Pre-season friendlies and early season form saw Portslade make the long trip to last seasons division one runners-up Copthorne FC full of optimism and a determination to continue their fine run, good football conditions and decent facilities welcomed the side for only their second league outing this term as they looked to move rapidly up the table.
Missing arguably this seasons stand out performer in Jamel Hanson and the ever reliable Jack Larkham, the defence needed a reshuffle with returning team captain Sean Trend slipping in at centre half and Sammy Dudek coming in for his first start for the club. Further up, the the side remained settled with the likes of Cook, Boddy, Everett and Boffey the men aiming to deliver the goals.
The first minute of the game provided Slade with arguably their brightest moment of the whole 90 minutes. A direct ball out to John Boddy on the right saw him break clear from the half way line and advance on the oppositions box, a three way collision ensued with centre half, the man mountain goalkeeper and JB himself all knocked to the floor, fortunately, the ball broke to Karl Boffey who calmly slotted home for the dream start. 1-0. No wait, as the ball rolled over the line, the man in black decided to blow for the earlier foul on Boddy, much amazement from home and away players along with those watching on. No goal, no further action taken on the offending player with just a free-kick, that was too close to the box to ever really cause a problem.
Despite the feeling of injustice, the ease at which the back line was breached should have given the Slade the incentive to take advantage, instead, it seemed to have the opposite effect, with Copthorne given an early let off, they clearly got the kick up the behind they needed and began, maybe not to control the game, but to dominate Slades’ attempts to play from deep as they pressured high up the pitch.
Sadly, the half continued in a similar pattern, whilst clearly sticking to the managers instructions and not backing away from the attempts to play out from the back, not enough common sense was displayed, and a lack of tempo to the passing mixed with too many players dropping too deep served only to encourage the hosts as play continually broke down deep in our own half. While we failed to create anything for ourselves at one end our lack of intensity was offering plenty of half chances to our opponents. A combination of last ditch tackles and some woeful finishing the only things preventing the hosts from taking the lead.
Half time came with a sense of relief, a less than average performance but level on the score sheet, no damage done but clear warnings that an improvement was needed.
The second half did see an improvement, a combination of playing a little quicker and a little longer, along with the opponents slightly tiring after a 100 mile-an-hour first half from them, saw the game open up quite drastically a few more corners were being won, some long range efforts also offering some encouragement. With an hour gone, it started to look as if the storm had been weathered, and the early stages of the second half, certainly, in terms of goal threat, looked as if Slade might just be edging it on points.
However, with the game see-sawing from one end to the other, it was Copthornes’ turn to pose the threat and after making contact with the woodwork on two occasions it was eventually to be our old foe the “set piece” that proved our downfall, a corner from the left headed in at the near post. 1-0.
Still plenty of time to put things right, yet, while half chances were falling, far too much play was breaking down in the middle areas, passes going astray, players taking on too much both contributing to a below par performance. As the game entered its closing stages, subs were made, formations switched, yet it was again, the man in black that took centre stage. A direct ball over the top saw Copthornes’ excellent number 9 bearing down on Rich Smith’s goal, the keeper was left with little choice but to advance off his line, sadly, the no.9 managed to toe the ball past Rich, and while there was minimal contact there did seem enough to warrant the award of a penalty kick.
This time further punishment was forthcoming from the referee, issuing a red card without delay for the unlucky stopper. No doubt the letter of the law was clearly applied, and arguably correctly, sadly, an almost identical situation had occurred in the first minute. Had the same letter of the law been applied at that point, then this game could well have been already over. Consistency is a word often used when highlighting the expectations of officials sadly this was not on display on this occasion, which blighted an otherwise good performance from the man in the middle. Half time and post match apologies, while gratefully received, only served to heighten the frustration.
With all subs on the pitch, it was down to Ben Graves to slip into the gloves, his moment to shine was quashed with a sweet right foot finish that sent him the wrong way. 2-0 down, a man down, and feeling down.
The closing moments saw Slade admirably push for a miracle comeback or even a sniff of consolation, a number of long throws, crosses into the box and half chances came and went, on a day, that in truth never looked like being ours from the first minute to the last.
It is easy to leave the pitch and dissect our failings, and while we will look at these, rectify these and try to ensure they do not resurface, it is important to remember that this is one game, one game in a long season, that should still hold plenty of optimism. Rarely, will we have a day when so many underperform, but this can happen, it’s football. Many say you are only as good as your last game. Nonsense. We are far better than the 90 minutes we delivered on this occasion, so we go again and we put it right.
We have a choice, we can choose to point fingers at others.
Or, as I’ve come to expect of you all, we choose to point one finger at one team, learn a collective lesson and collectively right a collective wrong.