I’m sure some philosopher somewhere said something extremely profound about football being a cruel game, and that as football fans we are all too aware of the footballing cliché’s, but when you put it all on the line, and squeeze every drop out of your energy reserves for your fellow team mates, it just does not make the bitter blow of a late defeat sit any better. This band of brothers this week took the northerly trip to Crawley to take on the so far undefeated AFC Acorns.
Last week the team travelled to near Haywards Heath to take on Ardingly, which started in the best possible way, taking the lead inside the first minute, but with what some would say self destructive performance from there on, Slade conceded three goals to the home side, eventually losing 3-1. Today’s opposition had made a bright start to the league, so far clocking two wins out of a maximum two. Clawing back 2-0 in their opening fixture to eventually winning 3-2, and hanging on to a 2-1 lead despite a late rally from Balcombe means it was 6 points out of 6. Slade themselves are nurturing a new squad full of youth and inexperience, but many signs that progression was very much evident. Slade were hopeful that they could take one further step forward and get that all important first win.
This week saw a whole host of changes with the Boddy brothers out of action, and the so far impressive Joe Pickles likely to be nursing a hangover after friends’ 21st birthday party. With the return of Steve Mould after chicken pox, and Andre Neto from a fortnight in Portugal, we had sufficient quality to hopefully start finding some goal scoring groove, and ultimately getting points on the board. Young Adrian Bajka, who has so far impressed, continuing between the sticks and supported by a back four of Mark Sanders, Kevin Bradburn, Jordan Nicholls and a debut for 17-year old Sol Coghlan. Slade continued with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with staple anchor man Neil ‘Bison’ Shelley being joined by club captain, Dan Rahaman. After so far impressive displays, Charlie Brown continues on the left, with Patryk Popczyk on the right. Andre Neto comes straight into the number 9 slot, with Steve Mould sitting in just behind. Rob Ingham, Jakub ‘Kuba’ Piotrowski and Paulo Segatto make up the subs bench.
After a disruptive game last week, manager Jack Larkham made little time in addressing matters which may have perhaps been lingering in the players’ minds throughout the week, and somewhat block the focus required for the task ahead. The response was good, and buoyed by a positive warm up on a surface which I am sure would give Wembley a run for its money on its day. The message from the manager before kick-off was pretty much more of the same (well at least the good stuff), without the ball to ensure a disciplined shape which has in most cases served us well so far, and really to protect possession when we have it, which has on occasion turned out to be our own undoing. It was noted that today’s opposition had a couple sizeable units, which suggested that they may target our diminutive goalkeeper, and try use the set piece as an effective avenue for goals. So order of the day was avoid giving free-kicks away in silly positions, and corners where possible.
The game kicked off with the home side in the ascendency. The Acorn right and left wingers were effective in making headway into the Slade defence, and at times was giving Sanders and Coghlan a torrid time. Acorn were also adopting a quarterback offensive, with the opposing number 8 dropping in deep, looking to pick up the ball and send raking diagonals across the pitch. The home side were happy in possession, and switching the play effectively, looking to get the ball into the imposing number 9. After a couple warning signs, in particular from the Acorn right hand side, you wouldn’t have a hard time predicting how the opening goal may have come. Sanders caught out a little in no man’s land, and a ball expertly threaded into the right channel. The impressive 17-year old right winger didn’t need any invitation to float a cross to the centre of the box, where the number 9 rose well to nod past the stranded Bajka. GOAL 0-1.
At the moment of the goal, it was obviously disappointing to see, but it was a goal which was perhaps coming. Slade forays into the opposition half had been a little limited, and when we got there, it was perhaps a little ungainly and lacking a little composure. Acorns were enjoying a relatively trouble free game so far, and the number 8 having the freedom of the park to link things together. At 1-0 though, there was a little more urgency in the Slade play, perhaps feeling a lack of injustice in their own performance. Brown and Popczyk were covering mountains of running, trying to put pressure on their respective full backs, but again a lack of composure in key areas meant that the Acorn goal remained largely unthreatened. Something had to be done to arrest some control of this game, but after a bit head scratching and some friendly dialogue between manager Larkham and Portuguese Neto, the plan was to stifle hosts source of control. After a couple goes, and a bit of Larkham lung-busting, the message got through, and Neto started to track the quarterback number 8. It was then to no surprise that the Acorn advances became a little more limited, and Slade started to grow into the game. Off the ball, Slade were starting to turnover possession quicker with the number 8 striking a frustrated figure, and on the ball the likes of Bison, Mould and Neto were finding pockets of space in the middle of the park, which were perhaps not there before. After an engaging run from Brown, he was brought down in a dangerous free-kick range. Unfortunately the eventual strike by captain Rahaman was about as dangerous as a diabetic kid in a sweet factory, as he sent the strike high and wide. Despite all the endeavour, and the progress being made, I don’t recall the home keeper having to make a save of note, although there was a little moment of alarm for the home side when Mould advanced onto the Acorn box unopposed and despite striking the ball well, his shot was only able to drift past the top corner fractionally.
Slade were able to make in at half time only the single goal behind, which was probably fair, but with momentum with the visitors, there much reason for optimism. The plan to cut out the Acorn quarterback was working a charm, and both the Slade full backs were growing in confidence. Midfield were starting to get their foot on the ball, controlling the space, and using the pace of the front four to threaten a visibly troubled defence. There was still more work to be done to remove the threat of the opposition, in particular when they were switching the play, and the first 5-10 minutes would be an important barometer of how things would play out. The players took to the pitch in good spirits, and immediately the good work in the first half continued to show. The visitors were prodding and probing into the Acorn half, forcing a series of corners and throws ins. In the first half, Slade had a couple chances to utilise the Rahaman long throw, but failing to really capitalise. However, it would be via a long throw that Slade would hit back. Rahaman hurling the ball into the danger area, the ball was flicked on at the near post. Some frantic defending only managed to get the ball as far as Popczyk, who swivelled on the half volley and rifled past the keeper. GOAL 1-1!
The young Pole only turned 17 in the last few days, and treat himself to a belated birthday present. Ever since his debut on the opening day of the season, he has grown so quickly, and rapidly become a staple in the Slade starting line-up. Long may the progression continue. With the Slade now level, and the tails well and truly up, could they push on for a winner? Well the equaliser was exactly what the game needed, especially if you were a neutral, as it invited a better balanced game between the two sides, and the game become a little more open. That being said, the Acorn number 8 was still striking a frustrated figure, who was being forced higher up the pitch to get onto the ball, which required some running, and perhaps not one of his strongest assets. The home side were perhaps having a little more territory than Slade, but it did open the counter attack up. When the home side did get into dangerous attacking positions, they were thwarted by a very impressive Bajka, who was batting everything away, but also showing excellent bravery and confidence of plucking high balls into the box. Slade did continue to threaten the Acorn goal, and were perhaps a little unfortunate not to go ahead, as shots from Popzcyk and Neto being either blocked by a static defence, or turned away by the Acorn goalkeeper.
As the game wore on, Slade started to pick up a couple of injury concerns, with Mould starting to feel the knee, which has been troubling him for a long time, and Bradburn taking a knock, which resulted in him eventually stepping out. Ingham stepped in for his first minutes of the season, with Rahaman dropping into defence, Popzcyk dropping into Midfield, with Ingham joining the front three. The game at this point became a little scrappy, with forays from both teams falling a little short in key areas, and attacking moves eventually breaking down. This did make for an exciting final 10-15 minutes, with counter attacks aplenty. With little time left on the clock, there was enough time for the Acorn quarterback to finally lose his cool, being asked to step off the pitch for a bit of personal reflection time, and also for 17-year old Kuba to make his debut, coming on for the hard working Sanders, with Ingham dropping into left back, and Kuba moving onto the right wing. Unfortunately it did seem that the game would finish with the spoils even, as neither team were providing the right amount of patience or quality to get the winning goal. But with little more than a few minutes on the clock, Acorn were awarded a free kick on the Slade left, as a clumsy challenge brought down the substitute Acorn winger. From the free kick, the ball was chipped into the box, and Bajka hurled himself to the ball courageously, but got more under the ball than across it, and the ball was sent high. Even though the ball was sent high, there was certainly enough meat on the contact and comfortably reached the edge of the box. Unfortunately, the Slade defence must have thought they were playing music statues, and someone had just paused S-Club7 on the stereo, as every defender stood there watching on as the ball took an eternity to drop. This gave an Acorn midfielder on edge of the box all the time in the world to control the ball, and get his shot away, which bounced agonisingly under the Polish stopper, and agonisingly into the goal. GOAL 1-2.
There’s not much else that can be said here. I don’t know if it was a case of each person in the box was waiting for someone else to close it down, or it was a moment of concentration lapse, as to the mentally demanding nature of the game, but there was little excuse at such a crucial stage of the game. It was fair to say that every player felt like they had been punched in the nether regions. There was little time to feel too sorry for ourselves, as there was limited time to salvage something from the game. Slade pushed and pressed, and begged the game for at least a point. The visitors did get in the box, and some rasping shots from Neto took some excellent blocks, one fully flush in the face from an Acorn defender. But eventually, Slade were served the ultimate punishment, and the game was snatched away by Acorn in the closing moments of the game. Full Time 1-2.
Well what can you say? Today’s hosts knew they were in a game today, and exactly how lucky they were to walk away with all three points, almost a little embarrassed. They had been in a war that afternoon, and Slade had dished out their best performance of the season so far. A defeat in any manner is hard to swallow, but considering where we were at the start of the season, and where the group were at the back end of the game last week, this was a massive improvement. Some mammoth performances out there today, especially from the half hour mark onwards. Patryk Popzcyk once again belying his years, getting his first goal, and running himself into the ground. Charlie Brown once again showing excellent industry and positivity throughout the 90 minutes. Andre Neto sacrificing his instincts to attack, and instead shutting down the opposition danger man, which gave the whole team so much more control. However, today’s man of the match, and perhaps an unexpected hero of the season so far is 19-year old Adrian Bajka. Adrian joined the club as a winger, but has established himself as an essential cog in the team so far taking on the responsibility of the goalkeeping gloves. Showing excellent distribution, such unbelievable bravery in attacking the ball when there were guys twice his size, and showing a maturity and determination which will bring him success before the season is up. If anyone wanted to know how much that game meant to him, all you had to do was see him after the game. If every player showed 10% of that passion, we will be absolutely fine come the end of the season.
Slade have been gifted a week off, or should I say a week to have a bit of fun in one of the club’s inter-cub friendlies, where fringe players will have the chance to stake their claim to a starting spot in the game the following week. Remember, if you’re out of the starting line up at the moment, you know what you need to do. Training is on Wednesday, 7:45pm start, Blatchington Mill School, Hove. If you wish to be involved in the friendly on Saturday, kick off is at 12:00 at Victoria Rec, please let myself or Jack Larkham know of your interest.
After the international break, the Premier League continued, which gave players another chance to stake a claim for a free bar prize! Charlie Brown backed up Saturday afternoon’s performance with standout score of the week, with his 84 points putting him within four points of Ben Graves in top spot. Chairman Ringham, and ladies fan favourite Mould scoring well to leap up the table. How much will the return of the Champions League impact the point scoring in the big teams? Will City and Liverpool take advantage of kind fixtures against Cardiff and Southampton respectively?
Ben Graves: 291
Charlie Brown: 287
Charlie Joergensen: 274
Jake Hayward: 263