As a result of losing our two games on Saturday, the Sunday match ended up being a play-off for fifth place (basically a game to win to avoid the wooden spoon).High stakes all round. The Uni Whites team was mainly comprised of ‘A' players but had a sprinkling of ‘B' and ‘C' players as well just to add some flavour. There was rookie keeper Bockie in goal, and Ollie, Lewis, Shaun and James at the back. In midfield there was Rich, Ash, Anoop and Rob, and up front on his own was the not so speedy Leo (self-appointed captain for the day! Well, some one had to do it).
At kick-off time we only had 10 players. Bummer. Our opponents had about 16 players and set about using the inter-change rule to their advantage. Luckily for us, a friend of James named Jeff agreed to play for us and so we happily welcomed him on to the pitch early in the first half. Jeff slotted in to central defence. Eleven against eleven made it a good contest – thanks Jeff for helping us out.
Our opponents were a healthy mix of old and young – some of their players would have been 16 or 17 with plenty of pace, and will only get better. The game started well with good movement and passing. Our first chance fell to Leo, who was put through in the inside left channel. Leo's shot was low and across the keeper, but the keeper managed to push it round the post for a corner. After a while our gun-midfield trio of Rob, Anoop and Ash began to get more of the ball. It really was a pleasure playing with those guys. James and Rich had plenty of the ball early on, and some useful cut backs nearly lead to shots on goal. But really neither keeper had too much to do. At half-time (35 minute halves) we quickly inter-changed ourselves on and off again just to confuse the opposition (don't think it worked) and I must say it was probably the most relaxed half-time break I have ever experienced. Perhaps too relaxed. Because within 60 seconds of the restart some sloppy play at the back lead to a soft goal for the opposition. Damn – 1-0 down. Apparently, it was the first goal they had scored in the competition so far.
But we kept at it and if anything we gained more of the ball in the second half. Their keeper had to make several quality saves, some useful crosses came in but we just couldn't sneak that equaliser. Rob was winning pretty much everything (and was my Man of the Match) and Anoop showed just why he could well be the next Usain Bolt. Shit that guy has pace. Mid-way through the second half Ash found himself just inside the box and was crudely challenged by one of their defenders. The referee pointed to the spot, and James gave the ball to Ash to take. Unfortunately for Ash, the keeper parried it out, and then Rich blazed over from the rebound. (but as Wez once said some time in the last century, at least he hit it as hard as he could!).
Late on Ash sneaked up as a winger, and then Shaun tried his luck at number 9 with Leo dropping deeper. Ollie was taking up some useful positions on the left, and Anoop saw a stinking shot saved by the keeper. Then Rich nearly got his head on to a sumptuous cross, but it was not to be. In fact, it wasn't until the 70 minute with quite literally the last kick of the game that we managed to do what we had threatened all afternoon. We scored a goal. A sharp cross came in from the right from James and who else but Lewis arrived at the perfect time to slot home from four yards out. It was the least we deserved. The final whistle blew straight away.
One each at full time, and so began the onset of extra time which was 10 minutes each way. We played just as well in extra time as we did in normal time and despite not having any subs we still looked reasonably fresh (well, most of us). Twenty minutes came and went with no further goals and so the game braced itself for penalties. The crowd (Mel Bock) was getting very excited indeed. A game that had been played in great spirit by both sides was heading in to it's final stage.
The drama just kept mounting as the referee asked teams to nominate penalty takers, The Uni Whites had no shortage of volunteers. First up was Anoop who coolly slotted home low and hard to the left. And then they scored. Next up was Rich who shot in to the top-left corner. And then they scored. Next up was old-timer Leo who scored with a shot that sort of went leftish with the keeper going right. And then they scored. Our fourth penalty taker was Lewis who also found the net. And then they scored. So, after 4 penalties each the teams were still unable to be separated. Our fifth penalty taker was James, the coach, who apparently hadn't missed from the spot for 5 years. No pressure James. The coach stepped up, hit it well enough and on target, but the keeper read it and saved the shot well. Bummer. And then they scored.
So, after a gallant effort by all 11 players on a reasonably warm afternoon, we ended up winning that wooden spoon (it's in the post). Don't worry James, we probably should have won it before it got to penalties. It was a shame to lose the last game of a long season, but it was still an enjoyable afternoon out and a joy to play with the rest of you. Some great passing and skilful movement against a team that in fairness tried to play the same way. To all the lads who contributed to the season, enjoy the break and we might do it all again next year. Cheers, Leo.