1st XI Topple Banbury
Blackheath & Elthamians show fight to extend winning run to 5 games
Rewind to the end of November and a bad first half of the season turned to a disastrous one when the 1st XI lost 7-0 at home to Banbury. Undoubtedly a strong side, and heading for promotion, they gave the boys a lesson in the standard to aspire towards next season. Come the start of March and the improvement is evident for all to see.
The core met at Marlyebone station - a social trip that Ed Fleet did well to avoid as he feared missing the Wolves receive a 4-1 hammering from Steve Bruce’s men and instead chose to bite James Craigmyle’s ear off about the state of Championship football. James didn’t ask.
It was a grey afternoon and preparations weren’t ideal as the previous game overran. A 10-minute pitch warm-up was all we were given but the high intensity and enthusiasm signalled that the boys were ready. It was a tough first half. Banbury’s brand of hockey and skilful movement made it difficult to defend against. The team needed to adapt to a slightly different opposition system and fought hard to keep them out. The high pressure and high intensity nature of the home team led to Blackheath & Elthamians mistakes that we thought had been left behind in December. Of the short corners conceded, two found the back of the net in either corner, one coming on the stroke of half time. It was 2-0 at half time and probably could have been more. That’s not to say the boys did not hang in well but we couldn’t quite match the opposition.
The message at half time was clear. Be more aggressive and stand up to your opposite number. We had had chances in the first half but would have to defend better to give ourselves a more solid base for the next 35. Coach/Captain Harden made the call to drop the press off and that would buy us some more time.
The boys stepped up. Craigmyle made some superb saves, the best being from a shortie with ten to go right in the bottom right hand corner of his goal. Fleet and Stafford marshalled the back four and we started to keep the ball far better, making use of the quick ball pace both our centre backs have. It was clear that the second half would be more even from the off and Blackheath & Elthamians looked more comfortable and threatening in possession mixing short play and an aerial game to far greater effect. Both Fleet and Archer found space in behind with long balls on various occasions.
Some far better link up play saw us collapse Banbury down one side and go down the other with much greater regularity. This led to the first goal as some neat play down the right hand side found Lewis Burnham in the middle. The speed of thought and hands resulted in Charlie Speller having time top D to find Chris Harden at the far post who deflected neatly above the keeper. 2-1. An almost identical piece of play stretched Banbury down the right, including a magnificent first time ball from Lewis Lawrence, and led to Speller beating his man top D only to be denied his first reverse goal ever by a much-need Chris Harden deflection far post. 2-2. The team in second place were shook now and had not expected to find this fight in a team they dispatched with such ease first time around. Some more great attacking link up play with Ben Stafford, Josh Self and Dave Lawrence all involved led to Chris Harden free on the P spot to smash it past a hopeless keeper. 3-2. What a turnaround! There was even time for more attacking and a nearly superb fourth which would have been a hat-trick of combinations for Speller and Harden went narrowly past the left-hand post. The drama wasn’t quite over as a rapidly tiring Blackheath & Elthamians were stretched in the last 5 minutes. This led to a yellow card and P-flick that Banbury weren’t able to convert.
The boys held on for an excellent victory and another important 3 points. That means that second half of the season, the only loss has been 3-2 against Tunbridge Wells. With 3 still to play, it would be an impressive feat to keep that up.
MoM – Chris Harden
DoD – Tom Harden
Saturday – Guildford (H)
Sunday – Basingstoke (A) Cup Q/F