It was a very wet start, which soon turned in to sleet then snow whilst warming up, felt more like January than April.
Whirlwinds started the game very brightly, seemed to be enjoying playing on a larger pitch, moving the ball around well, and causing the home side some real problems with raids down the right in particular. The home side were really up for this game, pressing with real intensity. With 15 minutes gone they had their first attempt on goal, Nathan did well diving down to his right to save, however the ball skewed out to an onrushing attacker, who reacted better than the away defence to slot home from a very tight angle 1-0. It was a body blow, but judging by the first 15 minutes easily recoverable by the away side. A minute later it got a whole lot worse, a low corner skidded in, bounced up and Ajiri controlled with his mid-riff and cleared, the referee from a clearly blind position, blew his whistle and too the surprise of everyone pointed to the spot. It was a truly awful decision, the home team greatly accepted the gift and fired in the penalty 2-0. The referee than continued to annoy the away side giving a series of incorrect hand ball decisions, breaking the flow of the game, but chose to ignore a couple of clear infringements from the home side. The sense of injustice increased when Oliver looped a header over the keeper to pull one back, only to see a flag raised by the opposition linesman, from the initial delivery from the free kick all the away attackers were clearly on-side, and Oliver pounced on a poor defensive header. It was clear it wasn’t going to be the away side’s day, which was compounded when under no pressure, Oakley sliced an intended clearance in to his own net, trying to do the right thing and not knowing there was no trouble behind him, it was a lack of communication that really killed off any chance of recovery 3-0.
Halt time team talk was a difficult one, we spoke at the beginning about giving an extra 20% in the last few league games, to finish off what has been a fine season. Sadly a few too many fell a long way short of their usual levels in the first half. There was anger and upset at the decisions, however, we needed to control our own game, our effort levels and intensity were not good enough in the first half.
Second half kicked off and the intensity levels had increased with all the team now working hard, not just a few. As a result Houghton were almost entirely penned in their own half, the pressure was building, a goalmouth scramble saw the ball bounce back off the post, a series of corners were somehow kept out, the home team now limited to long ball counter attacks, which the away defence and midfield were well on top of. Finally Ajiri picked the ball up the centre shifted on to his favourite foot and smashed an unstoppable 20 yard shot in to the top of the net 3-1. The home side looked to be crumbling and another quick goal would have seen the away side completely on top, and looking the more likely to finish winners, even with a goal deficit. Ajiri sent in a curling free kick, which looked destined for the top corner, however the home goal keeper pulled of a fine save to tip just over. The next action saw Jack M put a glancing header in to the side netting, for a moment it looked like he had scored and was desperately unfortunate not too. Sadly the come back was killed off with a couple of minutes left when an innocuous cross from the right came in, no attacker anywhere near the ball, but two defenders decided to leave it to each other, in the end neither did anything and a grateful home attacker got a stretched foot to it, Nathan tried to smother, but the ball squirmed up and over his outstretched body and in, 4-1. Still the belief didn’t drain, and the away side tried to take the game to the home side for final few minutes, in a half they completely dominated. It was a very good game, unfortunately spoiled by some very poor decisions, but credit to Houghton, over the two games we have played against them, they were the best footballing side, we have have faced this season.
Summary : In essence two horrendous decisions steered the result of the game, we do seem to have been on the end of some appalling decisions this season and these were up there with the worst. However, our effort and intensity wasn’t what it should be in the first half. Too many of the team were way behind their opponents, in terms of hunger and desire, which lead to the opposition applying pressure, and thus inviting danger and bringing the referee in to play. However in the second half they put it right, being 3 goals down is a tough ask to come back from, but the whole team seemed to believe they could, and certainly deserved more than the one goal they scored. They walked off the pitch proud of there second half performance, and so they should be, we must take this level of intensity and desire in to our remaining games.
M.O.T.M : I don’t think in the first half any player was really on their usual game, but all responded in the second half, special mention to Billy & Thomas, who were both immense in the second half, but for his sheer determination and effort level, plus his half time team talk input, this weeks award goes to Oliver.