22 September 2019 v Manor Athletic Vets at St Georges Park
Having tasted defeat yesterday for the first time in a long while the question was “Could the boys respond against what is arguably the toughest opposition we have ever played?” Manor Athletic are no ordinary veterans team, these guys are all ex professional and semi-pro players that included in their ranks Sean Davis (ex Tottenham), Barry Hayles (ex Leicester) and Jamie Lawrence (ex Sunderland) to name but three and they are the last side to truly give us a spanking when they beat us 4-2 at Cobham FC back in October 2017 (we did however match them in scores, 1-1, till the 75th minute and I think it was that game, that those who were there looked at and said “that is what we aspire to be”).
The RAF kick off and possession is the name of the game. The first shot of the game however, in the second minute, is by Manor but it’s easy pickings for Potter making his debut in the RAF goal. Some of the passing by the Manor lads seems telepathic. One touch football at its best and it is a joy to watch as an...ahem...neutral commentator!! That said, the boys in blue were far from overawed and were playing some decent football themselves and it was just that final ball that was letting both sides down early doors. The better chances were falling to Manor but they either wasted them or Potter was equal to them but in the 26th minute Manor took the lead when a break down the right saw the winger reach the byline. His pull back across the goal saw the striker react quickest and he slotted the ball home from close range. 0-1 Manor Athletic. Young and Norton were causing the Manor defence problems at times with their strength and speed and Robison was unlucky, when upfield for a free kick, as a superb ball in was destined for the skippers head only for the defender to get the last hair on his head to the ball to deflect it over him. Tweedie was a workhorse in the RAF midfield and he had to be as Sean Davis did not stop moving at all covering every blade of 3G tenfold. Manor almost extended their lead when, in a carbon copy of their first goal, the winger got to the byline and pulled back his cross that beat three RAF defenders. Luckily it beat the two in-rushing Manor forwards too and went harmlessly out on the far side for a throw in. In the 44th minute though, an RAF blunder allowed Manor to double their lead. The ball was played back to Potter but I think he was unaware of the pace of the two Manor strikers who closed him down quickly. He tried to dribble out but having beaten the first player, the second took the ball off him and slotted home. 0-2 Manor. As a Liverpool fan, I felt the keepers pain as I’ve seen Karius and Allisson do the same thing in recent seasons but how would he respond? How would the RAF respond? The halftime whistle went so there were fifteen minutes break to stew. HT 0-2 Manor Athletic.
“Stew” is definitely the wrong word. There was no shouting, no screaming, no blaming, no feeling sorry for themselves and definitely no stewing. Matt Beattie and Scott Taylor (in a coaching role today as he’d picked up an injury the day before) simply kept the boys on track, highlighting the positives...and there were many...before challenging the boys to go out and show what they are all about.
Manor kicked off and it took just a minute before they had lost the ball and the RAF flew forward. The move came to a premature end though when Pugh was pulled back (some professional traits live on) so free kick to RAF. Norton whipped it in and one of the smallest players on the pitch, Stockport, rose highest to power a header into the back of the net from about 6 yards. 1-2 Manor Athletic. There was a tenacity now in the RAF tackling and they were on top as the Manor boys seemed to be having difficulty with the speed of the game. No matter how hard they tried to slow the game down, the RAF were intent on speeding it up and there were a couple of disagreements within the Manor ranks as to who was doing what. It got worse for them however when the ball was played out from the back to Pugh. He found Norton who played in Wanless. Back to Pugh, back to Norton and his cross found Young in the box. Young feigned to shoot and as the defender dived in, he dragged the ball back and smashed it into the corner. A great goal and justly deserved. 2-2 in the 55th minute. Potter was not suffering any long term effects either as he pulled off a number of good saves to deny Manor once they had rewoken. As that “neutral commentator” I was witnessing a great game of football here and would gladly have paid to come in and watch. The Manor keeper was not to be outdone however and he himself made a number of great saves before a mistake in the RAF defence saw an attacker hit the floor. It looked a penalty and everyone watching thought so. After what seemed an age (at least 3 minutes), the referee pointed to a spot...outside the penalty area. Did we have VAR?...no, unless the ref had it on his watch but it was now a free kick and not a penalty. Norton headed the free kick off the line and it was cleared. That is a let off for the RAF. Another Manor free kick saw the ball canon off the bar and over before the RAF, who seemed to have gone to sleep themselves, picked themselves up, dusted down and got back to doing what they do well...playing football. Either side could nick this as it was end to end. The ball was cleared off the line at both ends, Manor hit the post and ballooned the rebound over an empty goal, Norton was denied for the RAF as was Tweedie. Wanless went close but the game ended 2-2 and what a game it was. A superb advert for Veterans football. In the dressing room afterwards, Matt asked for honesty and asked “who thought we were dead and buried at half time?” Just one hand went up. “Who thought we were still in it?” Most hands went up. “Who thought we could still win the game?” Two hands went up. This is a measure of how far we have come as just a couple of years ago, I believe, the game would have been over at halftime. The family have a winning mentality these days and despite a weekend without a win, two great games were played and that mentality lives on. As one of the players said in the dressing room...”everyone is out to burst our bubble but there is still air in it and we’ll rise again”. The quality of opposition we are playing now is testament to how far we have come in a short time and that will not be lost because we had a winless weekend. To be honest, we could as easily won both games but hey...that’s football!!
Just as an aside...I took some stick last month when I missed our first goal in a game so I’d just like it known that following half time Champers and canapes, our President, Paul Thorogood and Mr Ambassador, Geoff Hancocks, were late back to their seats for the second half. They thought we’d lost 2-1!!