U9 Elks v Ashford Town Warriors
Elks win 4-3 away
A hard fought draw against Manorcroft Utd the previous week saw some of the wide-eyed optimism from the first two wins tempered a little as the Elks entered game week 4 - away to Ashford Town Warriors. Despite the dominant performance at Manorcroft, and a goalkeeping performance that will linger in the memory, there nevertheless remained an appetite to turn performance in to points, so a fast start was key to keeping confidence and momentum high.
Despite some discussion around tweaking the formation to better suit and balance the natural talents of the boys, and consideration that the more direct 2-2-2 formation change in the final quarter from last week's game saw the team find a late equaliser, Coach Timba opted for our more seasoned 2-3-1 formation. The extra width paid immediate dividends as early balls in from wide saw the Elks go close, before Fletcher Booth tucked a left-footed shot neatly inside the post to put the boys 1-0 up, securing the fast start they were after.
Hampton piled on the pressure, dominating the game by attacking with width and pace, before being caught out by a long ball from Ashford that led to a corner. A messy goal mouth scramble ensued and suddenly Ashford were back in the game at 1-1. Hampton hit straight back and after a few wasted chances, a lovely ball in from the left flank by Joseph Timba found Booth on the edge of the box who buried the ball past the keeper - again with his left foot! - move of the match in this observer's humble opinion, and Hampton were ahead 2-1.
Hampton continued to dominate and a number of the boys went close, with a mixture of Zach Draper, George Rayner, Dominic Stenning and Tom McMonagle sharing winger duty. Rayner was also unlucky not to score as he took on the role of striker, before another wave of Hampton attacking saw a loose ball fall to Stenning who struck an oh-so-sweet rocket with his left foot in to the top left hand corner - more than he deserved after creating a number of opportunities from deep and wide.
At 3-1 Hampton were cruising. The Elks' #1 Cyril Bellamy had tidied up the few clear chances Ashford had created, but the boys suddenly found themselves back to 3-2 after another messy scramble that left Cyril no chance and got Ashford back in the game. Ashford took heart and started making a few chances of their own, with Cyril saving a number of times, and bravely putting his body on the line to keep the Elks in front. The game took on a rather more nervy atmosphere for a period with the Elk's continuing to dominate but being unable to convert chances, and some of the more questionable referee decisions started to take on greater meaning as Rayner and Booth were both denied clear penalty shouts.
Coach Timba made some more changes to link play better through the thirds, revolving Walker, Stenning and Draper around slightly deeper roles to ensure we shifted from defense to attack with quality distribution. The change led to the undoubted 'skill of the match' moment, where Joseph Timba - now deployed in a more advance position on the left - received a long clearance with an outrageous half-volley-Cruyff-turn 180 on the left flank that sent the Ashford defenders down to the shops to pick up the milk... Lovely moment that was greeted with groans of appreciation from fans of both teams.
Max McGregor, Sam Walker, Dom Stenning and Zach Draper continued to link play from defence to attack nicely. McGregor in particular was stand-out in his ability protect the Elks against the Ashford long-ball, and Hampton had much to thank him for as he won every single 1 on 1 against their forwards. Draper mixed winger duties with defensive ones and his pace & quality distribution from the back combined with his wide play was a key factor in Hampton being able to retain possession. Sam Walker dominated the middle of the park once again, breaking up play and then taking players on as he carved mazy runs through the centre of the Ashford team, but the boys still only held a one goal advantage.
A nervy fourth quarter bordered on becoming day-light robbery as another long ball over the top caught the boys out. This time Ashford raced forward in numbers and an excellent ball in combined with an equally measured finish saw Ashford draw level. A fine goal that nevertheless stuck in the throat given Hampton's dominance. As the game entered the final minutes, Hampton continued to push forwards creating chances only denied by some resolute defending. Just as frustrations seemed to be getting the better of the boys another wave of attacking saw the ball bounce loose to Tom McMonagle who smashed in with his right to put Hampton 4-3 ahead with just a few minutes to go.
The last 3 minutes felt like 30 as the fear of a final sucker punch counter-attack was excruciating. However the boys held their nerve and stayed focus with only a final effort from Ashford testing what had become extremely frazzled nerves. Another great team effort and a pleasing example of how the boys refuse to let their heads drop. Also a great lesson that if you keep fighting right until the final whistle you can get the result your performance deserves.
Man of the Match: Max "You're Not Getting Past Me" McGregor
Skill of the Match: Joseph "The spirit of Cruyff is living in my right boot" Timba
Well done boys!!