The emphatic five-try, 34-7 win over the Wirral side extended OEs’ unbeaten run to seven games and kept up the pressure on National One leaders Blackheath.
But it was the manner of the display which delighted Elthamians head coach. “We defended magnificently, our attack was precise and threatening, our discipline was excellent, our kicking game was good and most importantly we did it all for 80 minutes,” he said. “It was probably our most complete performance of the year.”
Howard continued: “The fact we put all facets of the game together for 80 minutes was the most pleasing aspect. We have worked hard on our game management and decision-making over the past couple of weeks and it definitely paid off on Saturday. We’ve also worked hard on being precise with the ball, and not giving it away cheaply, and stretching defences which we did very well.”
Miserly defence has been a hallmark of Elthamians’ performances this season and Howard believes his side raised the bar even higher against Caldy with improved line-speed and increased urgency at the gain-line. “Our defence has been excellent over the past few weeks but I felt we weren’t quite getting the line-speed we were at the start of the season,” he explained. “We knew Caldy like to play quite an expansive game so we needed to close them down as quickly as possible, which is what we did.”
Now Howard wants more of the same this Saturday when Elthamians make the challenging trip to the Forest of Dean to take on Cinderford.
“I know it’s a cliche but Cinderford is a very tough place to get a result from,” he said. “I think the set piece will be massive for us on Saturday. If we can get parity up front I’m sure with the way we are playing at the moment we can hopefully hurt them with the ball. They had a superb start to the season and have shown they can beat anyone in the league. However, they have wobbled a bit in recent weeks while we have shown that we are comfortable going away to tough places and picking up victories if we get our attack and defence spot on.”
Promoted after storming to the National Two South title last season, the Foresters have enjoyed a mixed return to National One. They are currently ninth in the table with six wins and a draw from their 13 games. During November they drew with league leaders Blackheath 22-22 and secured an impressive 38-31 away Caldy, but have lost their last two games - to Bishop’s Stortford (11-0) and in their most recent outing last Saturday at Rotherham they went down 22-3.
While Howard is delighted by Elthamians’ progress so far this season, he insists there is still room for improvement. “There are always areas to improve upon,” he said. “I’m still, and probably always will be, looking for slight improvements in our attacking play, specifically reloading into good positions off-phase play, and getting into good defensive positions quicker.
“We also have one of the most mobile packs in the division so naturally at times you are going to struggle at scrum time, but as long as we can win our own ball and not give too many penalties away I’m happy. For the most part over the last few weeks this has been the case.”
Significantly, Elthamians are averaging four points a game more than at the same stage last season while conceding three points less, and in a division as tight as National One is this season, the seven-point turnaround has proved crucial in grinding out victories in tight games. “I think we’ve become used to the league and fully understand what it takes to win games in it,” Howard said. “Yes, we’ve won games this season we would probably have lost last term. I think it helps that we have been able to put out a pretty consistent team over the last few weeks and the players fully understand each other.
"It’s pretty amazing that only three of Saturday’s starting line-up weren’t with us two years ago when we won promotion from National Two South. In fact, I think we are probably the only side in the top five that regularly fields a line-up with a dozen of the starting side from two years ago.”
Updated 12:09 - 12 Dec 2018 by Jon Edwards