03 February 2018 v NorthWales O35’s
Following the postponement of the December and January games, both due to snow, this was to be our first fixture of the year and it was the first in our “Double Header” weekend. The fact that the games were to be played at St George’s Park on both days just added to the excitement and expectation of the occasion.
The North Wales Over 35’s looked to be a fit squad when they turned up with most of them having played for Rhyl at some stage in their careers and this was going to be a toughie for the boys in blue. That said, we wore the maroon kit!! The game was to take place on the 3G indoor pitch as, although we had been offered an outdoor pitch the fact that we would be playing the Navy in the Inter Services in March on an artificial pitch, the management decided to get some practice in on that sort of surface (thinking in advance). It was also raining!!
North Wales kick off. A quick break down the right sees a tackle from Gaz Meadows and he gets the call as the ball rebounds off the NW player. Gaz takes the throw himself and makes an absolute mess of it as the ball slips from his hands and he almost falls over. Luckily the ball doesn’t actually come into play and he gets a second go and...that’s a better one. The RAF were asked to play a high pressing game and it’s obvious from the start that they are doing as asked. They are chasing and winning the ball in midfield in these early stages and the NW are struggling to string passes together. A good break down the right sees a foul committed and from Trev Smith’s free kick the RAF look to have a chance when Coull gets into the box but a toe manages to clear the ball and it’s out for another throw to the RAF. Lovely play from right to left and back again sees Irvine, up from right back, overlapping and his initial cross is headed clear but only to the incoming Bartley who’s first shot is half blocked but the follow up shot lands safely in the arms of the NW keeper. The Welsh were not creating much but then attacked down there left. The number 9 got in a great ball to switch play but the right winger had drifted offside and it came to nought. The RAF were playing well but were playing too narrow. This is a big pitch, the dimensions being exactly the same as those at Wembley, so more than enough space to play in. The Welsh number 9 was seeing a lot of the ball for the opposition and was very comfortable in dropping deep to get the ball and bring it forward. After another of his 30 yard runs, he played the ball out right but again it was cut out and the RAF mounted a counter attack. I don’t think he was too enamoured with the effort his teammates were putting in at that time. This was a battle of the midfields and most of the game was being played in the middle third although a great ball from the NW number 10 through the RAF ranks almost saw the Welsh outfit take the lead but a superb block tackle by Barker saw the RAF come away with the ball again. Both sides were trying to play a pacey game and at times there was a bit of bagatelle as the ball bounced from RAF to NW and back again as both sides tried to break the deadlock. The two midfields were evenly matched going toe to toe in the centre and this game was crying out for something special or a mistake. The mistake came first. A corner to the RAF was quickly cleared upfield and the chase was on. Yorkie Bryan chased back and got his foot to the ball but could only knock the ball out to the right. A lovely first time ball into the box then saw the the little number 10 nip in front of Dales before slotting the ball past Croucher in the RAF goal. 17 minutes gone 0-1 North Wales.
The RAF continued to play some nice football but the final ball was missing or they tried to over complicate things and chose the wrong option but this was still anyone’s game and still, most of the game was in that middle third. Bartley was strong in that area and was doing his utmost to break up their play and set off the RAF into attack and following another of his searching balls to the right, the RAF were denied a stonewall penalty when the cross came in and Coull was manhandled, jumped all over and finally flattened to the floor...the ref waved play on!! Soon after, Arscott got in a header that was well saved by the keeper before Dales tried his luck from 25 yards with the ball going 25 yards high and 25 yards wide. That’s it, half time and it’s RAF 0-1 North Wales.
Half time was an opportunity to regroup and refocus. We needed to spread the game as the midfield stalemate had to be broken. Matt Beattie RTM and Craig Gill, one of the coaches gave the lads the ammunition and encouragement to go out there and win this. Matt’s “I like you now but don’t love you yet” will go down in history as one of football’s more unforgettable half time team talks but would it work. We are about to find out.
Substitutions at half time are Turner on for Meadows, Edwards on for Foster and Robison on for Coull. The RAF kick off the second half and Edwards immediately gets a shot in but it hits a defenders shins and is out for an RAF corner. From the corner clearing header, the RAF win a free kick and it’s played short. The ball comes inside then back out wide and the cross is met by Arscott who can’t keep it down and it’s harmlessly over the bar. The RAF have come out fighting but they then fell to a sucker punch as the Welsh team win the ball in midfield. A pinpoint pass sets the number 10 through and he rounds Croucher only to find two RAF defenders back on the line. He takes his time and then coolly slots the ball between them. 0-2 North Wales with 50 minutes on the clock. This is looking like a long road back but the boys stick to their task and continue to play the way they were asked. It is paying dividends as they stretch the NW defence and Robison is almost through but a superb tackle stops him in his tracks. The RAF are now finding space and continue to probe the defence searching for that breakthrough but the Welsh team are no mugs and revert to a different type of game. They start lumping the ball over the advancing RAF defenders. It almost paid off when the number nine lobbed Croucher and luckily for the RAF, the ball bounced wide. A change at the back for the RAF sees Irvine off and Arscott move to the right back position with Pugh on the right of the midfield.Dales comes off too with Robinson on at centre half. A great header by Smith from a corner is well saved by the keeper but the linesman signals a goal kick much to the chagrin of all but it’s now all RAF. Following yet another RAF corner, this time taken short the RAF win a penalty when Edwards is pushed in the back following a Robison cross. Robison himself steps up but there is a bit of a delay as the Welsh number 2 goes in the book presumably for something he said. Robison then takes the kick and the keeper saves it but Robison is on hand to smash in the rebound. It’s no less than the RAF deserve and it’s 1-2 North Wales. The game was now becoming a little heated with neither side shirking in the tackle and there was some tasty tackling going on I can tell you. With 65 minutes on the clock, the RAF were definitely on top and the NW side looked to be flagging. Chance after chance came and went but the RAF boys couldn’t muster that equaliser until...another corner to the RAF and Robinson was sauntering into the box. Edwards corner was whipped in and with Robinson then steaming into the box he outjumped everyone but alas the ball just eluded him. However that jump certainly foxed the Welsh defenders and the ball hit one of them on the head near the penalty spot. The ball fell about 25 yards out from where, Bartley struck a most sublime left footed half volley into the back of the net. 2-2 game on!!
The equaliser spurred on the Welsh as well as the RAF and Edwards had to head clear off the line. Two Welsh players then went down injured with both RAF therapists, Payne and Morris, attending to them. One with a hamstring injury and he had to be replaced the other okay to continue after a quick rub of the calves. This surface is unforgiving and the pace the game was being played at was not helping either. Both sides had chances in the final minutes but neither could capitalise and the full time whistle went. 2-2 and a very enjoyable, hard game of football came to an end. Matt Beattie still only liked the lads but he “liked them a little more” after the second half. His challenge to those that were staying on for day 2 was to get him to “love them”. To be continued...