OTFC IIIs 1-2 City of London IIIs
The first game of the new season began with considerable optimism following some positive performances in friendlies and some good additions to the squad following Captain MWFIC’s foray in the summer transfer window. Perhaps though we should have read the omens when two of the new footballs were ruined in the warm up (without Charlie anywhere in sight), and Chris (ready to make his competitive debut for OTFC) picking up the first Youlie award of the season for suffering an injury in the warmup. To his credit though he agreed to give the game a go and lined up in a new look defence with Mike, Thishi and James (not Ham-ess). The latter, the latest fullback recruit to the club’s burgeoning ranks, quickly established himself into the game with strong tackles, surging runs and unusual but effective lob through balls on the right-hand side to his Catalan compatriot. It was great to welcome Lewis back from injury too – although I suspect he’d forgotten the challenges of playing up front for the IIIs.
With the game starting at a fast pace the opposition’s forward defied his appearance, and Forrest’s hopeful pre-game call of ‘that’s my guy’, and surged forward on a few quick breaks which we only just managed prevent becoming goals. Although the defence held firm it came at an early cost with Chris’s quad injury proving too much and sadly bringing his game to a premature end. The IIIs equivalent of James Milner, GG, came off the bench and slotted neatly into the back four following a quick reshuffle and the back and forth continued, with neither team able to get a grip on the game. City of London were more threatening in the early stages but as the game settled we took the initiative and following some nice passing down the right-hand side Forrest slipped a lovely through ball on to the end of Arnau’s darting run who finished so emphatically the ball flew through the net leaving some of the opposition waiting for a very optimistic goal kick.
Following the goal the game largely slipped back into the previous back and forth pattern with neither team carving out many chances but City of London making better use of the width of the pitch, with their quick passing leading to increasing numbers of breaks. Both sides made a few chances with Nico’s cheeky lobbed free kick deserving better after fooling everyone – especially Langers who may have asked for a slightly different pass. Andy on his competitive debut for the IIIs made some strong saves and was settling well into the game when an unfortunate moment of disaster struck. Following a good save to push the ball into the air he stumbled as he tried to steady himself to collect it, the spinning ball falling in a cruel slow motion manner over his head and into the open net. A cruel blow but probably a fair scoreline based on the previous 45 minutes.
Desperate to avoid being downhearted, some inspiring words from the Captain (and a supporting cast of just about everyone else) had us fired up for the second half and we came out of the blocks flying – accompanied by Owen who had of course again arrived late and missed most of the first half. Insightful passing and intelligent runs saw us pressuring the goal in a way we’d failed in the preceding 45 minutes. Following one particularly impressive break Aaron Langford was sent through on goal with the defender’s last ditch desperate tackle rightly seeing the referee reach for his whistle and point to the spot. Without a moment’s hesitation Langford confidently stepped up but couldn’t quite find the quality of the Liverpool vs Middlesbrough penalties during the week and despite hitting the ball well saw the keeper dive to his left and make a strong save.
Not overly subdued OTFC continued to press and hurry the opposition with Baptiste growing into his new centre midfield role alongside Forrest. The pressure continued and another excellent Nico corner saw Langford rise with a Morris-esque leap only to see his powerful header cruelly rattle off the crossbar. Perhaps this was the point when we felt that the gods weren’t going to be with us that day and slowly but surely we retreated further and further back into our half. Despite this we held our shape well with James and Thishi offering good outlets out on the flanks and Owen’s tenacity at the back ensuring that City of London still had to work hard for every pass and attack. Sadly though with only minutes left on the clock our otherwise strong marking let us down as their players attacked a corner more empathically than we could defend and a loose ball was knocked in giving Andy no chance.
With such little time left we would have been forgiven for throwing in the towel but to our credit we pushed forward forcing two consecutive corners in an attempt to grab an injury time equaliser. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be this week, and whilst we were perhaps a little unlucky to lose the first game of the season it proved that the squad is stronger than ever. There is still some way to go before we play to our full potential but there were definitely more positives than negatives and we have every reason to be confident that we can turn 2014/15 into a successful campaign. The MOTM award was won by James Archidona.