T he search for a new home ground was proving to be frustrating and in the meantime we were expected to set up camp in Rubery - a good 40 minutes from our old home ground. At Rubery, we were to face Village 'E' - a team we secured our first win against. Unbeknownst to us, Village pretty much changed their line up entirely and what we were now facing was effectively Village 'D'.
In terms of our squad, there was no Jamie (our ball-playing centre back), no Faraaz (our left back), no Hamza (who did not take kindly to my criticism of his midfield aspirations - SPOILER ALERT - we never saw him again). As a result we were looking desperately thin defensively, with zero full backs and only 1 trustworthy recognised defender. On the flip side, we did have the return of Aqib from injury and as I had never seen my assistant manager in action, I looked forward to seeing him on the pitch.
With the defence looking thin on recognised defenders, we decided to go with a back 4 and put Aqib in defence next to Ryan. Aqib said he had previous experience of playing at centre back. At wing back we had two untested players in Abdullahi and Omar. The thought process was that in the long term, I could not see these players breaking through in the attacking positions and perhaps I could get some use out of them in a position where we lacked bodies.
In midfield we had Sean and Amar - a midfield pairing which functioned relatively well against BRS before Amar's sin bin. On the wings we had Amman and Abul, both of whom starred against Wake Green during the second half and at 10 we had Bash. Up front we had Kurt who was proving himself to be indispensable. The formation was a 4-2-3-1.
Within the opening five minutes, we had scored. Abul ran down the wing and cut it back for Kurt who was once again in the right place at the right time. We then had several opportunities to add to the lead but Amman in particular was wasteful. The makeshift full backs were looking okay at this stage and the side as a whole seemed to be functioning well - but then disaster struck.
The true measure of a side's quality is how it deals with adversity. Its ability to withstand pressure and reassert its control over a game. Our goalkeeper passed the ball straight to an attacker under very little pressure, who then had no qualms in lifting the ball over Ash's head to make it 1-1. Instead of holding our nerve, we completely collapsed and all the holes in our set up began to show.
Village grew in stature and they began to expose Aqib's terrible lack of pace by constantly probing the back line with a series of balls down the channels. The full backs were suddenly looking very make shift indeed, failing to recognise danger and constantly chasing the action rather than being proactive. Before you know it they had scored a second and then a third.
Sean our only recognised midfielder went off injured and one of Mohsin's cousins, Emad came on to make his debut. We shifted to a back 5 to stem the tide, but it was to no avail and we conceded a 4th - our defence in total disarray, slipping and sliding - failing to stand their ground whenever Village's star winger dared run at them. I started to get changed - I had been out for a year with injury, my ankle still not fully healed but enough was enough - I couldn't stand by and watch this ship sink faster than the Titanic.
Half-Time Score 1-4
Another half time team talk where the team had been terrible in the first half. This time I kept my anger in check and spoke calmly about how in truth, that had been a shocking display considering we had a bright start to the game. Managing adversity or a set back is incredibly important and the fact we had collapsed like a pack of cards was embarrassing - where was our spine, our desire to fight and have some pride?
Tactically I admitted that the decision to deploy Omar and Abdullahi at full back had been a grave mistake. I pushed Emad to right back and brought on Hassan at left back (he had looked frail in previous substitute appearances but I had no other options). I brought myself into the holding midfield position and with Aqib coming off due to injury, I put Abdullahi and Bash either side of me in a 3 man midfield - with Moshin and Amman flanking Kurt.
It was now a 4-3-3/4-4-2 diamond formation. I was hoping that with me being able to provide instructions on the pitch, even withstanding my injury - perhaps we could keep our calm and not give up so easily in the second half if things did not go our way.
Village's biggest threat had been their right winger - the spitting image of Wilfried Zaha in terms of his style. He was fast, tricky and powerful and he had been turning our defence inside out. In truth I was nervous about bringing on Hassan to mark him but he did a tremendous job of getting to grips with the challenge. His tackling was precise, his understanding of when to get close and when to stand off was just on point. Even in possession he looked assured.
On the other flank Emad was equally tremendous. He bossed every aerial challenge and his overlapping was putting Village on the back foot... they could not deal with his energy. In midfield, I was having to cover an awful lot of ground to protect the centre backs and my ankle was in serious pain - but the team now looked more stable, with no one able to run at the heart of our defence anymore.
In attack, Kurtis began to get the service he craved and was wreaking havoc in the left half space. He was nutmegging players in and around the box, and megged the keeper with a delightful finish with his weaker foot. In a similar position, he curled the ball with his right to the opposite corner. We were now 4-3 behind with 20 minutes to go.
Aqib and Sean asked to be put back on, so I took myself and Abdullahi off - I was beginning to run out of steam and the pain was unbearable. Within minutes we had conceded and went 5-3 behind. Aqib was really struggling with his fitness. He was considerably overweight and was struggling to run on to any passes, at one stage he even let the ball roll under his foot. It had been a mistake to bring him back on... but he was my assistant manager?
As the minutes wore on, his continued to struggle. The players around him were getting frustrated, so I subbed him back off and returned Abdullahi to the fold. We instantly looked better and Kurt scored his fourth goal of the game to make it 5-4, a cross from Bash finding the head of Kurt. We were throwing the kitchen sink at them and our centre back Ryan had a shot cleared off the line.
With injury time upon us, we flooded the box for a long range free kick for what was almost certainly the last kick of the game. Amar took the free kick and Sean got his head to it, putting it past the keeper. Cue scenes of pandemonium as Village's crestfallen players dropped to the floor and ours were jubilant. The referee blew his whistle and that was that...
Full Time Score: KHR 'B' 5-5 Village 'E'
Another brilliant come back but an awful lot of lessons learned about certain players and whether or not they would form an integral part of the squad going forwards. This result marked the turning point - 7 out of the 11 starters would not feature again from the start and we also had the departure of the assistant manager who did not take kindly to being subbed off.
Tactically I learned a lot about not experimenting too much with players who may not be good enough in attack and thinking they can easily be converted into defensive players. Mindset is very important and if a player has delusions of grandeur of being an attacking player, more often than not they will lack the concentration and commitment to get back and put in a shift. Essentially they need to adapt or be moved on.
Key lessons learned
Weak attackers rarely get converted into good defenders
Do not write someone off after a brief cameo - they may have been carrying an injury.Being a player manager is workable but having an assistant manager as part of the playing staff is a issue unless that player is a certain starter