Defence Keeps Andovers Unbeaten Start Intact

After last weeks stunning start to the season, you would be forgiven for thinking that Andover where on the way to another 3 points this weekend, but Andy and I had ensured that we had kept the boys feet firmly on the ground.
After heaping the praise on the boys, we had ensured that they also understood that there were definitely more difficult challenges ahead and this week presented one of them!

Thatcham Blue are one of the stronger teams in our league and it is true to say that our record against them is very up and down. We are capable of beating this side, but if we are not on our game, it could so easily end in defeat. It was gonna be an interesting match up.

Once everybody had found a car parking space, we all settled in for the game, which only took moments to come alive. Andover looked to be on the front foot, continuing in the same vein as last week, with quick attacking football and looking very dangerous on the attack. Lots of through balls were being fed up to Joe and with George B, Harry, Charlie and Isaac supporting from Midfield it looked like the defensive line were in for a quiet day.

10 minutes into the game the pressure told. After a good attack down the right, the Thatcham defender had just put the ball out for a corner, he looked under pressure and just wanted to clear his lines quickly. Charlie took the corner and he delivered an excellent cross looping to the back post. The cross was met by the head of George Barkley and it flew into the back of the net. A stunning header for one of the smallest players not just in our team, but on the whole pitch. It was 1-0 and Andover were looking good for another 3 points.

Now it is fair to say, what you want to see is your team looking to push on after such a dominant start and to take the chances that are being created. Unfortunately, the complete opposite happened! What Andy and I have preached to the boys since a young age is to ensure that they use the width of the pitch and to stretch the opposition by moving the ball from side to side. It appeared that Andover now decided that the best route to goal was to just pump it down the middle, with a lot of hit and hope balls over the top. This was now just giving the ball back to Thatcham for them to build up a head of steam and meaning that the boys were having to work harder chasing the ball rather than keeping the ball. It all became congested in midfield and the tide began to turn.

Ten minutes after Andover had scored and looked comfortable, Thatcham equalised and now looked the dangerous team. The equaliser came after some sloppy work in midfield in which a ball was again handed to easily back to Thatcham, they attacked down the right and when the ball was delivered into the box, nobody dealt with the ball, which left the Thatcham striker an easy shot into the net.

This is how the first half continued, Andover launching the ball up to Joe and it just returning back to the defence creating wave after wave of attacking pressure on Andover and it was safe to say the halftime whistle could not have come soon enough for Andover as they looked leggy and in need of a break.

Haltime discussions were built around these exact problems. We had to retain the ball, use it smarter, make Thatcham work for it and use the width. The breather and words of wisdom it was hoped would see a return to the great start that we had made.

It appeared that the words did not sink in as the second half continued in the same way the first half had ended. Andover just kept pumping the ball hopefully forward and in turn it just kept coming back, offering Thatcham chances to create goal scoring opportunities.

The biggest positive from this however, was the way in which Owen, Daniel and Finlay were digging in. If Thatcham attacked down their right, Finlay was solid, if they switched down their left, Daniel held firm. It was through the middle that they seemed to start focusing their attacks, but Owen was looking in supreme form. The defence showed guts, determination and organisation to fend off wave after wave of attack and despite looking tired, it looked like maybe, just maybe Andover could get away from here with a point!

To be fair to the whole team, it does take a team to defend, not just three players, so credit across the board as George L, Charlie, Isaac, Harry, Alex, Jonty, George B, and Joe in what ever combination that were on the field tracked and chased Thatcham to ensure that we did not concede another goal. Of course not forgetting to mention the sweeper keeper, James as he did look alive to any ball in his area that was loose and pulled off some good saves to further deny Thatcham.

The last 10 minutes did see a small shift in the game, in which Andover did create a few chances of their own and could possibly have snatched all 3 points, but it was fair to say, after a very hard thought game, when the final whistle was blown, it looked to me like both teams were feeling it and with every boy carrying a pair of tired legs, we all trudged of accepting a point was better than none!

I think it is important that this game is used in a positive way. This is a lesson for the boys to show how hard it will be for them if they do not retain the ball. It is harder if you don’t have the ball and the more tired you are, the more difficult it is to think clearly and to ensure that your first touch is sharp.
The stamina work being done in training I am sure is also starting to sink in and I hope that despite them not liking it, they realise the importance of it now.
It is also hoped that they can return to the way in which they have been trained to play since day one and use the width of the pitch, stretching the play and moving the opposition around the pitch.

Finally, the recognition goes to the whole team for the defensive display, but the vote for MOM went to Owen. The decision was well deserved as Owen really thought hard and under constant pressure he remained solid and did not allow the Thatcham front line any space or time to score a winner.

Lets hope we can get back to winning ways next week, but first some more hard work on the training pitch. See you on Saturday for another weekend of football full of frustration but most of all fun.

Thanks to you all for your support

Steve and Andy

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