Sils sink Stratford to go second
Mighty Fours dig deep to maintain 100% away record
As Billy Ocean said, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" and this was very much the case for the Mighty Fours in a hard-fought encounter against a Stratford team that had recently been relegated from Central SW1. M4 were without several key players - Russell, Bettridge, Bates, Ffitch, Aylin, Creed, Atwal - and took ten fit players, a flu-stricken whippet and a bear with sore knees in an effort to maintain their unbeaten start to the season.
A reorganised team started brightly and took the lead after only four minutes with a smartly-worked set piece. John Harrison pulled the ball back to David Higgins, whose piercing ball into the D found Andy Rush. He jinked past two defenders before laying the ball back to the Mighty Fours "Ginger Ninja", Alex Willetts, who gave the Stratford keeper no chance as he unleashed a reverse samurai strike from the top of the D.
Stratford responded well, pushing forwards with increasing confidence down both flanks, but some very capable defending from the returning Sam Teal, and tracking back from James Gregory meant that the Mighty 4s were able to slow their opponents down and regain the ball. At times though Sils played with too much urgency, willing to send percentage balls towards Andy and Keith. In doing so, we simply ceded possession and had to work hard to absorb the unnecessary pressure that we then put ourselves under. When we resorted to simpler, shorter passing, we looked more dangerous, with Yogi Bear the orchestrator of a number of sublime passes that opened up the Stratford midfield with exciting ease. We must learn from this.
The home team counter-attacked with growing confidence as the half progressed, and only some excellent positional defending from Frank and Theo, prevented an equaliser. Just moments later a goal was disallowed by the umpire for an infringement by two Stratford attackers, and this seemed to spark Sils into life. M4 varied short corner routines to unsettle and test the Stratford keeper. From one of these corners, Alex Willetts sent a screamer of a ball past the keeper only for it to cannon off the base of the post and fly away to safety. And then, came Sils' second goal - a typically clinical finish from Andy Rush after a wonderful mazy run by Alex to create the opportunity.
HT Stratford 0 Mighty Fours 2 Cards 0
The half-time talk was simple and clear, but we struggled to follow it. We knew that we would tire in the second 35, particularly given that our opponents had 14 players to call on, so it was important that we kept our shape, purpose and discipline. As George Michael once said "If you're going to do it, do it right". We knew that mental discipline was going to be key to maintaining and extending our lead. That it waned was a concern, but on reflection perhaps understandable. Our options to rest players were very limited, with James being asked to put in pretty much a full shift to support Yogi and Alex. Tony, to his absolute credit, refused to cry off despite being clearly unwell, and worked as hard as he could down the left side. JH played his part, not just thanks to his usual strong performance down the right flank, but he ensured that he had complete motivation to play a full 70 by picking himself in his own Fantasy League team. The temptation to chop down Stratford's young left half was always there, but perhaps muted by the need to acclimatise to the impact of a new "tape and handle" combo on his favoured weapon of choice.
The second half saw some great hockey from both sides, with the home side's efforts to halve the deficit thwarted by some solid defending from Tony (Whippet) Dwyer, Mick Lane, Tony (Frank) Jamieson, Sam Teal and Dave Higgins. On the rare occasions that Stratford were able to get a shot on goal, Theo Olifent made some important saves to keep Sils in the match. Hard as Sils tried to bag a third goal, it was Stratford who put the ball in the net with only six minutes remaining. A short corner was swept back to the injector, who gave Mick no chance as he managed to squeeze the ball past him.
Twas rumoured that Pat spotted a cameo from John Wayne in the final minutes of the match. Indeed it did feel a little like the Alamo, but to our - to a man (and bear) - we kept our composure and shape and ran out worthy winners of what was a highly-enjoyable contest. This was in no short measure thanks to a brilliant last-minute block from Theo.
FT Stratford 1 Mighty Fours 2 Cards 0 "Now That's What I Call Hockey"
MOTM - Arun Jogi. The presence of Yogi Bear (and no Boo Boos) in midfield was vital in supporting the tireless running of Alex Willetts.
Worthy of being mentioned in dispatches :
(1) Frank's assured marshalling of the defence at the back;
(2) Purple Tony's commitment, making an 80 mile round-trip for a game that he only played so as not to leave us with 11.
(3) Keith's performance. Tightly marked throughout the match, he just got on with his game, tormenting the Stratford defence whenever the opportunity arose
(4) Simon's face when we told him the result on our return to the Sils
(5) James & Sam for the way that they fitted into the team, one after not playing for six months, the other as he tries to settle into the squad. Well done guys.
(6) The guys who couldn't be with us, for their mails of encouragement in the days leading upto the match, and the congratulations that they sent from all corners of the world within hours of the game finishing
(7) Our opponents, for the spirit in which they played the game. See you after Christmas gentlemen.