest with a couple of good strikes at a short corner, but Banbury had the better chances. Becky and Susan stood firm at the back though, putting in some great tackles throughout the game, while Purdy made save of the match (in slow motion) at full stretch to a ball that was just about to creep in on her left post. We worked hard to break up play and put lots of effort in but lacked a bit of composure with our passing. There was a spell of short corners against us, but our defence did a good job of keeping the ball out of the goal. Karen, as usual, tackled strongly and drove forwards repeatedly, covering the entire pitch (n.b. I haven’t quite worked out if this is due to her dynamic enthusiasm or if she hasn’t figured out where an inner is supposed to play yet, and is hedging her bets).
In the second half we conceded fairly early in open play when Claire first kicked the ball in the D and then got in Becky’s way, allowing a Banbury player to pounce and finish it from close range. Argh. Luckily, however, this seemed to wake us up a bit and spur us on to more attacking play. There was some great work from Kayleigh and Lexie to open up the left of the pitch and Evie and Jane on the right. Emily did an excellent job of using her speed to break up play and make life difficult for the Banbury defence, making a lovely driving run to the baseline at one point and pulling the ball back – it just didn’t quite fall for a Hawks stick to finish. Sherene also looked dangerous, after activating her usual turbo warp-speed running, and Monica and Sophie did some really effective link-up play to help us move through the ranks.
Our extremely loud supporter (no idea who he was…) got told off for being a little over-enthusiastic in his umpiring advice, so continued to shout more diplomatic encouragement to everyone to get forward, which we were doing very well. The pressure resulted in some short corners – at which point we found that we didn’t have any injectors on the pitch (I’m not sure that was part of Tam’s plan, but we improvised pretty well and came close thanks to good work from Sherene). At this point I have to note Becky’s brilliant sprint back to catch a breaking attacker who thought she had her for pace, only to find – just as she was about to shoot – that Becky had nicked the ball off her with a superb tackle.
Finally, we won another short corner and Karen was back to inject. The plan was set. We all agreed – ball to the top and then switch to Claire on the right. So, the ball came out nicely to Monica who (with great wisdom) promptly played it back towards Karen on the left post. Karen was lining up a huge sweep that would surely see the ball in the back of the net. She was practically celebrating already. And then Sherene dived in (that’s the problem with warp speed: you can’t see her coming), taking a slight touch in front of Karen. Just as I was about to have a firmly-spoken-word with them about calling for the ball, Sherene’s genius touch took the ball slightly to the side of the keeper and towards Karen, who wasted no time in being surprised but swept it in. WE SCORED A SHORT CORNER! Almost exactly as we’d practised… (And also, didn’t concede from any shorts.)
We had the best of the last few minutes of the game, pushing for a winner but ultimately ran out of time and it finished 1-1.
Player of the Match: Karen and Claire (did no one notice that goal?!)