With Man City facing off against title rivals Chelsea so early into the season... we too faced a early title decider of our own against Bournville FC - a young team who have progressed through the youth leagues together and have an enviable set up. We knew going into the game we would be without the injured Grady and our defensive stalwart Jamie... thus the spine of the side was missing some oomph. Nevertheless, the squad was still pretty stacked and we felt confident we would be competitive.
With Thomas impressing with his two goals in 30 minutes, I wanted to try him out up front as a reward. Bash had asked to be deployed as a left winger, so he was given the chance to do so. Ryan was back, so he was paired by Louis at centre back and we had the returning Faraaz at left back. Mo kept his place at right back and we had the ever reliable Jakob and Emad in midfield with Badri ahead of them at 10.
As always, Lamar turned up late just before the game and was dropped to the bench. This meant a change to the lineup and Mikey started up front, with Thomas shifted to the right wing. The formation was our customary 4-2-3-1.
As soon as the game started I felt a sense of dread. The opposition looked very slick and was moving the ball around with a high degree of skill and organisation. It was a reminder that much of 11 aside revolves around 11 men thinking as if they are of one brain... the better a side can do this, the more fluid it looks and the more potent it tends to be. We had a few scary moments defensively, especially down our left flank but hung in.
We then began to slowly get ourselves back in the game and there was moments of quality... Thomas in particular wreaking havoc each time he slalomed his way in off the right flank. On one particular occasion, he went past 3/4 players having started his way near the halfway line and inexplicably failed to pull the trigger having broken into the box. Despite these moments, we still didn't look right and Mikey was not able to get involved in the game.
Then came their goal. Bournville won a throw in down our right flank. I shouted to the defence to shift across but they just held their position, failing to get lots of bodies down the right flank. Within seconds, the opposition had won the flick on for the header and volleyed it into the back of the net. It was the second goal of the season where we had been caught cold like this and found ourselves having to fight our way back.
After the goal we started to get going. Mikey started running the channels more and the leggy Badri who was not having his best game, finally made his presence felt. Bash was not really holding the ball well off the left but he did manage to hit a beautifully weighted long ball to Thomas who allowed it to run across him and finish it with his weaker right foot. A belter of a goal... 1-1.
Half-Time Score 1-1
The key message at half time was that we had fought our way back into the game and the opposition looked on their feet after a blistering start. We need to take advantage of our superior fitness and run them ragged. Take some extra care with the ball and go for the jugular.
At half time, I wanted to still see if we could get a glimpse of Thomas up front. In hindsight, I should have focused on just keeping the team going but I wanted to experiment, knowing we had a big cup match coming the week after. I brought Lamar on and Callum too because I wanted more pace and thrust down the left. Bash and Mikey were unhappy to be brought off for players who had turned up late and in hindsight - they were correct, but in my mind I saw it as a last last chance saloon for the subs.
One thing I had not taken notice of in this game was the state of the pitch. It had a big slant and we were now facing uphill. In some ways that can be an advantage because any long balls won't run out of play as easily but it does take it out of your legs. In an ideal world, Mikey would have been playing in the second half against tiring legs.
Whilst the subs themselves did not have a brilliant impact, Thomas - now at striker - made a brilliant run into the box and won what should have been a stonewall penalty but was given as a freekick just outside the box. Badri's effort was decent but the opposition keeper despite being super small, had superb handling all game and caught it.
For the next 20-30 minutes we dominated possession and did not concede a single shot. They did not venture into our defensive third but despite having plenty of the ball, we only created one clear cut opportunity. Lamar ran at their defence in what was a 4 v 2 situation but failed to release the pass... that would be as good as it got. If there was one thing that was mightily apparent in the second half was that we did not really know what to do with the ball. There was no synchronised element to our attack... it was all off the cuff.
Time was running out and it looked like the game was going to end in a draw. With around 10 minutes to go, Bournville managed to spring a surprise counter and we were caught napping down the flanks. It is difficult to concentrate when you are very dominant and not expecting a threat but the problem had been that the attack had not made the most of it. It is difficult to expect a defence to hold their concentration for 90 minutes at this level.
Full Time Score: Bournville 2-1 KHR 'B'
An unfortunate result but not anything to be ashamed about. I reminded the players that the opposition were spoken about as potential favourites for the title and the fact we had dominated a large period of the game despite not playing well was a positive. We would meet them again further in the season. Having said that, there was a lot of lessons to be learned.
It was clear that the lateness and attitude of some players was creating an element of toxicity in the squad. Players do not mind being subbed if it is for players who are of a good quality and hard-working. When they are subbed for undeserving players it can cause friction and this was something I had to be mindful of for future games. We also needed to be drilled more in possession and become more methodical in the way we create chances.
Key lessons learned
No attack can rely on just individual talent. The more organised an attack is, the more synchronised the movement and it leads to faster decisions on the ball.
Encourage your team to play out from the back and only become more risk-averse when errors are creeping in. Do not start off as cautious.
Only use half time subs if you are losing, not if you are drawing.