After a hard fought win last week, we went into the rematch with Lions with confidence. Before the game there was a lot of talk of treating the game professionally but it is one thing saying it and another thing having the actual mentality that you respect your opponent and have genuine fear that they can hurt you. I openly admit myself that at first I did not feel nervous, but the night before the game as I did some research on the opponents results... they were steadily improving - so I felt a sense of trepidation.
Going into the game Bash mentioned he would not make it on time and would need to start from the bench. We also had Daniel out with an ankle injury, arguably our most effective player in the season from a statistical perspective. Other than that, the squad seemed at full strength and there was also a recall for Callum who had been suspended for coming late to games.
With Bash out, we decided to give George his second start and go with a 4-3-1-2 - in the hope it would force the midfield to have to play more with each other and create passing combinations. With Daniel out, our full backs were both quite small physically but I thought with Jamie and Ryan behind them and a powerful midfield in front, we could and should get away with it.
As we walked out to the pitch, Lions were all prepared and engaged in their warm up. They looked sharp and I couldn't help but feel our side was not matching them in terms of attitude and energy. Our performance in the warm up was terrible and I am a big believer that a poor warm up tends to lead to a poor performance in the game.
The team executed the diamond rather well in the first half an hour. The midfield were connecting well and looked solid defensively, shifting across and working really hard for each other. The only downside was that in terms of pressing, the front two had to do an awful lot of work and they ended up getting knackered. This gave them less energy to produce with the ball and our final third play was missing some penetration.
Callum was unsure as to whether to press or sit back and at times this was giving Lions time on the ball down his flank. This issue was exacerbated with Ryan looking shaky after having taken some knocks. As the game hung in the balance, Badri beat two men down the left flank and won himself a penalty. He then calmly put it away to put us in the lead.
As we searched for a second goal, there was an incident involving Callum where he arguably kicked the ball away. The referee sin binned him and we were down to 10 men. Grady came back to right back and we had to withstand an onslaught from Lions. The momentum from our game seemed to dissipate and although we did not concede during this period - physically it took its toll.
When Callum did eventually come on, we had a dramatic opportunity to increase our lead. Badri worked his magic down the right flank and put the ball in to the far post where Lamar missed a sitter. We didn't realise it at the time but it would prove to be the turning point. Lions managed to hit a long ball down our right flank and Ryan was exposed on the bounce... his broken body unable to read and react accordingly. Their attacker ran across him and drove towards goal before rounding Ash to slot it in. 1-1.
Half-Time Score 1-1
Ryan had to come off and we needed to put Emad at right back. Bash would come in and we would go to our normal 4-2-3-1 shape. My talk consisted mostly of technical information such as using our full backs more and switching play from concentrated areas to areas where we had an open man.
I did not want to give a hairdryer as I thought Lions had played pretty well and I did not feel like the lads had played that badly... it was just a very difficult game and my focus was more on what solutions we can come up with as a side to put this game to bed and move on to next week.
As I sent the boys out for the second half, I had one eye on my substitutes who I knew could prove instrumental in getting us out of trouble. As I pulled Mikey and Kurt to the side to discuss how I wanted them to attack, Mikey kept mouthing off about how he couldn't understand why he had not been starting the past two games when he is the top goal scorer. Bearing in mind he had struggled in the last two games he had started, I explained to him that it was not just about goals but link up play.
I then urged him to focus on the current game and making an impact but he kept wanting to discuss the past few games. I gave him a final warning and when he kept at it, I told him he can stay on the bench as far as I was concerned. I was not going to waste my time bringing on a player who was more focused on his ego rather than the thought of helping out his teammates in a time of need.
Back to the game, we were dominating the ball but there was no open play chances being created. We were heavily relying on set pieces and our positioning from these set pieces was poor. We were never ready for the second ball and Lions kept clearing away rather than us keeping them penned in their own box. Lamar ended up pulling his groin so we subbed him off for the returning Callum.
We then took George off for Kurt and moved Badri back to number 10. We suddenly started to carve them open but there was still no sign of a goal. Lions hit a hopeful punt to our left flank and Grady who rarely makes an error, ended up slipping as he went to clear the ball and allowed their player to drive down the right flank. Their forward hit a hopeful shot from way out on the right flank and it caught Ash out by surprise on the near post... Think Fat Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney vs Milan. It was a shocking goal to concede and it killed the sides confidence.
Emad and Jamie started losing their heads after the goal and kept going into rash challenges. Jamie ended up giving away a penalty and before we knew it, we were now 3-1 down. Rage comes from the ego not being able to handle losing to an opponent that we should be beating and this arrogance filtered through into some of the actions we were now taking on the pitch.
Omid then suggested we move Badri to the left, Bash central and Callum down the right. Out of nowhere we managed to win a penalty with someone pushed inside their box from a set piece. Badri smacked it into the right hand corner and we were now pushing for an equaliser. Callum ended up beating two players down the right and put in a cross just inside the touchline... who else was there but the always polemic Kurt. 3-3... game on.
If there is one thing I will say about my boys... they never know when they are beaten. They have their moments when they lose their heads but the heart begins to take control and they go for the jugular. We started to drive forward and had some spectacular bicycle kicks but ultimately we left it too little too late and we were fortunate enough to get a draw considering our lack of discipline throughout.
Full Time Score: Lions United 3-3 KHR 'B'
A terrible result in all honesty. Our game management and pre match attitude was not to the required standard and we got outhustled. We need to deal with adversity with calmness and not get hot headed. Our build up and midfield play was better but we needed to convert the territorial dominance into chances created.
Ego is poison in sports. Confidence and self-belief can be positives but without humility balancing it out, it breeds arrogance and a lack of attention to detail. A lesson learned and something we need to be mindful of, going into every game.
Key lessons learned
Set Pieces are not just about winning the first ball, it is about being ready for the second ball as well - our positioning did not take this into account.
We solved our build up issue but the attack was not sharp and unable to find ways to manufacture shots off
The inexperience in the side was beginning to show. Not managing moments of adversity calmly and emotions were taking over.
For away games we needed to turn up earlier to give us time to get a proper warm up in.