When managing an amateur team, one of the biggest issues to contend with is the face your players have a life outside of football and that includes work commitments as well as personal. A big squad is therefore vital to cover for the regular stream of absences and it can be a nightmare trying to visualise a regular first team in your mind. It is even harder when you are trying to manage the 'B' side in this respect as theoretically, your players could also get plucked by the 'A' team. We went into this game with only 4 players from our previous two games.
After last weeks game, I made a conscious decision that we would go with a back 4. Despite the loss, in the last 30 minutes my centre back pairing convinced me that they were ready to have the training wheels taken off and that security of a sweeper and marshal the backline themselves. This allowed us to put more bodies into the midfield and use proper full backs who were less likely to be caught up the field - not to mention, have less energy to expend having to bomb up and down the flanks. We settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation with a designated CAM.
Our CAM ended up arriving just 10 minutes before kick-off, so he was dropped to the bench and a new face who I had never seen play before was thrown in as a striker/CAM, and we shifted to 4-4-2. He would end up becoming man of the match but more on that later. Discipline and respect is very important when trying to set boundaries and creating a 'winning' atmosphere. Many fans never really get to see how players behave behind the scenes and castigate managers for isolating players or banishing them, but they rarely try to understand that there may be a valid reason why that player has lost the trust of the manager inspite of his talent.
Why is turning up on time important? well if everyone arrives at different times - it is very hard to warm up effectively as a team and that can lead to bad starts as well as injuries being picked up. Furthermore that lackadaisical mentality will more often than not, present itself on the pitch. If the players do not 'care' about getting there on time, respecting their manager/team and the warm up process - what chance is there of them willing to go the extra yard in the game if results are not quite going their way?
It was pretty apparent from the beginning that quality wise, this was not going to be as difficult as an opponent as our last game. Having said that, the last thing I wanted was for the team to take their foot off the gas. They were instructed to press high from the start and we went into the lead within the first 10 minutes, having missed a number of half-chances before that. Our new player up front, was quite simply magical - he was a reminiscent of Daniel Sturridge, quick, left footed, plenty of skill and movement and he was causing carnage when he drifted out to the right.
Our second goal came from him hitting a curled half volleyed long ball from just within our own half, aiming for the space between the right centre back and right back and his strike partner (our goalkeeper in the last game - yes that is amateur football for you!) ran onto the ball as it bounced in the box and powered it home to give us what at the time looked like an unassailable lead.
As the half wore on, we began to lose our way and the opposition came back into it, playing some good football with decent combination play. Our CDM who had been one of our better players in the first 20 minutes - winning headers, playing out under pressure - was fasting, and his lack of conditioning began to tell. He was walking at times, and the midfield was beginning to leave gaping holes. I was hoping that the half time break would be enough to rejuvenate him.
Half-Time Score 2-0
I felt a sense of relief that we had the lead and that for the first time we had not conceded a goal just before half time. Despite that, we still faced the threat of conceding. I instructed the strikers to take turns to join in with the midfield battle and the plan was to replace one of them on 60 minutes with our CAM. Our right back was inexperienced, so I switched our CB's around so he would have the more experienced player and the better communicator next to him. With the opposition barely able to kick the ball from their box, I also took the opportunity to instruct the team to press super high from goal kicks and win the first ball.
We started the second half poorly. The midfield problem remained and we were backs to the wall. We soon conceded and it looked likely that we would concede another. Our CDM was looking laboured, so whilst I didn't have a like for like replacement - I just had attackers on the bench - the priority was getting some energy and pitch coverage into that midfield. Out went the CDM and in went our CAM, to be utilised as a CM. All of a sudden we looked more balanced and regained control of the game to a certain degree.
Having said that we still weren't pressing as high and not quite at 100%. I tried to encourage the team by shouting 'I do not care if you have conceded - shit happens - just be positive, go get that third'. Truth be told, I was really concerned heads would drop massively if we concede another goal. This was a weaker opponent, what message would it send - if for the third game running we have conceded a lead and thrown the game away. In moments like this, all a manager can do is hope the players respond accordingly and find that inner strength to battle through these negative phases of the game.
Then came the turning point. Our striker ran the ball out of play but the referee failed to spot it. As sods law would have it, he would go on to beat a couple of players and stick it in the back of the net. Part of me wanted to tell the referee, but the reality of the situation was that the game was in the balance and if we did go on to lose, the players confidence would be in tatters. Pragmatism had to be the priority. Minutes later we would score a 4th, our CAM with a lofted free kick which sailed straight over the keepers head.
Full Time Score: KHR 'B' 4-1 Village 'E'
There was a sense of relief having secured their first win. I praised the mentality to hold their nerve at 2-1 and the ability to press the reset button and come through adversity. Things to work on included give and goes, combination play when in possession. None of our goals came from well-constructed patterns of play. It was moments of quality or capitalising on errors - which is fine, but you do not want to be relying on that as a plan A.
Key lessons learned
Even if you have your subs planned pre-match, always be prepared to react to what is actually going wrong in the game - who is struggling. Even if there is no like for like sub, fresh legs and a new dynamic is better than just letting a bad situation play out.
2-0 is a dangerous score line. It is not a cliché - never sit on that lead, always aim to make it 3 if you can.
Set boundaries and stick to them. Do not tolerate players coming late, drop them - but do not hold a grudge.