A crisp December afternoon, the middle of shooting season and a mid-table clash against Witan for the IIs. Luke Peake showed his appreciation for the occasion by warming up in Barbour, celebrating a successful morning poaching in the Hampton Court grounds. His partner in crime, Matt Burns-Peake, was tasked to lead the warm-up of beep-test sprints across the field, after which an exhausted squad dragged themselves across to hear Dicky Bostelmann reveal his masterplan to contain Witan. What a plan it turned out to be.
As Guardiola and Conte played out a tactical battle at the Etihad, so Dicky followed their lead by setting the IIs up in a continental 4-4-2. However, as Manchester City v Chelsea degenerated into a chaotic melee, Tiffs v Witan was as tight at it comes and fracas-free.
The first thirty seconds, though, were terrifying for anyone having to defend the IIs goal. The rapid Witan right winger picked up the ball, skipped past three desperate attempts at fouls but couldn’t finish. That was really as close as Witan got, as the IIs back four of Andy, Dicky, Tom and Ben kept possession and played the ball around calmly. Although outnumbered in the midfield, Luke and Will worked feverishly to allow Matt, Colin and Benedikt to burst forward on the break. It was the IIs who carved out the early chances, as Ben screwed a shot wide, a cross-shot from John was deflected onto the bar and Will’s strike from 15 yards blazed over, on its way to demolish a local greenhouse.
The best chance of the half came from one of many excellent link-ups between John and Tommo, as John’s flick created space in the box, but Tommo’s low drive was beaten away by the Witan keeper. Witan had a few attacks to set pulses racing, several of which were well headed away by Dicky and Tom, but the best Witan could muster was a bundling run from their defensive midfielder which resulted in a shot being dragged wide.
Half time, 0-0, with some muffled complaints from the crowd that there was more end-to-end action on offer at the snooker.
The second half gave them their money’s worth, as Tiffs pressed for the lead and Matt’s twinkle toes in midfield created some great chances to win the game. First, Matt was denied from close range by another superb smothering stop by the Witan keeper, and then shots from Benedikt and Matt were blocked and deflected agonisingly wide. Benedikt and Colin were later denied by last ditch tackles, literally in Avery’s case as his dribble was cut short by the turf. But as the afternoon wore on and the alluring Dominos aroma wafted across Grists, Tiffinians had to thank Cottee for two good saves to keep the scores level. The first to stop an audacious chip and the second to tip over a rising strike from the edge of the area, best remembered for sparking an enjoyable philosophical debate between Luke and John about the meaning of midfield pressing. Like all good debates, it was later settled by an insult over a beer.
It finished 0-0, and could have been so much more but for the continuing curse of the orange kit. There was a small consolation for Matt Burns-Peake, who was voted Man of the Match for his services to creativity and for being the only player to finish the warm up.