After back to back defeats, there’s nothing better than a cup game to mix things up. With the first team not playing, to mark Adam Steele’s big day, Slade had Victoria Rec all to themselves, as they welcomed Ditchling FC in the opening round of the Malin Cup.
After a comprehensive defeat last week against effective outfit, Fletching, Slade had to change their perspective somewhat. We have, since the opening weekend, enjoyed strong squads, but with a lot of new players playing together for the first time this season, it was clear there was time needed to gel the squad together. A couple cup games would go a long way helping that happen. Another strong squad this week saw the return of big bear Westgate return between the sticks bringing to an end of a period of 3 games being covered by Tom Bendall and Rob Ingham. With the return of Ryan Petto, and a sterling performance last week from Tom Bendall, there was a slight reshuffle at the back with Jordan Nicholls being trialled out on the right, and Nick Samuels out on the left. Slade returned back to the 4-4-2 which saw a win in the opening weekend, with Tai and Hornsby continuing in the middle, with Kornelius returning successfully after a knock last week, and Andre Neto switching over to the left hand side. The biggest bonus this weekend was the return of Genardo Campbell after a groin niggle, and Jon Stubbs. A strong bench of Tom Hillier, Ben Williams and Mark Sanders, with Rob Ingham making a 4th. With the absence of Dougal Tyrie, Big Bear Westgate took the armband.
Ditchling reserves, league opposition of three seasons ago, were now operating in the league below, so far with one win and two defeats. A 1-1 draw away that season, with a comfortable 4-1 win at home, showed that fortune favoured the home side. The players went through their motions, still a little underwhelming in the warm up (despite Petto pinging a shot into the top corner from 35 yards), but things got very serious in the pre-match chat. So far we have not operated well in our performances, so there was a real hope that all of us were going to increase our energy levels, and quality. Use a much bigger pitch to our advantage, move the opposition around, start to string some passing play around. From the kick off, the play was decidedly scrappy, with either side making too many inroads into the box. With the opening 15 mins through, there was a strong indication that our visitors would fail to live with our quality for 90 mins. Ditchling were nervous in possession, and being closed down well and forced into mistakes, so you may be surprised that it would be Ditchling that scored the opening goal. Once again, it would be a set piece that would go on and be our Achilles heel, as a corner from the left was half cleared, and despite some strong claims of handball, the Ditchling striker swivelled and struck into the bottom corner. GOAL 0-1.
Rest assured, that was a very frustrating goal to concede, which was clearly illustrated by captain Westgate. One down again, we’d have to pull our socks up and get our act together. As the half wore on, Slade continued to work into the game, looking the much likely to score. Slade forced a series of corners, which were causing a lot of trouble, but it would be a Campbell cross which would break through, after some pinball action after a blocked Hornsby shot, it would be Stubbs who would be on hand to get the ball over the line, in an unorthodox method, almost flicking from behind. GOAL 1-1.
A well-deserved equaliser, and hopefully a big help in settling the home side down. Slade were continuing to look tidy, keeping a strong shape, making life ultimately difficult for Ditchling. However, just as in the first half, a second Ditchling goal arrived out of nowhere. After play broke down in the opposition half, Ditchling executed a swift counter attack, with the Ditchling danger man threading the ball through the eye of a needle into the path of the diminutive winger. After a good first touch, the ball was nothing more than guided into the bottom corner for a tidy finish. GOAL 1-2.
Once again, playing catch up. Slade caught out by two pretty ugly sucker punches, and heading towards half time, behind. There was no doubt of who was the better team, but fair to say that we were not putting our best game together. Slade continued to push on for an equaliser, with a Hornsby header too close to the keeper, followed up by a good shot from the edge of the box, which was also dealt with by the young stopper. Nick Samuels was linking up well with Neto on the Slade left, and was doing his bit to drive the team into the opposition half. Unfortunately Slade were dealt another untimely blow, as Campbell reached impasse with the man in charge, and was the first Slade player to leave the pitch to the sin bin. This essentially took us into half time, 10 men and 2-1 down.
Despite the scenario, there was little reason to be alarmed. If the game continued in this vein, and we avoided any further problems with conceding goals, then the group was confident that we would be able to recover and win the game inside the distance. That being said, we still really needed to be better in possession, use the size of the pitch, and make the most of the space available. We would of course have to manage the opening 10 minutes of the second half with only 10 men. Stubbs continued as the lone man, with the likes of Neto and Plouti in support.
The second half continued as the first ended, with Slade in control. In fact, Ditchling were struggling to have any real impact in the Slade half, with their strikers becoming deeper and deeper. Slade forays were a little on the frustrating side as we were not converting good positions or pressure into meaningful activity. Once Campbell returned to the field of play, with a very gracious apology to the ref, Slade were in complete control. Stubbs operating as an excellent target man to kicks forward, and Samuels and continuing to link up well with Neto, with Campbell using the extra rest to make the most of a vulnerable defence. Unfortunately, the visitor’s keeper was arguably their stand out player as he one after another was able to repel Slade advances, plucking balls out of the sky, throwing himself at loose balls, and pulling off two or three great stops. Petto was trying to replicate his pre-game smasher, but all his efforts were sent high into the stratosphere. Slade decided to make a series of changes, to bring a different dynamic to the game with Tom Hillier introduced for Cypriot Plouti, and Williams added in for Andre Neto. The introduction of Hillier almost resulted in the equaliser as he smashed from 30+ yards, which was expertly parried by the young keeper. Slade continued to press for an equaliser, and with things getting a little on the anxious side, it would be a moment of football genius that would bring us level. Tai with perhaps a little too much time in the middle of the park, was able to pick out Plouti’s run from a clever run with a blind pass, as the pocket-sized Cypriot able to expertly flick past the Ditchling keeper. GOAL 2-2!
So on level terms, and now one man to the good. In essence it was all Slade, but could we find a winner before 90 minutes? In short – no. Despite our best efforts, Slade continued to frustrate themselves, and the game ran out to full time all square. This meant extra time. Ditchling added fresh legs to the pitch, but their 12th player really failed to have any impact on the game. With Hiller on the pitch, and Samuels now operating in a more advanced role, meant that Slade continued to punish their tiring opposition. It would be a moment of controversy which would change the dynamic of the game, and push the home side ahead. A ball was sent over the top, and it was a straight race between Campbell and the young Ditchling keeper. Fair to say the young stopper lost the race as Campbell half volleyed over the keeper goalward, only to be taken out in the process. After some deliberation, the referee revealed the red card and sent the young man on his way. Just add insult to injury, the referee also pointed to the spot. Two things; not a red card. Under the new rules, even if last man, if the player makes an effort for the ball, it’s a yellow card. Secondly, the collision occurred outside the box (so I’m told). Harsh, but fortune favours the home side. After Neto’s debacle last week, spot kick duties were returned to Stubbs. Now to say this spot kick was the polar opposite of Neto’s probably gives the strike a disservice. The strike brought the term net buster to a brand new level, and it was smashed into the top corner, dislodging the net in the process! GOAL 3-2!
Things unfortunately only got worse for the visitors as the introduction of Hiller turned out to be the final nail in the coffin. To start off, and after being thwarted by a smart stop by the keeper, second time’s a charm as another strike from similar position, Hiller was able to beat the replacement keeper, scoring from 35 yards. GOAL 4-2. Hillier was not done there though, as once again a break on the left, this time fronted by Samuels as he laid a cross up to the back post, where Hillier dispatched a perfect volley past a pretty helpless keeper. GOAL 5-2.
Game over, and nothing much more to say. Only a late addition of Mark Sanders in for a tired Horsnby before the referee could blow for full time. Full time 5-2. Truth be told, the quality shone through by the end, and Slade progress into the second round, where they will face old rivals, Willingdon. Still much more expected from performance levels, but a hope this is very much a step in the right direction. Man of the match this week is a little tougher when there are more goals go in the right end, but one person was pretty much in the thick of all things defensive and attacking. Nick Samuel, playing in his less than preferable full back position, showing the kind of form last season which won him manager’s player of the season. Using his masses of strength, go-go gadget legs, and an uncompromising engine room, he was busting up the Ditchling wingers with great tackles before driving up the pitch with bundling power, and with a little more composure, would have resulted in a few extra goals.
Next week, Slade return to league action as they look to carry momentum from an encouraging win against winless Polegate who have so far not had a great time of it, although were only very closely ousted out 5-4 in their previous game.
Updated 13:37 - 10 Oct 2017 by Rob Ingham