W eeks had passed since our last game and in that time a lot had happened. Aqib our assistant manager had quit, upset at the fact he was not going to be a regular starter. With him, Amman and Hamza followed the exit door. We also lost Sean who had to move back to Liverpool due to personal reasons. After being subbed off at half time, we never saw Abul again and it also happened to be the last appearance of Amar.
It felt like starting back at square one and with the upcoming inter squad game - I was very short on personnel and not expecting to get a result. The A team would have to lend us players for the game to even take place. In the end, we would only need a single player as we did have a lot of new faces come through the door but this was a side very much still in transition and at the start of its journey.
After much thought I decided to give Ryan the captaincy. He was going to be a regular starter at centre back, he was courageous on the pitch and he had natural empathy for his team mates. He might not be your most macho vocal Keanesque type leader but he was always on time, respectful and thoughtful about the game. Someone you could trust in a battle and to have everyone's back.
Due to the number of new faces and struggling with putting a functional team together - this was very much a side I had to cobble together. To make matters 10 times worse, on the day of the game... our main striker Kurtis and lead creator Bash, both turned up 30 minutes late and had to come from the bench. I played an experienced debutant right back Luton at right wing, debutant Jordan at centre back and a player who would just play this one game, Lewis Jones at left wing.
The midfield was my other major concern going into this game, Alex - the A Team's back up left back, was having to play in midfield, with Omar - a player who really struggled against Village as a right back, but had a decent performance in midfield in training and Jakob - a box to box, skilful midfielder who was the only player you would usually trust to play in midfield.
Despite our very weakened lineup, the defence and the midfield did a great job of keeping us in the game. The 3 man midfield was not allowing their side to run through us in central areas and the back 4 of Emad, Jordan, Ryan and Faz looked very solid. Up front we were unable to make anything happen - which was understandable considering the quality we had in forward areas.
After a solid opening 20 minutes, cracks began to show. The A team fully aware of the fact we could not hurt them began to fly forward in numbers. We were hanging on by our fingernails and fearing an onslaught, I thought the time was right to bring on Kurtis and Bash who by now had made it to the game and were all kitted up. Almost immediately they scored, with Emad showing Geo down the line but making the fateful mistake of leaving a little space in which for Geo to wriggle past him into the area. He then put it on a plate for their striker to score.
We then shifted to a 4-2-3-1 and instantly our side looked more accomplished in attack. Kurtis was not as isolated and he was able to take on a few players inside their box and earn us a penalty. There had been much banter going into the game between the A team players and Kurtis and much of it was on the borderline. It clearly had played a lot on his mind as he fluffed his lines. The chance of going in at half time at 1-1 against a vastly superior opponent had seemed like a miracle but some things are simply too good to be true.
Within moments, A team had gone down the other end and won a contentious penalty. Quite frankly it was never a penalty in a million years and even the A team seemed surprised that it had been given. The keeper did get a flailing hand to it but injured himself in the process... only to see it go in. To say we were crestfallen was an understatement.
As we tried to work our way back into the game, there was a stoppage in play. Our goalkeeper had an injury and I ran onto the pitch with the medic bag. Using the chance to speak to the players, I was just making my way back to the touchline when the A team players restarted the game before any of our players had even realised and scored in an empty net. The referee unbelievably awarded the goal. This day was going from bad to worse.
Half-Time Score 0-3
Very mixed emotions going into that team talk. The unfairness of the hand we had been dealt with this game had been unbelievable. A team that was already missing a lot of players had two of its best players turn up late. Then we had a decent start and a missed penalty followed by some utterly shocking decisions by the referee. Normally I am completely against blaming referees for the state of our scoreline but the players absolutely could not have done anything about those two goals.
I just tried to focus on the fact that against all odds, the team had did pretty well and that they had started to look better with the 4-2-3-1. The result was out of the window now, so I just wanted to get them to try and get some benefit out of the game - try and get a goal, improve their fitness and ensure we gave everyone some minutes.
We had a pretty disjointed second half due to the number of substitutions I needed to make but even so, we did manage to get sustained territory in their half albeit there was not many clear cut opportunities created on goal.
I pushed Jordan into midfield from centre back and he looked pretty decent, I also shifted Emad to central midfield and he too looked excellent. Luton came back on after his winger role in the first half and now played in a more familiar position in right back. Defensively he looked tenacious but he then underhit a pass to the goalkeeper and Mike ran on to it and slotted it past the injured Simone to make it 4-0.
Mike then made it 5-0 with a shot that Simone should have caught with his eyes closed - a speculative effort from range, but the Italian did not want to risk hurting his hand further and did not attempt to save it. A strange finish to a strange game in which only 1 goal that we conceded was from what I would call a well-worked goal. It left a rather bitter taste but I had gained some valuable intel on certain players.
Full Time Score: KHR 'B' 0-5 KHR 'A'
Some players had a go at each other but I urged them to put the result into context. There is no point of a weakened squad having false expectations and losing their rag... for what their squad strength was on paper, a 5-0 loss should not have been surprising. However considering the nature of the game, the team actually did well and the scoreline did not reflect that. It happens.
Key lessons learned
I always used to judge managers harshly when they look to blame a referee - but now I have a touch more sympathy.
Managers cannot turn shit into gold. Do not have false expectations or set false expectations - be realistic of what your players are capable of.