My first game in the dugout for nearly 10 years in charge of a newly formed 'B' side with a squad of players who had not played together in a competitive fixture, Pre match objectives were mainly focused on making sure the lads 'gel', understand their roles and responsibilities on the pitch and respond to you as a leader. It is cliché to say 'results do not matter' but it is definitely true at this stage of a newly-formed team's season - performances matter more than the end result. You are looking for positives and take aways, the more you can learn about the players and their quirks, the more useful the game.
We went into the game with a 5-2-3 set up. One of the reasons behind this was I was not sure if our CB's were ready to take on that responsibility of managing the aerial battle without that extra protection of a sweeper - a common problem at this level of football. Another reason was the lack of out and out full backs in the squad, thus converting wide midfielders into wing-backs made more sense. Finally with the lack of any wing-forwards in the squad, it made sense for our forwards to operate more centrally whilst the width came from the wing backs.
The team was instructed to sit back for the first 15 minutes, the idea being it would give time for the lads to get a feel for their shape and each other without being exposed and out of position. They did well and frustrated the opposition with their shape and discipline, making themselves very difficult to play through. After the first 15 minutes, I gave the players the signal to shift into a 3-4-3, with the wing backs now free to bomb forward. We were now on the front foot and were putting good pressure on the opposition.
We deservedly went into the lead with a goal from our centre back, half volleying it from a corner kick routine. The players were instructed to not sit on their lead and to go for the jugular. What followed was a succession of chances, with the players getting too confident and disrespecting the opposition with wasteful attempts on goal. It would prove to come back and haunt us. Despite 4 minutes of injury time having gone, the referee refused to blow the whistle and our lads lost their concentration - failing to defend the space between RWB and RCB, before conceding a weak shot at the near post. Moments later we conceded at a set piece, a great volley from the edge of the box.
Half-Time Score 1-2
For a team playing together for the first time against an experienced outfit, it had been a very promising display let down by a calamitous last 5 mins (of injury time). The key message to pass on to the lads was that they looked like a side, but they can't get too arrogant as soon as they get into a lead, likewise game management during the final moments of a half when they are under the cosh is very important. Subs were then made as everyone was guaranteed a minimum of 45 minutes to build everyone's fitness.
We were sloppy in the first 15 minutes. It is expected when you make that many changes to a side that was looking settled but still never a nice feeling to see your half time team talk have no effect. Yet somehow against the run of play, we equalised. At 2-2, we were now given a chance to gain some confidence and re-establish a foothold but once again, the lads lost focus and we conceded after a long ball in behind was not sufficiently dealt with. The reason was that as we had dealt with the long ball well through-out the game, we deployed too high of a line and this enabled the ball to be dropped over our CB's head.
The team were then instructed to go for the jugular to get an immediate equaliser. Our CB got injured, so we had to move our new LB into CM and shift the formation to go 4 at the back. We then had a sustained period of pressure which lasted 20 minutes, but we could not get the goal. Nevertheless it was positive to see that the side was capable of putting pressure on the opponent and once again control the game. So apart from a weak 40-70 minute (30 minute) period, we had controlled 2/3's of the match. For a new team that was good to see.
Full Time Score: KHR 'B' 2-3 Silhill 'D'
Echoes of half time really. Reminder that concentration was very important and sustaining over 90 minutes is what will convert performances into results. Praise for the subs who did a decent job when they came on. Collectively voted for our man of the match, our CM Sean.
Key lessons learned
- In a 3-4-3, the spaces between wing back and centre back have to be marshalled carefully especially close to the edge of the penalty area.
- In a high press, be careful of using too high of a defensive line with inexperienced players even if half-decent in the air.
- Another football cliché but 1-0, is never a solid lead. Always try and push for the second and be clinical.