Lions Overcome Early Setback With Stellar Performance to Progress to U10 Cup Final
Next Up: The ‘Wembley of the Cotswolds’!
This Saturday saw the Lions meet Cinderford Town for the 3rd time this season with a place in the Under 10 Cup-Final at stake. Whilst the Lions had been successful in both previous meetings the most recent meeting had seen the Lions emerge victorious by a single goal and the boys knew that this would be perhaps their toughest test of the season.
With Hugh unavailable this week the Lions had a squad of 9 to call upon with every one vital to a game which was to go down to the wire. The Lions started with Luca in goal, Dylan at centre-back, Thomas and Harry in the demanding wing-back roles, George F protecting the defence in the centre of midfield, George E playing in the advanced midfield role and Olly as the lone striker. Noah and Louis were eagerly anticipating getting involved in the action from the bench.
It is widely known who Cinderford’s 2 key danger men are and it was clear that Dylan, George F and Noah were going to have their hands full in this particular match. However, never daunted by a challenge, the Lions were in good spirits prior to kick-off.
As the match started it was clear that Cinderford were looking to pile the pressure on to the Lions early in the game to keep the ball in the Lions half. This pressure told after just a couple of minutes when the dangerous, if at times slightly stroppy, Cinderford striker found a rare gap in the Lions defence to put the ball past Luca from close range. The Lions now found themselves 1-0 down right at the start of the match before the game had really settled into any kind of rhythm.
If the Cinderford players and coaches were expecting this early goal to knock the Lions’ confidence they were mistaken as if anything this early goal galvanised the Lions players and they put in one of their best team performances over the remainder of the game.
The Lions took the restart and continued to play their brand of football, not letting the early goal affect this in any way. From the restart Harry and Thomas ran hard down the wings and Olly and George E set about looking for space in and around the box. As the Lions started to have more joy going forward some of the behaviour from the sidelines began to change as one of the Cinderford ‘supporters’ started screaming at the referee, the Southside players and jumping up and down and waving her arms around for seemingly every tackle. Unfortunately this continued for virtually the rest of the match despite the fact that the referee seemed to be doing a decent job and the fouls that did occur were relatively even on both sides and were clumsy rather than malicious. Whilst this did upset some of the players they still stuck to their task and continued to block this out and play their football. This once again showed the character of the Lions and showed us how lucky we are with the attitude to football we have fostered at Southside.
Anyway, back to the action on the pitch. As the first half progressed the Lions began to take charge as they enjoyed more and more possession and dealt well with the counter attacks as Dylan and George F did a superb job in keeping any forward movement by Cinderford at bay. The Lions reacted to the early goal by testing the keeper with a number of shots from distance over the next few minutes, with Harry, Thomas and Dylan all going close.
With around 10 minutes played the Lions carved out their first clear cut-chance of the match with some excellent team movement and link up play. Another Cinderford attack was broken up by George F who got the ball forward early to Olly. Olly was able to beat the first defender and play the ball into George E who had found space on the edge of the box. George hit a powerful shot which flew just over the bar, but the Lions had put Cinderford on notice that they were edging closer to the all-important equaliser.
The Lions didn’t have to wait too much longer to get themselves back on level terms, and the equaliser came with around 15 minutes of the first half played. Harry picked the ball up on the right wing and cut inside his man and was charging towards the box. As Harry advanced towards the defenders Olly had peeled away from his man and found space on the left hand side of the penalty area. Harry spotted Olly and played an inch-perfect ball between the two defenders and to Olly’s feet. Olly got the ball under control and smashed a right-footed shot past the Cinderford keeper and into the top left hand corner of the goal. 1-1 10 minutes before half-time with the Lions now having the momentum in the match.
Noah and Louis came on shortly after this with Olly and Thomas taking a well-deserved break before half time. Dylan now shifted forward onto the left flank and Noah took over where Dylan had left off, doing an excellent job of keeping hold of the Cinderford striker. Louis got stuck into the battle in midfield and made vital tackles and interceptions leading up to half time.
Luca hadn’t had a massive amount to do since the early goal but had kept his concentration and got his fingertips to a cross-come-shot in the final moments of the half to divert to ball out for a throw in.
The whistle went for half-time with the Lions now level and having the larger share of possession and territory. The boys knew that they were in a battle to secure a place in the final, but as usual after a quick drink they were eager to get back out there and finish the job.
The Lions stepped up their game even further in the second period and spent most of the half on the attack in the Cinderford half. The boys continued to play some excellent tem football with Noah, Dylan and George F all taking stints in defence and keeping the Cinderford counter-attacks at bay. Luca remained alert and was off his line quickly to gather the ball early in the half. Thomas and Harry D continued to get up and down the flanks and look to create chances and Louis demonstrated some tough tackling and always looked to pass forward and start the next attack. George E and Olly continued to look to stretch the opposition defence and showed some excellent link up play in the attacking third.
The Lions showed excellent commitment to the task in the second half which was typified by George E who whilst lying face down after a tackle stretched every muscle to head the ball out for a throw in. Olly was also covering a lot of ground for the team as on a number of occasions he tracked all the way back to cover short corners. George F was consistently frustrating the Cinderford striker throughout the game, with the most prominent example being when the striker who was almost twice George’s size tried and failed to outmuscle George to get the ball.
The Lions were dominating possession and territory and piling the pressure on the Cinderford and got their reward roughly 15 minutes into the second half. After good work down the flank by Harry D Olly fired in a shot from the edge of the box which was parried by the keeper out to one of the defenders. The defender’s clearance fell at Thomas’ feet a few yards outside the box and he took a couple of steps before calmly curling the ball past the keeper from the edge of the box to complete the Lions comeback and give them a vital lead with just 10 minutes left to play.
The Lions were filled with confidence after this goal and could have stretched their lead in the next couple of minutes. Firstly Olly got on the end of a fine cross by Thomas but sliced just wide at the back post (which was met by rather loud unsportsmanlike cheers by one of the Cinderford supporters who Olly described afterwards as ‘that crazy lady’). Then just moments later Thomas whipped in a superb corner, which looked as if it may curl in at the back post, which George E threw himself at but somehow the ball evaded both the back post and George’s attempted diving header by millimetres finding an almost impossible gap.
Whilst the Lions could feel that they had clearly been the better team in this second half the scoreline was still close and Cinderford went into the last few minutes still looking to equaliser on the counter attack. During the last few minutes they did manage to carve out a couple of chances but found Luca in superb form. Firstly, the tricky Cinderford midfielder, whose small stature was compensated for by his excellent footwork, was able to find a gap through the Lions defence to play an attacker in leaving Luca one-on-one. As the Lions players, coaches and supporters’ hearts all took up residence in their mouths Luca rushed off his line to make an excellent save and divert the ball wide with his knees.
Luca’s final save of the match was even more impressive. The Cinderford striker, who has demonstrated his long range prowess at various points over the last couple of seasons, let fly with a thunderbolt of a shot from a long way out which was dipping just under the bar when Luca got a fingertip to it to touch it on to the bar and was the able to gather the rebound. An equaliser at this point would have been harsh considering the dominant Lions performance in the second half, but the Lions came through this 2 minute spell with their lead intact with just a couple of minutes left to play.
With the clock running down and around 30 seconds left to play Cinderford looked to stage one final attack, when something very bizzare happened. Our striker, who often treats the defensive third of the pitch as if it is made of lava :-) , flew past the coaches in an orange-headed blur to join the defensive effort and Olly then made vital block in his own box with just a few seconds remaining. I did ask him about this uncharacteristic charge back into defence after the game and he told me – with a beaming smile - that he was just thinking about playing at Cheltenham Town, and that it worked!
The team ethic shown on Saturday was in evidence late into the match when Louis was smiling even when subbed off near the end of the game!
The whistle blew shortly afterwards with the Lions running out deserved 2-1 winners. Whilst it could be argued the scoreline could have been wider in the Lions favour the key thing was that the Lions, as always, had got the job done and more impressively they had come from behind to do it.
Every single player was incredible on the day and they could all justifiably have been given man-of-the-match, however, Luca got the nod this week for some vital saves at key moments of the match. A special mention has to go to Harry who was due to leave on his rugby tour at 8am Saturday morning, but made special arrangements to join up with his team later in the afternoon so that he could play in the semi-final.
The boys all thoroughly deserved the win after facing challenges both on the pitch and from some less than encouraging comments coming from the Cinderford sidelines and as coaches we are massively proud of both the football and the attitudes of the boys in those circumstances. Once again a massive thanks to everyone who came out to support the boys, it means a massive amount to both the players and to myself and Dan, and you all demonstrated exactly how parents should behave when supporting their children at sport. We now look forward to that same support for the final at ‘the Wembley of the Cotswolds’, aka Cheltenham Town FC, on Sunday 29th April.
Captain – George F
Goals – Olly, Thomas
Assist – Harry D
Man-of-the-match – Luca