WIND AND WITHERING
By Jade Bloomfield
Proverbial game of two halves in windswept Rochester
Holcombe Men's 6s 1 BEHC Highwayman 1
All in all, from a BEHC perspective the game was indeed a bit of a curate's egg, although perhaps more one of the pickled variety, as it was indeed good in parts, although overall distinctly windy and with a slightly stinky whiff of Medway estuary salt about it too. For once the squad was virtually unchanged from the previous week, but with the additions of both Sammy Chana and Stephen Garth, so match-day manager Mark Ainley had a little less on his plate than usual, the usual crumbs of confusion doubtless blown away by the gale-force gusts. But this was probably a good thing, as he also had to double up on umpiring duties on the day - who says men cannot multi-task?
The game itself was a bit like the weather - end-to-end, disjointed, fragmented, frenetic, yet oddly just as bleakly compelling as a Bertolt Brecht play. Both teams bossed one half each, the visitors the first, as Ali Burnett once again showed his value to the team by deservedly putting the Highwaymen in front after 15 minutes, but despite their general dominance of proceedings, they simply could not add to this tally despite a plethora of short-corner opportunities and breakaways in open play. The hosts turned the tables after the break, however, as the men in white found themselves penned into their own third for long periods. Holcombe's tactic of blasting the ball long to two poachers up front, losing possession, and then applying a tight squeeze on the restart yielded few dividends in the first half, but worked a treat in the second when allied to some subtler passing moves. Oddly enough, both teams did better against the wind, presumably as this made verbal contact virtually impossible and rendered any tactical calls irrelevant.
Once again the men from BEHC were blessed with plenty of midfield talent, including Chris Bernard on the right who sailed forward with the wind in his sails in the first half, even if tacking back was not quite so easy, whilst Ravi Wickramasuriya and David Leverton were as busy as usual. Even if Andy Rose awoke to a world of pain the previous Sunday, he was back in the thick of things on Saturday, trying to inflict sporting damage on the hosts in red. And last but definitely not least, man-of-the-match Greg Dowse put in an absolute Duracell of a performance, always making himself available and linking play up well, without ever running out of energy.
The game actually turned within seconds of striker Pat Gainey pulling up with what appeared to be a bit of a hamstring pull. The equaliser, when it came less than a minute later, was a messy affair, although probably no less than Holcombe deserved after the break. The defence did brilliantly again throughout, even when playing a man short for the penultimate five minutes of the game, as Phil Kinch put in another rock-like dependable performance, Richard Cleall charged down all four penalty corners conceded, and the excellent Tom Conway swatted, kicked, parried and palmed all but one shot to safety throughout.
It was probably a game that the team would ultimately have lost a couple of years ago, although the feeling still persists that it was also two points dropped, even if Holcombe will not prove easy to beat on their own patch this season. Ultimately the main winner on the day was the wind, and there was no withering post-match assessment from captain Stephen Gilbert either, who will definitely be remembered for one of the cameos of the day. The team's Heathcliffe-esque hero from Catford somehow executed an immaculate reverse stick stop from a missile of a pass launched from such distance that the sender briefly considered sending the ball by either DHL or UPS instead - absolutely marvellous stuff.
Next week's home match will be in the rather unfamiliar surroundings of Colfe's and with about half of the core team potentially missing for a variety of reasons, so hopefully the early season momentum will not be lost - with or without a trailing wind.
Tom Conway (G), Phil Kinch, tim walters, Richard Cleall, Chris Bernard, Ravi Wickramasuriya, Greg Dowse, Andy Rose, Pat Gainey, Sammy Chana, Stephen Garth, David Leverton, Ali Burnett and Stephen Gilbert (C).
Greg Dowse patrolled the left flank like a primed torpedo and performed well in all three thirds of the pitch.
Both Mark Ainley and the home umpire handled a scrappy and physical game well in very testing conditions.