Today we welcomed a strong Dacorum side to Stevenage for this Southern Counties Cup clash. Stevenage were disappointing last week in defeat to Woking, and today’s visitors have arrived in cracking form where they haven’t conceded a goal and are scoring for fun so we knew it would be a tough test.
We changed our shape slightly today, we wanted to play with two centre backs but encourage the two defenders to get further up the pitch on occasions as they would have plenty of cover in behind. We also played with three central players in midfield hoping to cause an overload in that area of the pitch. So, we started with John returning to goal and a back four of Emmanuel, George, Tommy and Thomas. The central midfielders would be Ollie, Lennon, and Zach with Orest asked to lead the line and Coby our only sub today.
We were looking for a bit more intensity today, to play at a high tempo from the start and to be competitive all over the pitch – which we failed to do last week. We wanted to break quickly, and Orest was asked to hold up play and bring others into the game and I have to say he was very disciplined today and did a terrific job for me occupying the back two and being very strong.
We asked that the boys concentrated on the first ten minutes, and to get to that stage still in the game, but it was better than that after Orest chased down a hopeful looking ball that the defender and keeper failed to deal with and the ball came back out to Zach, who was still some distance from goal, but he lofted a shot over the retreating keeper and into the corner of the net for 1-0 and a great start after 9 minutes.
Dacorum gradually started to get back into the game, and they had several chances to equalise as the half drew to a close, but our back four were terrific today, blocking shots and crosses and really restricting Dacorum to long-range efforts the closest of which hit the top of the crossbar.
We knew that Dacorum would come out pumped for the second half but, if anything, the second period was quite even – with Stevenage looking as dangerous on the break as Dacorum were in attack. We had John to thank for a couple of great saves that kept us in front, and at the other end we were winning good free kicks in dangerous areas as we counter attacked at pace. But, unfortunately, we couldn’t quite get the delivery right.
With five minutes remaining Zach went on another blistering run down our left that took him into the area and two defenders came across to tackle him and one was adjudged to have brought him down – which to be fair I didn’t see myself, but the referee was right on top of play. Coby McCormick stepped up, as cool as you like, and struck the ball home for 2-0 which lifted the Stevenage players and parents.
Dacorum, with nothing to lose now, threw more players into attack and left one player at the back and I wish we could’ve just held our composure for a minute or two, but in the very next attack Dacorum scored to make it 1-2 and this lifted them. We tried to hold on against the onslaught, but with a minute left they added an equaliser which knocked the stuffing out of our brave performance.
With normal time up, we tried lifting the boys again. We told them that we would have all taken a draw at the start, and that we were still very much in this tie. Ten minutes of extra time came and went, both sides had half chances, but time was now up and it was time for penalties. I didn’t really ask the boys, I just selected five penalty takers to avoid any negative thoughts and you can usually see in their faces who fancies it – but let’s face it, it’s a massive responsibility.
We stated well, Coby had equalised Dacourm’s first penalty and then John made a superb save to give us the edge. But despite Orest and Zach finding the net, we had missed three penalties (Dacorum had also skied one over the bar) and the end result was a 4-3 penalty victory for the visitors.
Although disappointed for the boys, I couldn’t have been more pleased with our performance today. We had taken on a good side, with some quality players, and shown that with a bit of organisation, courage and lots of effort that we can give the best sides a game of football. It was hard to highlight anybody individually, as everyone had played to the best of their ability, but I thought John did really well in goal today and overall Emmanuel probably had his best game so far for the district.