These youngsters learn fast!
By Stephen Tabb
Lions suffer narrow defeat - but only see the positives
At the start of this season, the Lions were a group of young players, with only around 3 of them ever having played 11-a-side, 70 minutes before in their entire lives. 6 weeks on, and whilst the side has not yet won, the transformation is remarkable. They are still taking on teams that are, on average, 2 years older, and they are still struggling to compete against teams that have 3 or 4 County level 14/15 year olds - but today was not one of those days.
Having suffered at the hands of the older Warwick team last week, the Sils started very nervously, but thanks to a superb defensive display by Megan Croft at left back, supported ably by Amy Garside in midfield, and on the opposite flank Flo Collins and Ben Chalkley the attacks from Warwick were coped with ably, with Jonnie Carter in goal making two fine saves to keep the score at 0-0. Sils managed some sporadic attacks using the pace of Kheya Ballentine-Brain and the skill of Matthew Hulbert to create a few half-chances, but the Warwick keeper (who towered over everyone) was up to the task on all occasions.
The breakthrough was finally made by Warwick, with a quickly taken penalty corner catching the Sils defence a little unawares, and the dipping strike beat Carter in goal to give the home team a deserved lead. However, in the last few minutes of the half, Oliver Harris and Jai Atwal began to play higher up the pitch and win the ball in more offensive positions for the visiting team - all boding well for the Sils in the second half.
The second half illustrated perfectly how well this team adapts and learns. Jem Perry started bossing the midfield, with his distribution into spaces helping to set the home team back, whilst all players continued to work hard, and the tactical switch of Kheya Ballentine-Brain back into midfield, to allow Josh Atwal to use his pace up front paid dividends. With Jai Atwal and Flo Collins winning the ball on the right, Matthew Hulbert was able to take a quick free hit (something to focus on in future weeks) and expose the space behind the home defence. Josh Atwal stretched his legs, and with just the goalkeeper to beat, calmly passed the ball into the back of the net.
Sils created another few chances before it was finally time for Stephen Tabb to remove himself from the game, leaving the 11 youngsters from Sils to take on the 11 youngsters from Warwick. Minutes after Tabb had moved away from centre-back, the team had not quite re-organised itself, and the Warwick star player managed to force his way into the D, and score into the bottom corner, giving Carter no chance.
Not to be put off, Sils came storming back, and with seconds left to play, won a Penalty Corner, through good play between Perry and Hulbert, but the shot went agonisingly wide, leaving the home team as 2-1 winners. However, 11 youngsters left the field with smiles on their faces, enthused about the improvement in their performance, and full of positive points about how they had all played.
The team then voted for its player of the match, and a great testament to this growing team is the number of different players that were voted for, and the enthusiasm with which each vote was cast. With all votes counted, player of the match was shared, with Jai Atwal and Oliver Harris taking four votes each - Tabb was left with the casting vote, but opted to plump for Jem Perry due to his impressive second half performance, meaning Atwal and Harris could share the accolade.
Roll on further games as this talented, but young, group, will continue to develop and learn - but most importantly, play with smiles on their faces.