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19th January 2019 v HM Prison Service Vets

Here we are in Cardiff. Capital of Wales and the next stop in our double header tour. First up is the Prison Service, a new game for the veterans and one we are all looking forward to. Also new to the vets set up is we will be playing the games at the University of South Wales Sports complex in Treforest otherwise known as Craig Gill’s Office!! In terms of facilities it is second only to St George’s Park in that it is slightly smaller but they are superb facilities and the staff are excellent too (Craig included).

And so, onto game 1. First up will be HMP Service which, as I stated, is a new fixture for the vets. They come highly recommended and this should be a stern test but also an opportunity for the boys to try and get rid of those Christmas turkey dinners and to get back to the standards that they had set themselves prior to the Christmas/New Year break. For those that have forgotten...they are pretty high standards!!

Being played on the indoor pitch it’s HMP to kick off. The RAF are on the attack as soon as they get the ball and a mistake by an HMP defender gives the RAF a corner in the first minute. It comes to nothing but a couple of minutes later the first attempt on goal comes to the HMP but the shot is wide. Both sides are playing high lines as they both look to press the opposition and long balls over the top by HMP are looking to utilise the pace of their forwards. After just seven minutes, Robertson is forced off when his ageing hamstring calls time and he is replaced by McCormick whose first action is to shoot wide from 20 yards. Bartley then tried a shot but same outcome and eleven minutes played. A corner to the RAF almost resulted in breaking the deadlock when Rooney whipped it in deep and Tweedie rose to head the ball narrowly over. In the seventeenth minute, a free kick to the RAF wide to the right of the box, saw Rooney standing over the ball. He was told by the management to treat it as a corner and to fizz it in. He did the opposite and floated it to the far post where Schofield outjumped the defenders to send a great header into the back of the net. Well listened Roons and 1-0 RAF. But, not to worry as in the 20th minute, another free kick to the RAF, midway in their own half, was launched forward by Taylor. The ball reached Tweedie who turned his marker and rifled the ball back across and under the keeper. 2-0 RAF. Both sides were playing some nice football, in patches though as a lot of times possession was given away easily with sloppy passing or the perceived “killer ball” being playing 30 or 40 yards to the opposition. Both sides were guilty of this and, coupled with some niggly tackling, the game was becoming a little bitty and stop-start. in the 29th minute, HMP were then awarded a penalty. McCormick penalised but it did look harsh to me. That said, Laurie in the RAF goal saved it brilliantly but the No10, who had taken it, was first to react and as Laurie picked himself up he slotted the ball into the opposite corner. 2-1 RAF. That goal galvanised HMP and they upped their game but the RAF were giving as good as they got and should have had a penalty when a Bartley shot, following a short free kick, was obviously handled by the wall. The ref didn’t see it and things got worse when HMP broke quickly and a run down the left saw the ball played across goal for an inrushing forward to slot it in. 2-2 and thirty seven minutes gone. That’s the way it stayed until half time with both sides creating and missing a couple of half chances each before the break. HT 2-2.

The half time team talk concentrated on the positives and there were a few. It was the first game back after a long lay off and a little rustiness was expected. The HMP lads didn’t look much like a team when they arrived but appearances can be deceptive as they are a quick, positive and organised side with 4 or 5 guys really shining on the 4G pitch. That said, there were things that were seen by the coaches to motivate the RAF lads for what would be a tough second half.

The RAF kick off. It took almost eight minutes for the first action of note and it was a goal. Scored by HMP after the ball was given away and once again, a pass across the box was slotted home. 3-2 HMP. Schofield had a chance, wide before Coull made way for Robison. The sides were cancelling each other out now and chances/action was few and far between but a free kick to the RAF in the 74th minute saw Bartley take it. His cross to the far post saw McCormick arrive and power in a header that the keeper had no chance with and it’s 3-3. Laurie was then called into action again making a great save with his legs before the RAF squandered a chance at the other end. Both teams were now playing better football as the tiredness took its toll. Because of that tiredness passes were only being played 5, 10 or 15 yards at most and were being played to feet. Possession was now the name of the game and both sides were doing it well...until. The RAF lost the ball whilst attacking and a quick break down the left saw a low pass pulled back across the box before a low right footed shot nestled in the corner. 4-3 HMP and eighty four minutes gone. Immediately, Schofield and Robison worked a good chance before the ball was cleared off the line for an RAF corner. A minute later it was all square again when Taylor, playing at centre half, rolled back the years and burst down the left. His pinpoint cross found the head of Tweedie and his rocket header bulged the net. 4-4 and eighty five minutes on the clock. That looked to have knocked the stuffing out of HMP but in the second minute of added time a bad mistake at the back saw an HMP forward through, one on one. He drew Laurie from the goal and stroked it home and it was 5-4 HMP. The RAF took the restart with 9 players on the half way line looking to swamp the opposition but it was not to be. As soon as the kick off was taken the ref blew the final whistle and it was over. 5-4 HMP.

Was anything learnt? Most certainly. Mistakes are all part of the game and it was just a pity that last one happened as it did. The boys had done incredibly well coming back twice in the second half and they never gave up, giving their all against a very, very strong side. These are the standard of opposition that we WANT to play and it’s a timely reminder that we don’t have a divine right to win games just because of what we have done in 2018. It hurts, of course, but what hurts us makes us stronger. So, it will be regroup tonight and then we’ll be ready for Day 2.

RAF FA Veterans Squad: Laurie, Laing, Robinson, Taylor, Robertson, Bartley, Bryan, Tweedie, Schofield, Rooney, Coull, Robison, McCormick, Seddon, Barker, Richards.

Other RAF representatives. Beattie (RTM), Gill (Coach), Dye (GK Coach), O’Sullivan (Liaison), Payne (Head Therapist), Foster (Therapist), Sheehan (Head of Comms), Butt (Support), Tindle (Support), Bielby (Referee), Danny Gill (Mascot)

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