Our club is blessed with players from a variety of faiths and backgrounds. Our second fixture fell during the first week of Ramadan, the holy month for 'Muslims' and that meant we had a number of players who started the week before unavailable. In fact there was only 4 players who remained from the first fixture, which meant any chance of trying to build on the chemistry from the first game was impossible. It was like starting from ground zero.
Prior to the game, we had decided on a 5-2-3 set up. Similar reasons to last week really and with Hamza our sweeper absent, we had a tailor made replacement in George - another ball playing centre back (only he failed to show up to the match). This really rocked us in terms of tactics and team selection as he was someone I had counted on to play the full 90 and now we were going to have to play certain players who were fasting for close to 90 mins and out of position too.
Up front, we didn't really have any centre forwards or strikers as in our previous match - they were all wide players, so we knew hold up play was going to be an issue but on the plus side - there was pace in the attack and we would be able to stretch the opposition. Once again players were asked to sit deep for the first 15 minutes before the shackles would come off and we could play on the front foot.
In what was a cagey first 15 minutes, we looked a tad uncomfortable albeit battling our way into the game. Normally I try to stand my our so called 'inexperienced' flank in order to guide players down that side but I decided to go on to the opposite side to get more of our play going down the left and bring us to life. Tackles were flying in from the other team, some of which were quite frankly dangerous but the referee was oblivious.
Too often we were taking too many touches in our own half and getting caught on the ball. As expected we were struggling in terms of holding up the ball and first touches were generally sloppy across the board. Another major issue was none of our attacking players really combining with each other, it all felt like individuals trying to produce moments of magic rather than a genuine attacking trident vibing off each other. A far fry from our performance the week before.
Having said that, we were showing devastating pace on the counter - through balls were having a major effect but we just couldn't convert the 1 v 1's (too often we overran the ball into the hands of the keeper) and we did go into the lead, from a corner kick. We then held on until the 40th minute when the referee ridiculously sent one of our players off citing the 'Sin Bin' rule for kicking the ball away near the touchline. We tried to hold firm, but from a set piece we failed to defend at the far post - perhaps we need to have a greater zonal spread of where our taller players stand - and we went in at the break 1-1.
Half-Time Score 1-1
Was quite honest with the players and told them that they had been second best for much of that first half. Informed them that we needed to take less touches in our own half, as the pitch was 'sticky' and we needed to exploit opposition lack of pace in the heart of their defence via passes hit into the wide half spaces. Reminded them we are a man down, so whilst I made substitutes, we were still going into that half with 10 men. Changes included moving our left winger (our best ball carrying threat - to wing back, to facilitate the fact our subs were all attackers - I had guaranteed everyone 45 minutes).
Within a few minutes of the second half starting, we had conceded. By the time we were restored back to 11 men, I made the fateful decision to put one of our CM's in the first half in defence (as I had promised our LCB he would be played as a midfielder in this game) - it just did not work and the lack of pace now in defence cost us a third goal. Suddenly we found ourselves 3-1 down and it was looking like we were going to lose our heads and face a heavy defeat. Furthermore due to our pacey attackers from the first half going off, the new set of forwards simply weren't running on to the long balls/through balls we had agreed to do during half time.
On the 60th minute, one of our substitute forwards came off with an injury which allowed me to bring back one of our pacey forwards from the first half. We used this opportunity to shift to a 4-4-2. Suddenly the out of position wing back was restored to a winger position, we could bring back all our pacey attackers on to the pitch and keep one sub up top and it meant the wide half spaces which were not being defended well were now covered with two full backs in position to protect the centre backs from being stretched. Suddenly we looked much better and for the last 30 minutes we didn't concede a shot and were on top till the end of the game.
What was heartening to see was that our CB's despite missing our main ball-playing CB and his deputy, were able to handle themselves in a pairing. This opened up more possibilities going into the rest of the season. Likewise the full backs, who were more wide midfielders in an ideal formation, looked at home as full backs and proved they had the discipline to pull it off. This would allow us to put more men into midfield and attack in future games.
Full Time Score: KHR 'B' 1-3 BHS United
Players were understandably downhearted after that defeat, as for the vast majority of the game, they had in truth been outplayed. Therefore I emphasised the positives, that being the last half hour where we were much the better team and had proven we can play with 4 at the back. I highlighted all the players who had done well, to recognise their efforts in what had been a difficult fixture. We then spoke collectively about things that could be done better, i.e. sloppy first touches, poor decision making in possession and struggling with the physicality.
Key lessons learned
- Never forget the profile of your players. When you make subs, do not just keep the existing formation, think carefully about personality traits of every player and change plans accordingly.
- Unless your wing backs are very fit and can eat up ground, a back 4 is the better option if you want to play a more controlled game as it leaves you less exposed on the counter.
- On a slow, bumpy pitch - it is vital to play in a more direct manner and have the right type of forwards to exploit that direct style. Having the right tactic but the wrong type of player to execute it, will lead to disaster.