Lions Show Character to Overcome Difficult Conditions and Progress to Cup Semi-Final
Unbeaten Streak and Cup run continue
Despite sub-zero temperatures and a dusting of snow it was decided that the Lions cup quarter-final must go ahead and the Lions travelled with a full squad to Cinderford Colts.
The coaches arrived to be told that the pitch had been narrowed due to some phantom waterlogging, which wasn’t easily apparent as the playing surface seemed equally boggy once the match got going. If I was cynical I would suggest that the home team had spoken to the other Cinderford team (who we have played twice this season) and been told that we like to attack down the wings and had then arrived early to mark out a nice narrow pitch to force everyone into the middle. But I’m not suggesting that is what happened ;-) . In any case, the Lions were still enthusiastic to get going in this quarter final and the dedicated fans had braved the snow and biting wind to follow their team.
The Lions started with Luca having the unenviable task of playing in goal in the freezing weather, Dylan at centre back, Harry and Thomas looking to exploit the non-existent space down the flanks, George F marshalling the game in the defensive midfield role, George E looking to break forward from an advanced midfield role, and Olly in the lone striker role. Noah, Louis and Hugh were all trying to keep warm on the sidelines and were ready to be thrown into action.
The pattern of play that was apparent from kick off was that Cinderford were going to get men behind the ball and pack the defence. The Lions immediately took control of possession and began to apply pressure to the opposition defence. When Cinderford did regain possession they tried to counter quickly by playing the long ball over the top of the Lions defence, but in the first 10 minutes or so they found Dylan and George F much too quick to clear the danger.
The first Lions chance came just 2 or 3 minutes into the match when George F got a solid header to a corner whipped in by Thomas, but the header flew just a foot or so over the bar. The Lions had signalled their intent and continued to force a number of corners throughout the half.
The next corner saw Dylan come within inches of opening the scoring when a close range shot clipped the outside of the post. The Cinderford keeper was their best player on the day and was certainly the busier of the two custodians as he was forced into 3 or 4 strong saves in the first 5 minutes, with the pick of the bunch being to deny George E who had a well struck shot plucked out of the top corner.
With just 2 or 3 minutes gone Olly had to sub off to put more layers on and Noah got his first taste of the action, slotting in at the back with Dylan pushing forward. The Lions kept things tight in defence with some vital tackles from George F and Noah to break up counter attacks and Harry and Thomas got up and down the flanks to support at both the attacking and defensive ends of the pitch. George E was running hard to try and create space in the middle and Dylan was now playing further forward to support the attacks. Luca was largely a spectator in the opening period, just having to rush off his line once to gather the ball in the opening 10 minutes or so.
Cinderford had some vocal support from the side-lines during the opening few minutes, but it wasn’t long until they were drowned out by the energetic (if slightly cold) Lions supporters.
The Lions continued to attack but found space at a premium as Cinderford pulled 5 men back into the box every time the lions attacked in the first half. Louis and Hugh had joined the action by this point and made their presence felt. Louis was able to get stuck into the midfield action, using his strength in the congested midfield third and Hugh was alert in keeping those long balls over the top at bay with some excellent clearances and strong tackles.
With around 15 minutes played the Lions came close again when two powerful runs by Harry down the right flank saw him shoot inches wide of the post twice in quick succession. A couple of minutes later Olly forced the Cinderford keeper into action once again with a well-struck shot from the edge of the box. The Lions were now racking up the shots but were still not quite able to get the decisive breakthrough despite dominating possession and territory.
With 5 minutes to play before half time Cinderford managed to get the first goal of the day completely against the run of play. Another long ball forward on the counter attack bounced through the Lions defence to leave the Cinderford forward one-on-one with Luca. Luca came off his line but could do little about the finish which found the back of the net from the edge of the box before he had chance to get close enough to make the block. 1-0 to Cinderford with the Lions players in disbelief. What happened for the rest of the game from this point onwards is a testament to the Lions players’ character and belief as not once was there ever an indication that conceding this goal had knocked them off their gameplan.
A few more minutes of the Lions camped in the Cinderford half saw a couple more chances but as the half time whistle blew it remained 1-0 to Cinderford.
The half time team talk was focused around simply sticking to the Lions brand of football and keeping the attacking play going as it was clear that the chances would come. The Lions were sent out for the second half with the unfamiliar task of having to come from behind in a match, but it never fazed the boys as they set straight about getting on the ball and attacking the Cinderford goal.
It appeared that Cinderford were now happy to play for their 3rd consecutive 1-0 result in the cup and adjusted their formation from 5-0-1 to 6-0-0 with their entire team spending most of the half in their own box. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Lions probably had at least 95% of the possession and territory in this second half and it resembled an attack vs. defence training session at times.
It was all one-way traffic from the kick off with the Lions keeping hold of possession with some crisp passing play. Within a couple of minutes the Lions had signalled their intent in this second half when Harry D played Thomas through and Thomas curled a well-struck effort onto the outside of the post.
Over the next 5 minutes or so the Lions continued to attack in numbers but found the 6 man wall of players in the box difficult to get around and the Cinderford keeper having an excellent game.
With around 10 minutes played in the second half and just as we were wondering if it was going to be ‘one of those days’ the Lions got a deserved equaliser through the reliable rocket that is Harry’s right boot. An excellent through ball was played in behind the defence and Harry was on to the ball quickly and smashed a first time shot across the keeper into the far top corner of the goal. 1-1 with the Lions back on terms and with around 15 minutes left to build upon this equaliser.
The rare Cinderford attacks in this second half largely consisted of their keeper kicking the ball as far down the pitch as he could in the hope that someone would chase it and almost every time this happened George F or Dylan was there to gather the ball and start the next wave of attack. One particular long clearance saw the ball descend from the clouds to be killed instantly on his instep by Dylan, with a touch which would have Messi applauding. The one time that Cinderford mounted any kind of meaningful attack saw Luca come off his line smartly to gather the ball on the edge of his box.
As we entered the last 10 minutes the Cinderford defensive line had retreated virtually on to their goal line and there were a number of goal-nouth scrambles with the ball bouncing around the box with Olly and George F both looking like they had the ball in the net only for it hit a defender stood on the line. Cinderford didn’t look like they were going to get the ball, never mind score in the last 10 minutes and it seemed that they were happy to play for penalties.
With around 90 seconds left the Lions broke Cinderford hearts and proved that they never give up and keep playing their game until the end. With the Lions in complete control but the coaches starting to think about the lottery that is a penalty shoot-out the boys got themselves ahead for the first time in the game. Thomas picked the ball up in midfield and played a defence splitting pass to George E who was bursting into the box. George made no mistake and powered the ball past the keeper into the roof of the net to send the Southside supporters, players and coaches into wild celebration. 2-1 to the Lions with just 90 seconds left in the match and a Semi-Final place beckoning.
Cinderford kicked off with a minute or so to go and had to attack in the hope of a last ditch equaliser, but were dispossessed almost immediately by a combination of George F and Dylan in the centre of midfield.
With the Lions in possession of the ball and the clock running down some teams would have taken the ball to the corner flag to run down the remaining seconds, but the Lions decided to score another goal instead! Thomas picked the ball up just inside the opposition half and with Cinderford having pushed men forward he was able to pick out Olly (who was now playing in 2 layers of skins, a shirt, a bib, and hoodie with the hood up and hat over the top – it’s fair to say he doesn’t like cold weather!) in space with another pinpoint through ball. Olly was one on one with the keeper and calmly rolled the ball past the advancing keeper and into the goal. A calm finish by Olly and a 2nd assist for Thomas in as many minutes. This made it 3-1 to the Lions, a score which probably still flattered Cinderford, and this goal was the last action of the game with the referee blowing up for full time.
It was impossible to pick just one man of the match this week as the entire team showed their character and patience to work their way back after the setback of going behind in the first half, and so they all deserve a special mention.
Luca - had a quiet day but managed to avoid hypothermia in goal and was alert on the few occasions he was called upon.
Dylan – again proved to be equally adept in defence and midfield. Used his pace to deal with those balls over the top in the first half and always looked to turn defence into attack in the 2nd half by carrying the ball forward at every opportunity.
Noah – kept hold of his man well in defence, not just in making tackles and clearances but also looked to pick out the right pass when he had the time to do so. Also put in a good stint in midfield and linked attack and defence well.
Hugh – as ever was a strong defensive presence and anyone who was tackled by him certainly knew about it. A couple of calm passes down the line when under pressure and a couple of clearances that almost went into orbit.
Louis – mainly played in midfield during this match and the congested midfield area seemed to suit him as he was able to use his physical strength and break up attacks with strong tackling. Is becoming increasingly confident in looking to pick out a pass.
George F – I say this every week but he was simply everywhere. Seems to glide across the pitch and is rarely, if ever, beaten for pace or strength. Was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with an early header but remained the calming presence at the spine of the team throughout and his passing was deadly accurate.
Harry D – despatched a rocket for the vital equalising goal and got up and down his flank all day long. The narrow pitch and resulting lack of space to run in to didn’t help today but he always wanted the ball and looked to make things happen.
Thomas – Was a nightmare to mark today as he seems to be able to cut in/out with either foot in an instant. Was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet himself but showed his teamwork and unselfishness today by laying the ball off to those in better positions for both the 2nd and 3rd goals.
George E – would have probably liked a wider pitch to allow him more room to take players on but he still managed to be a constant threat going forward and created a number of chances for others. Remained calm late on to fire in the goal which gave the Lions the lead.
Olly – clearly not a fan of the cold weather and also had to contend with having 5 or 6 defenders in the box with him for most of the match. But he kept the defenders under pressure during the second half to contribute to the team’s comeback and slotted home a calm finish with the last kick of the game.
With this result the Lions move on to a Semi-final against the other Cinderford team who we will meet for the 3rd time this season.
Captain – George F
Goals – Harry, George E, Olly
Assists – Thomas x2
Men-of-the-match – The Entire Lions squad!