So the 21/22 season was officially underway and we opened up our league campaign away from home against the elderly statesman of Wake Green Amateurs 'E'. We had a number of first team players missing, Grady (injury), Kurtis (Suspension), Mo, Emad, Bashar and Badris (Wedding) and Jakob (Holiday) so it was not an ideal way to start the campaign but I still felt there was enough quality within the squad to secure a positive result.
One of the key issues going into this game was what to do in midfield. Raurie had shown some promise as a CDM in our friendly vs Real Aston B but was still untested against a stronger opponent and there was no other recognised midfielder in the squad apart from a new lad named Ryan - who was still in the process of getting his registration sorted as we travelled out to the game.
Azhar - a talented player from the A team but with a tendency to play by his own rules had been given to B. He had operated in a variety of positions for A, but was adamant he did not want to play as a defender any more. After my failed experiment of using him as a central midfielder in the last game, I handed him the keys to run the game as a number 10 in the absence of Badris and Kurt.
This left Daniel as the only logical option. Another multifaceted player without a fixed position, he had the engine to play in midfield - even if his positioning was a tad suspect for that role. Elsewhere we had Callum and Lamarr on the wings, two pace merchants who would surround Azhar with legs and give him some passing options along with Mikey in behind.
Within the first 10 seconds we had conceded. It was a spectacular volley from the edge of the box and it simply caught everyone cold - our goalkeeper did not even move as he saw the ball rocket into the top right corner. Unstoppable.
I encouraged the lads to just relax and that they were blameless for the goal. It was a freak incident - nothing more than that, just play your football and we will get back into the game. We slowly worked our way back into the game but the ball was not really sticking up front or on the wing - there was a lot of aimless long balls being hit, rather than carefully considered passes into channels or into space for players to run into.
In the last 10 minutes of the half, Lamarr began to run their left back ragged and he put in a delicious ball from the right flank which was tapped in by the mercurial Azhar. We were 1-1 now and looking like favourites to grab a second. Moments later Lamarr beat his man 1 v 1 and ran into the box only to be taken out from behind for what was a stonewall penalty. The ref waved play on but Lamarr was left in a crumpled heap.
He eventually rolled off the pitch but the damage was done - there was a gaping wound on his shin. He said he would not be able to play on but I mentioned to him that there is no roll on roll off subs - was he absolutely sure he couldn't play on? He was sure he said. As I was thinking through that decision, Mikey also stumbled onto the touchline grabbing his knee. He needed some time off the pitch he claimed. We were now down to 9 men...
Hastily I made a sub, bringing on Owais for Lamarr. 10 men we would be able to hold on but 9 men would put us at a major disadvantage. Just before the first half ended, Mikey returned back on to the field.
Half-Time Score 1-1
When we went into the half time team talk, Lamarr approached me and said he wanted to go back on. I was dumbfounded. I explained to him it is not roll on roll off and that next time he needed to be totally sure if he wanted to be substituted or not. I had learned a valuable lesson here to give players more time to recover from in-game knocks.
In Lamarr's absence and with the weakening of our wings, we needed to compensate by adding additional strength elsewhere. Elliot who was playing at right back had not performing to his usual standard and had been very sloppy in possession. This had led to constant breakdowns in possession, so I wanted to bring Daniel into left back from midfield and shift Faraaz across to right back - thus ensuring we still had 3 out of the back 4 who would defend solidly.
Into midfield I brought on new lad Ryan to partner Ruari. He was more of a box to box, ball-playing midfielder so I was keen to see how his partnership with Ruari would fare. No other changes were made. I did regret how I subbed Elliot off, in the heat of the moment i told him to hand his shirt to Ryan as our changing room had been locked but in hindsight I should have spoken to the team first before conducting the substitution.
The changes worked to a tee. We looked electric in the second half. With no weak links in the back four in possession, we were able to play out confidently and Ryan slotted in beautifully, constructing the play and driving through enemy lines, linking up well with Callum and Azhar.
Owais also started to pick up the pace and was beginning to find a lot of players with some precise passing. His only downside was a substantial lack of fitness and he was unable to conduct defensive responsibilities with the requisite discipline required. A goal was coming though and it just seemed a matter of time - we were camped in their half.
Our second goal came through a set piece, with our centre back Ryan getting on to the scoresheet. I told the boys to keep pushing and get a third. Out of nowhere, Owais went on a mazy run and with his weaker foot - buried it from just outside the box, to put us 3-1 up.
With a 2 goal cushion secured and only 15 minutes left on the clock, I was keen to give some of the substitutes a chance for a run out and also take a look at some players who I had not seen play before. We proceeded to miss a succession of chances before becoming rather disjointed and struggling to get out of our own half.
With 5 minutes running on the clock, Wake Green scored from a corner. A couple of minutes later they had scored a second. What had seemed a certain victory had slipped away in the matter of seconds and we could not believe it. In hindsight, we did not sort out our zonal positioning before the game and got sucked into man-marking which cost us. We also should have just dropped everyone back for set pieces now we had a 2 goal lead rather than keeping some players up for the counter.
Full Time Score: WAKE GREEN AMATUERS 'E' 3-3 KHR 'B'
A bitterly disappointing display that felt worse than a defeat. We could easily have won that game by 5 goals + if we had taken chances, if I had made better decisions under pressure rather than go with my heart. Likewise the players showed a lack of mentality to hold on to the lead and not be strong towards the death of the game. Something to work on for all of us.
Key lessons learned
Handle substitutions with more care to protect players feelings.
Do not make substitutions for the sake of it - if the game is still in play, 2 goal lead is nothing - keep your stronger players on
Pre-Game Set Piece Drills just to remind everyone of the tactics/structure is important
Lateness to games is not to be tolerated - no warm ups leads to slow starts