After a slightly downbeat end to 2016 – with an average of 6.3 goals conceded per game over the last 3 games – the IIIs were determined to get 2017 off to a good start, away to Sinjuns Grammarians’ third team. Following the traditional new year greetings and comparisons of fitness regimes, the IIIs set out in their now traditional 4-3-3 – yes, we’re calling it a 4-3-3 – with reliable left-back Ed Whitehouse filling in as the team’s defensive midfielder, much to Forest’s unequivocal surprise and sharp intake of breath, which would later cost him a sizable fine for “doubting” his team-mate. Lining up in front of PC Owen Griffiths in goal – ready to lay down the law, Grobbelaar-style – were Dan Jackson, Tom ‘Doc’ WC, Dan Van Hoggdonk and Ollie Moodley, with Bappo and Bambi joining Ed Casablanca in midfield and Joe Yates and doubter Forest providing the ammunition for regular Dom Lundie up top, Ben Lewis and Max Ruane chomping at the bits to work off some holiday excess.
The IIIs started well, controlling midfield and looking assured in defence, enjoying particular luck down the right hand-side. Despite good refereeing – an anomaly which needs to be noted – OTFC were getting slightly frustrated by the lack of offside calls. This was to be their undoing when, midway through the first half, Sinjuns Grammarians won the ball high up the field and quickly countered. Despite Van Hoggdonk’s credible calls for offside, the referee gave the benefit of the doubt to the attacking side, and Sinjuns Grammarians found themselves 1-0 up thanks to a decent finish despite Owen’s best efforts on his line.
No doubt short of confidence, and frustrated by falling behind despite a good start, OTFC suddenly found themselves under serious pressure. Once again, the offside trap wasn’t called and Sinjuns found themselves one-on-one with Griffiths, but a heroic save ensured OTFC came into half-time only 1-0 down. Heads hadn’t dropped, and OTFC came out of the half-time break with renewed vigour.
Pushing hard, and with more energy, OTFC constantly threatened the home goal, with Joe Yates in particular having several good shots on target, but OTFC could not find their way behind a home defence playing very deep and protecting their advantage. Bambi Williams had been pushed into a number 10 role, and his play “in the hole” was causing trouble to Sinjuns, despite a long battle with numerous puddles on the pitch which ended up Williams 0 -2 Puddles. Yates and Forest (and Ruane before him, who’d come on on the wing) were providing width and balls in the box, and a few Hoggwitzers were probing Sinjuns’ defence, but the home side was holding on.
Alas, once again, and despite OTFC being in the ascendancy, Sinjuns hit the IIIs on the break. A long pass towards their striker found a wonderful combo of air-kick clearance and profanity from Ben Lewis – who’d replaced Moodley down the left – and Sinjuns finished adequately to go 2-0 up. A few minutes later and OTFC were 3-0 down, this time a long ball floated by Sinjuns finding their striker who fell under a challenge by Lewis in the box, and converted the penalty.
But OTFC displayed a great show of character and never gave up. With superb full-back play from Lewis and Moodley, and Bappo and Casablanca patrolling midfield, the IIIs constantly pushed up the pitch and were rewarded with a wonderful finish by Forest after a cross by Lewis had been half-cleared by Sinjuns. Despite constant probing and a few chances to close the gap, there was only time for Bappo to nearly be booked for petulance and for some of Van Hoggdonk’s wayward crossing to lead to frustration.
Despite a negative result, the IIIs had shown great resilience, fight and good football. 2017 might be off to a bad start results-wise, but a promising one nonetheless. Kudos to Ed Whitehouse for a well-deserved MotM award and Dan Van Hoggdonk for a truly atrocious foul throw, which won the best cheered fine of the day.