The New Year tradition usually sees people appraise their previous year, and consider what resolutions they would like to commit to ahead of the upcoming year. Based on the Portslade 2018, I think it would be fair to say the club’s New Year’s resolution should be to win more football games. However, with the last game of 2018 ending in a 4-2 win against the very competent Chagossian & Mauritian Association, you could say Slade got started on their New Year’s resolution early! Portslade Athletic made the short trip east to the University of Brighton to take on Old Varndeanians third team in the opening fixture of 2019.
As already stated, Slade were coming off the back of the best result and performance of the season, and really the players (and manager) had been chomping at the bit throughout the Christmas period to get back out on to the pitch again. So much that 15 players even got together just before New Year for a sharpener, and no less than 20 players at training on Wednesday. Fair to say, irrespective of league position, the club was feeling in a good place. Old V’s are a team who make up the bottom quarter, albeit slightly adrift of Slade, with improved form after a patchy spell. After losing to Chagossian 9-0, an immediate response saw a 3-2 win against BSMS and a tightly fought 0-0 draw against AFC Acorns.
With 20 at training on Wednesday, it comes to absolutely no surprise that manager Larkham was given some serious selection headaches. After some deep thought, Larkham settled with one of the strongest starting line ups of the season. Adrian Bajka continued his excellent form between the sticks, with a very solid looking back four in front. With the excellent Matt Randel returning to university, there was a slight re-shuffle with Ben Graves switching out from the centre on to the right, with Dan Munro joined by the imposing Neil ‘Bison’ Shelley, and Mark Sanders continuing on the left. Larkham opted for an orthodox 4-4-2, with a high quality midfield pairing in Captain Joe Pickles and the so far impressive Spaniard, Gabriel Alvaro. Charlie Brown took up the right midfield slot, Ringham on the left and Nick Samuels continuing in the number 9 slot. With the untimely hamstring injury to hatrick hero Andre Neto, Slade were very pleased to welcome back Steve Mould after his own injury challenges, who boasts no less than 24 goals in the last 3 seasons. A subs bench which gave Larkham lots of attacking options included Patryk Popczyk, Kornelois Plouti and Sol Coghlan returning from a minor bump with a car during the holidays.
The start of 2019 was certainly starting to feel a little more like winter with almost sub-zero conditions, but a very nice quality pitch, as they generally are over at Brighton and Sussex Universities. Manager Larkham set the team up to use the dynamic midfield pairing as a focal point and with the quality on the pitch, quality football was the priority of the day. The team set up conservatively for the opening 10 minutes, to assess the oppositions attacking threat, and then push up the pitch in a press as the game wears on. The game kicked off looking very much like two teams that were holding in two weeks of rust, and things were certainly scrappy to say the least. Despite the conservative approach, Old V’s were causing a few defensive issues, with Slade really struggling to impose themselves. The hosts were picking the ball up in pockets in the midst of the Slade half, which was making them hard to pick up. It didn’t take too long for Old V’s to turn some of this probing into an early break through. There was certainly an element of luck involved in the Old V’s opener as the midfielder carried the ball towards the defensive line, but with a little too much time and space, he sent a looping shot goalward. The shot struck the underside of the crossbar, then off the inside of the post, and then off the back of the young stopper, and although the ball was not destined to cross the line, an Old V’s striker was quickest to react and put the ball away from 2 yards. GOAL 0-1.
Welcome to 2019! Okay, yes it was hardly the most ideal start to the year, but we was 2-1 down against Chagossian at half time, and this team was still seaming with quality. No panic. The pattern of the game did not deviate so much, although as planned before the game, the whole team did push 10-15 yards up the pitch, not only because we were now chasing the game, but also because it was felt that the Old V’s strike force did not possess the pace to target balls over the top. With the team now a little further up the pitch and the game opened up a little and Slade began to impose themselves in the opposition half. Samuels and Mould were operating as effective outlets, sometimes battling more than one defender at a time, but translating these battling performances into quality in the final third was still only occurring intermittently. There was almost an immediate hit back in a flash of brilliance, as Mould attempted an acrobatic sideways scissor kick from a cross from the Slade right. Despite making contact, it was not enough and the ball dropped invitingly into the the arms of the host keeper. “Someone has clearly been playing FIFA” barked the home number 1. This was however a sign of things to come, as Mould managed to open his season tally with an equally truly sublime goal. Not for the first time in the game, Samuels made another good move down the right hand side, and delivering a peach of a cross slightly before the Old V’s defence could set themselves. Mould’s first touch took the ball out of his feet, and he slammed a wicked shot past the host’s goalkeeper and into the back of the net. GOAL 1-1!
Do not underestimate the quality of the first touch, as a quick moving ball into feet gave Mould just the right amount of time and space to pull the trigger. At this point the game had become much more even, and the score line probably a fair reflection of that. The momentum was however slightly with with the visitors and certainly an increase in confidence in the Slade ranks. The higher press was working a dream, and a tentative Old V’s backline really nervous in possession, as Slade continued to turnover possession time. Old V’s were by no means anonymous at this point, and Slade were by no means out of trouble, as those pockets of space were still there, in particularly with the hosts numbers 8 and 9 being instrumental in any attacking moves. That being said, any shots goalwards were snaffled up by the young Slade stopper with the greatest of ease. With no more significant goalmouth action, the referee blew up for half time. HT 1-1.
So in summary, a very rusty first half performance, but a good positive battling display to come back to level terms despite the very early set back. That being said, were the lads bold and brave enough to go out there second half and grab all three points? The prescribed focal point of the team, the central midfield pairing Pickles and Alvaro, drew some parallels with Gerrard and Lampard of the England teams of years gone by. Clearly two of the standout players, but the chemistry not yet clicking. A quick re-shuffle saw Pickles drop into the back four, with Bison stepping up into his more accustomed midfield role. There was still a couple gears of quality for each and every player, and there was little reason to fear the opposition, and the more we press, the more things seem to happen.
The team heads out to the second half looking to carry the momentum on the back end of the first half into the start of the second. The game did however continue along the same lines as the first, just as scrappy, and still very much of a battle. The referee was starting to become a little troublesome, as heavy handed challenges were being ignored, which usually invites a bit of unwanted aggression into the game. Fortunately, neither team had much of a nasty streak in them, so tempers did not fly out of control. In fact the opening 20 minutes of the second half strongly resembled the first half as the hosts were still finding those pockets of space in the Slade half, and Slade themselves were deploying an effective high press which was winning the ball in key areas. It might then come as a little bit of a shock that Slade would go and poke their noses ahead through the almighty counter attack. Mark Sanders manages to cut a ball out in the left back slot, but took no time in feeding the ball in the feet of Mould. As he had done most of the game, Mould does a sterling effort of holding off his man, before swivelling and sending a through ball into the path into the covert Brown. With the Old V’s defence a little bit all at sea, Brown takes a good first touch and closes down on the goal. From where I was stood, it looked as though the keeper timed his run well, but this made little different as Brown showed all the composure of Dimitar Berbatov and nibbled it past the home stopper. GOAL 2-1!
A really well timed run by Brown, and from picking the ball up just over the half way line, he still had a lot to do. A good first touch in space, good set of heels and the composure to put the ball away. Brown lands his first competitive goal of the season, well overdue, and certainly a monkey of his back. So for the second time in two games, Slade come from behind to take the lead. Based on the final quarter hour of the first half, and the opening quarter hour of the second half, it was a score line well deserved. Question now was could we hang on to it? Well there was certainly a visible response from Old V’s as they stepped up the pitch 10 yards, and Slade retreated a little to think about protecting an important lead. Whilst Slade were sitting a little deeper, it was making those little pockets of space which the hosts were enjoying dry up a bit, and the game perhaps becoming a little frustrating. Bison was enjoying himself in his more accustomed role, and being in a position to express himself more. Pickles change in role in defence was also working well, adding a bit of class to add to the disciplined and concentrated performance, as ever, from Munro. Going forward, Mould and Samuels had to be patient, and continue to work hard with the wingers to try and force a mistake from the nervous home defence. Well it was this patience and endeavour which should have seen the visitors extend their lead, as Mould looked to double his tally for the game and the season. Graves took a quick throw on the right, into the path of Alvaro, who was crowded out by a couple Old V midfielders. The loose ball was however quickly picked up by Ingham, and with only a few limp challenges to ride was able to flick the ball out to the free Mould on the left hand side of the area. Excellent first touch, opens his body up, sweeps the ball goalward, only for it to crash against the post, and smuggled away to safety by the defender. It is fair to say that most players on the pitch were just waiting for the net to bulge.
There was little worry though, Slade still remained with that narrow advantage, and threat at the other end a little bit limp. At the game moved into the last 20 minutes, and both teams feeling a little more desperate to either protect the lead, or get back into the game, a couple more enthusiastic challenges were threw into the mix on and off the ball, with the referee nothing more than a spectator. It would be after a very controversial altercation which resulted in the home side drawing level. After yet another clumsy foul with a Slade player on the deck wondering what just hit him, the Old V’s left winger found some space on the right hand side of the Slade defence, which were very much slim picking up until now. The left winger at this point still had a whole load to do, but with the defence backing off, perhaps expecting a cross, he managed to sneak a shot past the Slade stopper, as it crept in at the far post. GOAL 2-2.
The Old V’s threat had up until this point been quite limited, and it wouldn’t really come as a surprise that a lack of concentration would leave the door ajar for the home side. With the score line finely poised at 2-2, you could detect a sense of nervousness in both sides not wanting to lose the game. Slade opted to make a couple of personnel changes with Samuels bowing out for Popczyk, and Brown stepping aside for Cypriot Plouti. Much of the remainder of game was played out in the Slade half, without really being threatened. Graves and Popczyk managed to link up on the right a few times to push the visitors up the pitch, but not really enough to threaten the opposition goal. The game petered out with either goalkeeper being tempted into any further action. FT 2-2.
At this point it is not entirely sure if it’s a point gained or two lost. Old V’s will certainly be pleased to walk away with a point, when they were staring defeat in the face only for a relatively late equaliser. At the same time, Slade have definitely played better this season and walked away with much less, so I think it is fair to say this is more of a sign of a change in mentality in the group, which sometimes is worth much more than playing well.
Today’s game was a picture of 11 players who had just enjoyed a Christmas break. By no means carrying an extra mince pie or two, but just full of ring rust. Whilst most players may look back at that game and think they could have played a little better, Steve Mould was showing signs of the fitness and form which made him so formidable in previous seasons. With a goal and an assist, and 3 inches away from bagging a brace, he is today’s Man of the Match. With goals a hot commodity in this team, a fit Mould will be a welcome addition to the group.
Now the festive break is over, the club can now look at getting back into the groove again, and continue to develop that form, help the young players grow into vital cogs in the Portslade machine, and get that winning feeling back. Slade are back to the familiar surroundings of Old Barn Way on Saturday as they take on Ridgewood in the return fixture where Slade came off unlucky 2-0 losers. They too made a slow start to 2019 being held 1-1 to mid-table AFC Acorns. Let us make sure we capitalise on this, keep the unbeaten run going. Viva Slade!
Fantasy League Watch!
With the customary 3rd round of the FA Cup in the opening weekend of the New Year, there was a brief sabbatical for the Premier League. That being said, 9 games over December gave some teams the chance to make some serious headway in the league tables. That being said, two Charlie’s pave the way at the top with Charlie Joergensen stretching his advantage now up towards 100 points. The race for second spot is a little closer with Charlie Brown, Liam Reyland, Steve Mould and Matt Whittaker all closely bunched. Who will be vying for those free drinks at the end of the footballing season?!
1. Charlie Joergensen 1218
2. Charlie Brown 1121
3. Liam Reyland 1092
4. Steve Mould 1091
5. Matt Whittaker 1088