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14th July 2018 v Wales FA

And so it begins...

The first game of the new season is upon us and today sees the first game of our “double header” weekend against Welsh opposition at St George’s Park. The Wales FA are always a tough outfit to play against and with this being the first game of our season and with a number of new faces in the squad today’s game may well be tougher still. That said, there is a good turn out given that there is lots on with it being the start of RIAT and the little matter of it’s World Cup Final weekend.

Matt and his team are looking to sweep off the cobwebs and rid the rust from the players on what is turning out to be quite a hot day and following a demonstration from “Roons” on the correct way to drink from the new water bottles...the RAF are set to go.

With the teams on the pitch and as kick off time approaches, the referee advises me that the temperature is forecast to be 32 degrees within the hour and if we would like, a drinks break would be called after 20-25 minutes. I say “yes please” and advise the gaffer who totally agrees and so it’s on to kick off.

Wales kick off and immediately win a free kick on the half way line following an over zealous attempt to win the ball and, following the kick, Wales are awarded another free kick 25 yards out after a block tackle is deemed a foul. It comes to nothing. Both sides are looking rusty and it comes as no surprise that balls are going astray during the opening salvo’s but after eight minutes the RAF get a chance with a free kick of their own. A couple of players are standing over the ball chatting before new boy Spike Fixter takes it upon himself to hit it and...the boy did good as the ball nestles in the bottom left corner of the goal with the wall and the keeper well beaten. He must have watched Trippier’s goal against Croatia!! RAF 1-0 Wales.

The game has slowed a little as the players get into their stride and the heat begins to take a toll but there is some good football being played by both sides. Chances are being created and only a good save from Algar in the RAF goal keeps the scores level. Algar is called into action again shortly after that when he saves another shot but the ball falls to a Wales player though his attempt is half blocked. Ping pong in the box ensued but the Welsh couldn’t get it past the RAF defence and when the ball is drilled goalward from about 8 yards, it is flying in till a diving RAF head deflects it onto the post and back into play before the follow up shot goes harmlessly wide. Goal kick to the RAF and superb defending from the boys in blue.

Gus Payne, the medic, was then called into action himself when a Wales player went down injured. The player twisted his knee when landing after a clearing header and did himself some damage. As the stretcher buggy arrived, Fixter, the RAF goalscorer, did the same thing at the other end and as Gus raced to get there, the buggy and original casualty followed. It’s not an emergency buggy we needed now...we need a bus. That said, both players wanted to stay and see the game and with Gus monitoring them at the side of the pitch, that’s what they did.

The rest of the half was nip and tuck with both sides creating and missing half decent chances but luckily, the expected heatwave didn’t materialise as was expected, though it remained mighty hot so the 12 minutes injury time added on at the end of the half wasn’t too much of a problem (says I, sat in the shade and not playing!!). Half Time RAF 1-0 Wales.

The second half kicked off but with yours truly away still refilling those new water bottles, I got back five minutes into the half to find it was 1-1. A cross come shot had apparently looped over the RAF keeper and into the net for the equaliser. The next 15 minutes were as the first half, chances coming and going for both sides, but the Wales team were beginning to look a little stronger now. Three times in quick succession they got into the RAF box and caused problems before last ditch clearances managed to keep the scores level. The RAF boys were looking a little jaded when the referee halted the game for another water break. A bonus.

After the restart the game got back to the usual nip and tuck though the RAF did create a couple of good opportunities but the shots were not forthcoming and the extra touches/passes saw the opportunities fizzle out. Although there were rolling subs, the RAF had used all the squad throughout the game and all of them had given everything. As the final phase of the game loomed, there were no fresh legs left and it was to tell. Another save from Algar kept the scores level and after a break down the left by Wales, the cross was headed clear. As the follow up shot was again headed clear, it was volleyed back from about 20 yards and into the back of the net. It was the 90th minute and it was now 2-1 Wales.

A corner to Wales and the ball is hit into the box. It wasn’t a particularly good corner in that it was mishit and bobbled right across the box with everyone missing it...except one Wales player who ran onto it only to be tackled late...penalty Wales. Algar went the right way but the ball is in the net 3-1 Wales 95th minute. There is time for Wales to win back the ball from the restart and as the ball sails over the bar from the shot, the final whistle goes. 3-1 to Wales.

A great game of football to start the season in very difficult conditions. Heat is great on holiday but it most certainly doesn’t benefit football in this country. Loads of positives to take from the game including the introduction of a new system that will be used in ALL games by ALL players so everyone knows how we expect to play and what is required from each individual whenever they are selected to play. It was great to see some new additions to the squad and last seasons Player of the Year, Mark Rooney, continued his trophy winning exploits by bagging the first “Harry D. Horse” trophy of the season...Well done Roons...improvement required!!

RAF Squad: Algar, Irvine, Arscott, Schofield, Rooney, Bryan, Shanks, Pugh, Fixter, Stewart, Coull, Clarke, Letch, Donnelly, Wilkinson, Salkeld, Pierre.

Massive thanks to everyone who attended, to the wives, girlfriends and children of the players and staff who came to support. To the Management team and the backroom staff who work tirelessly behind the scenes and to the staff at St George’s Park who once again did us proud. Nothing is too much trouble for them. Now it’s off to see if we can get rid of some more rustiness by getting “well oiled!!”

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