Loss. Loss. Loss. Win. Draw. That was our first five games of this season, scoring 38, conceding 41. Over this same period Mellor won 5 out of 5, scoring 87 goals, conceding 14. This is where the two teams came from. At that point of the season, all the smart money (including my own) would have been on Mellor running through the season unbeaten.
However, we have improved and developed immensely over the last 7 months whereas maybe Mellor have not grown as much. As a squad we have dealt with our shortcomings, worked out how to play in certain scenarios and how to manage and win tight matches. This was demonstrably the case in the final, where we stuck to our game plan, and the lads put in their best performance of the season to retain the Juniors & Schools Cup. The game ebbed and flowed, with the lead changing hands a few times, but the better team on the day came away with a deserved title.
The game started in an unexpected fashion as we had most of the possession and outshot Mellor early on. Mellor actually scored first though, and it was only when Harry equalised with seconds to go in the first period that we had anything to show for it. That goal settled us down and, having shown we were competitive, it gave us belief. Quarter time 1-1.
The second quarter started with Mellor having a number of shots but our defence was strong and kept them out. Ed then slipped his man marker on a clear and raced half the length of the pitch to put us ahead with a low shot. Mellor dug in and went on a three goal scoring run which had us rocking. Two feeds to the back post and an individual goal in a short period could have broken us, but a time out, a planned move and a controlled finish from Marius right on the buzzer got us to half time at 3-4 down, and still in touch.
The third quarter was where we exploded, and following a couple of missed opportunities, Will equalised, and then put us ahead. Ollie T made it 6-4 before Mellor got back to 6-5. We finished the quarter with one more goal from Will, to give us a 7-5 lead at three quarter time.
The final team talk was all about delivering on our game plan; we were still incredibly focussed and thought we needed a couple more goals to be sure. Some fast tempo passing opened the way for Marius to step down and shoot to get to 8-5. Harry then grabbed our 9th and we were four goals clear, having scored seven of the last eight. A Mellor fast break saw them close to 9-6 with maybe 6 minutes to play, but that was the last time Mellor actually touched the ball. We came up with the ball at the next face off, and the boys set about killing the game, getting rid of a huge chunk of game time simply by retaining possession. The stall warning came on, and Marius got an opportunity for another step down goal for 10-6. One final face off win, and we had the ball again to kill the clock some more. Mellor had no answers, and we took a time out for a breather with 41 seconds left. Ed out-manoeuvred the ensuing double team, and drew a penalty with 20 seconds left. Still no point going to goal, we passed the ball around the corners and ran the clock to zero. Great game management. Great win.
Marius (3.1), Will (3.0), Harry (2.1), Ed (1.1), Ollie T (1.0), Dan (0.1)
The defence was on it today. To only concede six goals to a free scoring Mellor team was the rock on which our win was built. Only two penalties all game, some take away checks and great communication and movement. Gregor made saves and cleared with a cool head. Sam, Jamie and Matt were controlled, slid well and allowed Mellor very little. Ollie Lee and James shared LSM duties and were aggressive and controlled. Seb came off the back of a disappointing U14 cup final loss 24 hours earlier to give us a real foothold at the face off. There were a few clean wins and a lot of spoiling to allow our midfield the chance to compete on the ground ball. Marius, Ollie T, Dan and Tom did the hard yards at both ends of the pitch, defending, organising, clearing, and attacking. The attack knows its strengths and even though Ed was man marked from the first minute to the last, he was still able to orchestrate the game, and we played fluently, with Will and Harry enjoying the resultant space and lack of slides to get in amongst the goals. Owen, Jake and Will didn’t see much game time between them but were there when needed and were very much part of the win.
This group comes from seven or eight different secondary schools and has gelled really well. There are no egos on this team, just a small number of leaders on and off the pitch that keep it grounded and focussed, with others chipping in with the amusing comments to lighten the mood. It is not often a club wins back to back titles at U16, as the nature of the two year age grouping is that you probably will lose half your winning team. So for us to win in 2016, then rebuild with the year 10 boys and win again in 2017 is a tremendous effort by coaches and players alike.
Updated 09:37 - 15 May 2017 by David Loveland