MagicMan looks on at not so magic performance
So we have got the manager, we got ourselves a new ground to play our home games, we even bagged ourselves our first win of the season, against high flying Championship side Lancing in the cup last week. All we need now is a brand spanking new home kit to make the transition from the back end of last season, to fully in gear and to take the Mid-Sussex Football League by storm! Well with a little bit of help from local company, MagicMan®, and some master negotiation skills from last season’s clubman, Mark Sanders, the club were able to debut their latest in sexy match day attire. Portslade Athletic were pleased to welcome Hurstpierpoint to Old Barn Way in the latest match week in Mid-Sussex Division One.
Slade were stepping in to a fixture for the first time this season off the back of a win, and boy was it a good one. To be able to wear a new kit, and play in glorious sunshine in the home surroundings of Southwick, meant it was all set to be a great day. Nevertheless, lest not forget, there was a very important football fixture which needed our full attention. Hurstpierpoint were flying high prior to kick off in third spot, despite narrowly losing twice in their last two fixtures, but by no means shy in front of goal, already finding the net 19 times in 6 games. With Slade picking up the most unlikely of wins against third spot in the Championship, there was absolutely no reason why the performance could not be repeated.
Despite winning, last week saw Slade pick up a whole host of knocks and injuries, first losing Ben Graves in the opening quarter hour, and Charlie Brown hobbling off with a hamstring injury around the hour mark. Graves was able to recover well, and Captain Dan Rahaman recovered from a mysterious injury in the warm up against Ridgewood the week before, but Brown unable to shake the hamstring problem, which had plagued him last week. Slade were able to almost line up with the exact same starting line-up as last week, with Adrian Bajka continuing in his good form between the sticks, with a flat back four of Sol Coghlan, Dan Rahaman ©, Jordan Nicholls and the ever faithful Mark Sanders. Slade opted to keep to the winning formula of three in midfield of Neil ‘Bison’ Shelley, Joe Pickles and Ben Graves. With Charlie Brown bowing out from the team in the warm up, Kornelius Plouti was rewarded with his good performance last week with a start, joined by two goal hero Nick Samuels and Pole, Patryk Popczyk. Slade boasted possibly their strongest bench in their history, with no less than seven players available, and in kit. Of course, that may have had something to do with the squad photo taking place that afternoon, but once the dust settled, Rob Ingham, Paulo Segatto and the returning Harry Smith took up bench warming duties.
There was a bit of a carnival atmosphere before the game, with the inevitable excitement of the new kit and lots of faces in the stands. Manager Larkham took little time in bringing the lads back down to earth, and get minds re-focussed on the challenge ahead. There was always a risk that the opposition could underestimate us, as Lancing did last week, but not something we could bank on. There was an expectation that our desire and application would at least match that of last week. Early indications from the visitors warm up. They were not taking this game lightly.
From kick off, Hurstpierpoint were straight to the point, pushing up the pitch looking to test the defence early doors. After an early scare, which Bajka was able to beat away well, Slade eventually settled into their game, which was to operate in a high tempo off the ball, and turnover possession quickly. Unfortunately, this was a ploy being adopted by the visitors also, which made for a frantic opening quarter hour. Despite Slade having some luck in winning possession, we had no ability to hold on to the ball for long periods. Passes were off target, hanging on to the ball too long, and ultimately making it far too easy for Husterpierpoint to win back possession. It would be then to little surprise when today’s visitors took an early lead. After possession broke down in the Slade midfield, Hurstpierpoint were quickly on the Slade defence, a well-timed pass later, and then a well struck shot down to Bajka’s right. GOAL 0-1.
Not the start which the hosts wanted, especially in a new kit and in front of a bumper crowd, but there was no time to dwell as there was much of the game to go, and today’s opposition visibly up for it. The early goal served to fill Hurstpierpoint with confidence as they began to stroke the ball around the pitch, and winning their 50:50’s. Unfortunately, this was not something Slade could match, and they were soon 2-0 down. Not too dissimilar to the first goal, some sloppy possession in the middle of the park, meant that the visitors were able to come on quickly to a under pressure defence, and another decisive finish. GOAL 0-2.
Opening quarter hour was a real worry, as Hurstpierpoint were dominating in all areas. Their striking duo, number 9 and 16 were giving the defence all kinds of problems with their movement. Coming deep, on the last man, pulling wide, at times pulling the defence inside and out. The wing backs were pushing up the pitch, pulling the Slade attacking wingers deeper, meaning they had a long way to travel to support a lonesome Samuels. The midfield trio or Bison, Graves and Pickles were working very hard to try cover the space, but in possession they were soon swamped with little support around. Popczyk and Plouti were trying their best to get the ball up the wings, but quality in key areas was really suffering, as crosses in good positions regularly found their way out of play. Slade were dealt a lifeline opportunity, as a great run by Graves in the left channel was found by Popczyk, but despite a good first touch, the shot hits the side netting, when perhaps a shot across goal was perhaps the better option. The game continued in the same vein, with Hurstpierpoint making short work of Slade XI, moving the ball well down both flanks, and getting shots off from good positions. Credit to the home side, they never let their heads drop, and continued to work as hard as possible, and Bajka equal to anything thrown at him, it was hopeful that we could make it to half time only two goals down, and reset in the dressing room for the second half. Unfortunately some sloppy play gave the visitors their chance for a third goal, which they duly took. Bajka swept up a loose ball, and rolled out to the free Popczyk, but his intention to turn his defender failed, which turned the loose ball back onto the defence, which was crossed and coolly placed into the goal. GOAL 0-3.
I think at 2-0 we go into the break thinking there’s still a lot to gain from the game. At 3-0, it would require a monumental effort. The players trudged into the changing room perhaps a little lucky it was only three, and with very little to lose in the second half. There was talk before the game about applying the same kind of intensity of enthusiasm of last week, but it was just far too easy for the visitors to play their game. It was expected (or at least hoped) that the opposition would eventually tire, with such a high paced tempo, and as the game wore on, and providing we could keep things tight, a goal might all of a sudden change the momentum of the tie. Larkham opted to make some early changes, with Sanders bowing out, Ingham coming in, and reverting to a back three. The number’s 9 and 16 were causing their fair share of problems, so the plan was to try mark them out of the game, and grow into the tie by keeping things tight at the back.
The second half kicked off in a bit of a lull, but with the visitors still very much in control. But it did mean with a back three, that the wing backs were pushed up the pitch, and leaving acres of space on the flanks, which Hurstpierpoint were making good use of. A lot of the joy for the visitors was coming down their left, with the tricky winger making good use of the space and getting good crosses in. The man marking of the number 9 and 16 was not working entirely as well as hoped, but keeping them at bay for the meantime anyway. With the score unchanged, Slade were dealt a further blow with Slade’s dynamic midfielder Pickles feeling the pace, and perhaps not feeling 100% stepping out, with Segatto coming on. The Italian dropped into the back three, with Ingham stepping into midfield. The pattern of the game was frantic defending and adaptation at one end of the pitch, whilst trying to get the ball proactively up the other end. The ball was turned over quite quickly when reaching the wings, which did leave the team a little exposed, but some small links of play did start to look a little more promising. Some enterprising play which saw the ball get into the final third drew a couple free kicks in key areas and a couple corners, and it would be from one of these corners which Slade would claw their way back into the game. A good cross from captain Rahaman was never entirely cleared by the Hurstpierpoint defence, and there was an element of luck as the loose ball sit up well for a well-placed Samuels to sweep home from 6 yards, to score his 3rd goal in two games. GOAL 1-3!
All of a sudden tails up, and back into the game? It was imperative from this point that Slade continued to keep things tight, and spent the next 10-15 minutes working hard to keep any pressure onto the visitors. There was no doubt that Hurstpierpoint were up to the challenge and stuck to their guns, trying to move the ball across the pitch, and utilising the wings, but Slade were starting to find a way to nullify the wing play, and begin to string some passages of play together themselves. Unfortunately, despite all the best efforts, Slade presented the visitors the best opportunity to regain the 3-goal advantage, and ultimately push the game to its conclusion. A ball down the Slade right hand side of the channel was tracked by Bison, and despite it looking like the ball was running away from goal, a tired lunge for the ball was mis-timed, and the striker went tumbling to the deck, and Hurstpierpoint awarded a penalty. The striker needed little invitation to, and stroked the ball home. GOAL 1-4.
It was probably the final nail in the coffin, as far as getting anything from the game went, but pride still to play for. In honesty, it is the first time the team has conceded 4 goals, and today’s opposition will probably be up towards the top of the table at the end of the season, and did look like an outfit which had played together for some time. The game petered out to a close with no further goals, but only really because of the athleticism and agility of our new young stopper. Bajka was on hand to repel some excellent efforts, which may well have found the goal with someone else in the gloves, and in the end, keeping the final score, to some degree respectable. Full time 1-4.
Okay so not the best end to a good day, but certainly football lessons learnt for next week. This might be a rhetoric which is bounced around a lot this season, but a lot of new faces, even a couple millennials, means it might be some time before this club hits its absolute best form. But I remember a certain undefeated season, which was off the back of believing in a squad of young players. We have to come through this journey together, keep being at training every week, and a squad sticking together on match days. If we do that, I promise, our time will come.
Today’s man of the match, where there were perhaps more slim pickings than last week, was awarded to a boy, come man, Adrian Bajka. With his one month old looking on, he pulled off save after save, never dropped focus or concentration, in particular in the second half when the game could have got away from us, as he pulled off two top drawer saves. Well done Adrian.
Next week we are back on the road against the campaigns opener, in Ansty Sports & Social. That game finished in a tight 1-0 defeat, with Ansty converting from their only real chance of the game. They have experienced an improvement in form from a slow start which included a 5-3 win to today’s victors, so a game Slade will have to be well up for.
With the Premier League returning after yet another international break, fantasy points were at a premium after key players were to some degree goal shy, but then tell that to Charlie Browns lot, as a late Aubameyang brace bagged him 12 points, and closed the gap to top spot, Ben Graves, to all of 12 points. Big movers of the week was Jake Hayward who bagged 69 points, and rocketed 6th up to 4th. Still much of the season to go, and an afternoon of free drinks still very much on the cards! Liverpool at home to Cardiff could well be the fixture, where goal grabbing could be on the cards!
- Ben Graves 512
- Charlie Brown 500
- Charlie Joergensen 491
- Jake Hayward 481
- Steve Mould 481