Fours two strong for Worcester
"Dave's back" in time for season finale as M4 notch their fourteenth victory of the friendly/league season.
The curtain came down on the league season in the same way that it went up - that's to say with a hard-earned away victory, this time against the woodchoppers of Worcester (still no trees by the side of the M5 I see, Ed). The Mighty Fours welcomed the return of the skipper and Mike Bettridge after absences of six weeks and six months respectively, and started brightly.
Keith Willetts was exceptionally unlucky to see an early shot shave the left hand Worcester post after only five minutes, following slick inter-passing from Rushy and Alex. However, a youthful and energetic Worcester midfield counterattacked briskly, and timely interceptions were needed from Frank and Dave to keep the sheet clean.
After fifteen minutes though, Sils took the lead with a magnificent solo effort from Andy Rush. Bringing the ball into the D to the right of the goal, Andy evaded a challenge from the keeper and, with back to goal dragged the ball from left to right (are you dizzy yet?) creaming a reverse stick shot into the corner of the goal. 1-0 to Sils, but it was worth more. In basketball you get two points for scoring, but three if it is from beyond a certain distance, because it is more difficult. On that basis, Rushy's effort was worth a brace. That he scored arguably his finest goal of the campaign in the final game was fitting.
From this point some may have expected Worcester to capitulate, but this was not to be. On a warm spring afternoon the game plan seemed obvious. Get the ball to do the work, move it around the pitch, stretch the opposition and occasionally look for the killer percentage pass to unlock the Worcester defence. However, Sils were too eager to run the ball through their opponents, meaning that possession was lost cheaply and attack was quickly turned into defence. The reshaped midfield tracked back but the speed with which Worcester countered was a concern on occasion, and gritty tackling from Mick, Craig and Frank, plus some excellent saves from Yogi, were needed to keep Sils lead intact.
Twenty five minutes in, the Mighty Fours scored their seventy-fifth goal of the campaign to double their lead. A well-won short corner saw Rushy's initial shot blocked by the Worcester keeper before Alex Willetts picked up the loose ball to coolly lift it through a crowd of players into the back of the net.
Sils created further chances as half-time beckoned, and only some great saves from their keeper kept the score at 2-0, with Keith, agent Dwyer, Rushy and James all going close. At the other end the Mighty Fours defence did well to snuff out several short corners, before Worcester halved the deficit when a straight strike from the top of the D squeezed inside the right hand Sils post.
HT 2-1, a fairish reflection of the balance of play, with all to play for in the final 35.
As has so often been the case this season, the Mighty Fours raised their game in all aspects despite having to play into the blinding sunshine as the sun started to set on both the day and the season.
In midfield confidence, calmness and endeavour were evident, and so Max Levenger is on their case for subs. Sam, Tom and James worked tirelessly down the left hand side of the pitch, whether attacking or defending, whilst John and Alex, ably supported by Mick and Dave, pushed hard down the right flank. Chances were created, short and long corners won (sometimes), but a packed Worcester defence blunted all that the Sils threw at them, despite the mazy skills of Tom, Andy and Alex, and the effective interplay of Tony, James and Keith.
In defence, the Mighty Fours were strong and decisive. Short corners were defended resolutely, even if the award of some of them, perplexed many. Craig and Tony marked their opponents closely, with Frank stepping in to clean up any ball that Worcester tried to bring into the D. Mick and Sam were equally effective on the right side, with Dave tracking behind them when needed, to ensure that the left wing would only run out of pitch, rather than have an opportunity to fire a pass into the D. When Worcester did manage a shot on goal, our ever-impressive stopper Yogi, did exactly that.
That James and Sam were jointly named MoM was a genuine reflection that we couldn't decide who deserved it more, James for his work rate in central midfield, or Sam for his work rate in defence and midfield, playing in four positions throughout the game, and venturing into the opposition D before unleashing a goalbound strike that drew a great save from their keeper.
And on sixty minutes, the oracle returned. Mike Bettridge stepped onto the pitch for the first time in more than six months, as a player anyway, and immediately fell back into defensive duties as if he had never been away. Great stuff.
Sils pressed hard as the half went on, and came close to extending their lead in the final five minutes, but it was not to be. The whistle blew, the game and season ended, and the Mighty Sils were able to reflect on what has been a hugely enjoyable and successful season.
Post Script 1 : After the Match - Bar Banter
Andy declared that he would need to spend some of the close season working on his new house and garden, having moved in some months ago. To which the retort came, "well with all the braces that you have had this year, you'll start by clearing out your wardrobe, won't you ?!" As he thought about how best to reply, or indeed whether to, the choice was taken away from him when he heard the comment "No, he'll start in his orchard with all those pairs that he has picked up".
Keith wasted no time during the team photo. After the Fours had been officially "papped", Dom, Carol, Lisa and Pat joined for an extra photo. As everyone either stood or crouched still, Keith shouted "Tony, if you look up you'll see Dominic sat down in front of you". Sorry Tony, but Keith has already told me that he plans to keep his banter sharp this summer by shooting fish in a barrel.
Post Script 2 : A Reflection on the Season
As we await confirmation of our opponents next season, and prepare to enlarge the squad and evolve into M4 and M5 over the summer, we can first reflect on what has been the most successful campaign for many years for some of the team, and "for ever" for the rest of us.
So many reasons to look back on a highly enjoyable campaign, so come with me and read on to discover or relive the memorable parts of the season, not necessarily listed in order of importance.
Reasons why we are, and why we are not, a one-man team :
#1 Andy Rush - he scored 34 of our 75 goals in the league, one more than the combined total that we conceded in the entire league season of 20 matches.
#2 Number of players used - 28 players featured for the Mighty 4s in 2016/2017 and all played an important part, ranging from Keith Willetts, who featured in every game, to Steve Dellow, who made his debut in defence in the crunch match away at Old Halesonians, where a 4-0 win was bagged.
#3 Age - it is just a number. A small one if you are Theo Olifent, Maxim Edger or Tom Tyrer, some of the brightest new prospects to emerge this season. And if you are established veterans such as Keith, Mick or Craig, then it is still a number, just that little bit bigger.
#4 Eleven or occasionally ten - depending upon whether Special Agent Dwyer is on active duty, or not or could have been 14 had Murray been available to organise the substitutes in the last game. (Sorry Honour, "my bad", or was it yours ?)
#5 Shaun Bates - that we have achieved second place in a year that saw us without Shaun for so long, reflects highly on the impact that he has had on the team on, and off the pitch. We have listened, learned, developed and delivered. #getin
#6 Ladies and lads - the regular support of Pat, Lisa and Dom, plus Carol, Pat Bragg, Alan Cave and George Jamieson, is much appreciated by everyone. Thank you.
#7 The Umpire strikes back - another long-term absentee, Mike Bettridge, has stoically turned up to watch, then umpire more than half a dozen games this season. I know from personal experience it's tough to be out injured, but to umpire and watch your teammates succeed must bring mixed emotions. Thanks Mike for everything, and it was great that you managed ten minutes in the final game.
#8 Previews and reports - a pair for every game, with a different author from week to week, meaning a fantastically eclectic mix of prose and a perspective from all angles of the squad regarding performance.
#9 "M4 featuring" - we flow with the times it seems as nowadays many groups create great music by having featured "artists". Those that feature on the backing track to our season include Jim Goldstraw, Chairman Steve and "Five A Day" Sam Stephen. I suppose that if we were to mix a track for the campaign, my vote would have to be "Smells Like Team Spirit" by Nirvana.
#10 John & Craig - who stepped in whilst I was having a lie-down in February and most of March. Their organisation of team matters was sorely (literally) appreciated and my thanks to them for their assistance.
So, it just leaves me to say that it has been a blast, both on and off the pitch, with you ALL.
Congratulations on a top season, thank you for making me proud to have been your Captain, and see you at the Dinner.