Lions Stretch Unbeaten Run to 18 games (and Almost 11 Months) After High Scoring Draw
Lions 5-5 Swindon Village Bowmen
The Lions returned to League action on Saturday for their first competitive 9v9 match with the offside rule now in play. There was also a slight shock when the coaches checked the pitch on Friday afternoon and found that the goals were 21x7 instead of 16x7 (which contributed to the glut of goals) and had to hastily arrange the loan of bigger nets.
With Harry D out due to injury and Hugh unavailable the Lions had recruited a couple of new players to bolster the Lions squad in Nina and Harry C, with both thrown into the match-day squad straight away for a re-match of last season’s under 10 cup final against Swindon Village.
The Lions lined up with a 2-1-3-1-1 formation with Luca in goal, Louis and Noah partnered in defence and George F sitting in his usual deep lying midfield role. Freddie made his competitive debut in the centre of midfield and was flanked by Thomas on the left wing and Dylan on the right side. George E started in the number 10 role with Olly at the point of the attack. Nina and Harry started on the bench, eagerly awaiting their first taste of action for the Lions.
The Lions started strongly, having most of the possession and finding joy down the flanks through Thomas and Dylan. The Lions enthusiasm to get back into action was clear to see as they put in a high energy performance in the first half.
George F was in celebratory mood as this first match took place on his Birthday, and he decided to celebrate by breaking the deadlock after around 10 minutes. With the Lions dominating the early exchanges the skipper picked the ball up in midfield and strode forward towards the edge of the box before letting fly with a low drive. The keeper got a hand to the strike but was unable to keep the ball out and George got his, and the Lions, first goal of the new season. 1-0 to the Lions just 10 minutes in.
The Lions continued to pile on the pressure and got their reward just a few minutes later as they doubled the lead. George F was involved again as he won possession back again just outside the Swindon Village box. He then squared the ball to Dylan who hit a powerful strike from a few yards outside the area which found the inside of the far post before nestling in the back of the net, giving the opposition keeper no chance. 2-0 to the Lions with Dylan also off the mark for the season.
With around 15 minutes played Harry C and Nina got their first taste of the action as they slotted into defence and midfield respectively. Whilst Swindon Village weren’t having much of the ball they looked to get forward when they could via a number of searching long balls, but they found Louis, Noah, Harry C, George F, Nina and Freddie all getting stuck into tackles to break up any attacking threat.
Over the next 8 or 9 minutes the Lions continued to lay siege to the Swindon Village goal area and were just millimetres from extending their lead further when some fine attacking build up by George E, Olly and Thomas saw the ball worked to Freddie just on the edge of the box. Freddie hit a dipping shot towards goal which looked in all the way until a last-minute fingertip from the keeper nudged it against the bar. This period of pressure also saw George E fire against the crossbar from a Lions corner. There were also a couple of excellent last-ditch tackles by opposition defenders when Olly looked to be through on goal.
With around 6 minutes to go until half time the Lions looked in total control and could feel a little unlucky not to be further ahead based upon the number of chances they had created. However, the game changed with a dramatic last few minutes of the first half.
Swindon Village decided to take notice of one especially vocal supporter and “play it long” in the last few minutes of the half and scored two goals in as many minutes through 2 hopeful long balls over the top which left Luca one-on-one. So after a dominant first half performance the Lions approached the break level and in some shock at the turn around.
Further disaster struck just seconds before half time when Swindon Village took the lead completely against the run of the first half play. Another hopeful ball forward bounced and was volleyed goalwards by the opposition striker, who sliced the shot and the ball skewed up in the air and, to the despair of the Lions players, coaches and supporters, somehow dipped under the bar and in.
As the whistle blew for half time the Lions found themselves 3-2 down despite dominating the play. However, with another half of football to play the Lions were confident that they could get themselves back into the game, and the 2nd half was certainly to provide plenty of drama!
The second half saw some minor tweaks in the team with Olly and George E swapping positions to place George at the point of the attack and drop Olly into the space between the opposition defence and midfield. This change seemed to have an almost immediate impact as Olly was able to exploit the space and draw a couple strong saves from the Swindon Village keeper in the first couple of minutes of the second half.
Despite this promising start to the second half, further disaster struck just 5 minutes into the second half when a speculative shot from distance by the Swindon Village attacker crept in at the far post to see the Lions 2 goals down. The Lions now found themselves 2 goals behind against Swindon Village despite being the better team – Cup Final deja-vu anyone???
This was clearly a setback, but as we have seen time and time again over the last 2 years the Lions are never afraid to battle back into a game and not once did their heads drop.
The Lions fightback was kicked into action by one of the Lions debutants when an inch perfect tackle by Harry C won back possession and set George E off into space. George was able to beat his man and found himself one-on-one with the keeper. George’s shot hit the post but rebounded out to Olly who had flown forward in support through the middle. Olly finished calmly with his left foot from around the penalty spot for his first goal of the new season. The Lions had pulled a goal back quickly to make it 3-4 and now had some momentum on the scoreboard.
With just over 10 minutes left the Lions dragged themselves level. A dangerous corner delivered by Thomas was met by George F. George saw his shot cleared off the line but Dylan was on hand to lash in the rebound from close range for his second goal of the day and the Lions Equaliser.
The Lions fightback had been built upon solid defensive foundations with Noah using his experience to lead the defence by example. Louis and Harry C had both used their strength in the tackle to snuff out threatening attacks, George F was a dominant presence in midfield and Nina was having a storming first game getting stuck in all over the pitch, with one especially important contribution when she got across to make a vital block at the back post to stop what looked like a certain goal. Luca was alert when called upon and put in a solid second half performance with a couple of strong saves. Olly was also thriving in the extra space the deeper role had given him after the break and was linking up the play well with some accurate passing. Dylan, Freddie and Thomas were continuing to get up and down in midfield to support at both ends of the pitch and George E was keeping the opposition defence busy up top.
With just four minutes left the Lions fightback was complete and it appeared that they had secured a come from behind victory when Freddie threaded a through ball through the eye of a needle to find George E’s perfectly timed run. George took the ball in his stride and was on-on-one with the keeper who had come flying off his line to meet George on the edge of the box. George kept his cool and the rolled the ball past the keeper into the empty goal to open his tally for the season and to put the Lions 5-4 ahead with 4 minutes left to play.
The Lions continued to battle to the end but there was to be late controversy with the last kick of the game.
With seemingly no time left the opposition linesman awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the Lions box when there didn’t actually appear to be a foul (this was also slightly controversial as the linesman isn’t allowed to make decisions on anything other than offside at this level). The opposition attacker found a path all the way through the crowd in the box to put the freekick into the back of the net to make it 5-5. The referee immediately blew for full time and the match was over.
The match definitely brought back memories of the last meeting with the Lions once again coming from 2 goals down to lead late on, only to be robbed of victory by an unlucky late goal. There was no penalty shoot-out to separate the teams this time so the points were shared after a high scoring game enabled by the bigger pitch and goals the size of small countries!
Although the Lions might have been slightly disappointed to concede so late on after their comeback from 2 goals down, the match showed a lot of positive signs for the season ahead with the Lions showing their character and adjusting seamlessly to the new game format.
All of the players gave their all and there were a number of strong candidates for player-of-the-match, especially after impressive performances by Nina, Harry C and Freddie making their competitive debuts, but Dylan got the nod this week due to both his brace of goals but also his lung-bursting performance up and down the right flank.
Captain – George F
Goals – George F, Dylan x2, Olly, George E
Assists – George F, Freddie
Player-of-the-Match - Dylan