Playing a game on grass in December was a first for us and the match did not disappoint. Arriving at a cold Haslingden High School I was uncertain how the match would unfold. We were missing two big players in Stevie and Harris and I knew that Rossendale, last phase’s champions, had a 100% record over the past few months. We therefore set up to defend with a 4-1-4-1 system and instructions to keep our shape and mark tightly.
The boys knew this was Neil’s last involvement with the team and I appealed to their emotions in the pre-match team talk: ‘make Neil proud’. A timely reminder of all that Neil has done for each of the lads, whether over a few months or six years, was needed and as kick-off approached I waited patiently to see if these words had been heeded.
Rossendale started strongly and as anticipated, they had some gifted players with quick feet who moved the ball well. We stood up to the challenge well and did the basics superbly. Fifteen minutes had passed before I glanced at my watch – we had weathered the storm and I could sense the lads growing in confidence through winning their 50/50s. After winning the ball in the deep central area, the persistent Theo released RJ with a splitting through ball and you know the rest!
Three men were glided past and with the keeper bearing down on him he made no mistake in slotting it into the bottom corner. We were 1-0 up and in dreamland! We reminded the boys to get back in shape and keep battling. More Rossendale pressure came our way and the back line threw themselves like warriors at everything the opposition presented. Two quick-fire saves from the outstanding Ethan drew applause from spectators, in addition to Sean clearing a looping effort off the line.
Continuing to soak up the pressure we knew we had space in behind their high line. An extraordinary clip over the top by David released James down the left wing who used his pace to devastating effect. The Rossendale defenders were furiously back-peddling from their high starting to point to retain some shape – they needn’t have bothered as James took a touch, beat his man to the byline and produce a sublime cross. The ball in from the left was attacked first time by RJ and nestled in the roof of the net. 2-0 up!
At half time the message was simple – do not get complacent. The lads had worked so hard to be 2-0 against top opposition and we needed to dig deep and see out the remaining 35. As the second half started Rossendale appeared to have pushed four men into attack, with four behind supporting and two left at the back. They pushed and pushed, huffed and puffed, but as each long range strike bounced passed Ethan’s post we knew we had them on the ropes.
Their boys became increasingly frustrated and began appealing for anything from the referee. A few dangerous free-kicks passed with the back line, and Ethan, again performing heroics. Theo’s dogged determination in front of them continued to give us the spring board to counter and that’s exactly what we did.
After some tireless chasing by Kiernan, Kye and Alex we had Rossy penned in by the corner flag. RJ and James continued to apply high pressure and a Rossendale mistake saw RJ drop a shoulder, hit the byline and slot it into the bottom corner – get in! A couple of subs shored our defensive resolve up and a final assist for David came in the final 10 minutes as has clipped a ball over the Rossy centre-back to give RJ a one-on-one. Getting in front of his man again, RJ rounded the keeper and casually rolled it into the empty net. I could sense a nose-bleed coming at 4-0, uncharted territory (!). The final minutes passed in the same pattern with resolute defending and team-work pervading.
What a result! A huddle at the final whistle was the perfect opportunity to tell the boys we had been promoted and thank them for following the game plan, listening to the tactical advice and making Neil proud. This result will live long in the memory and should act as a reminder of the frightening potential we have in this team.
The boys stuck together like magnets in that game and moving forward we need to replicate this blueprint. As a deserved reward for the performance, promotion and recognition of Neil’s dedication we are taking all out for a paid meal instead of training. A chance to come together, reflect and congratulate. A final thank you to Neil for his passionate leadership over the years, enjoy the deserved rest! Hopefully myself, Alan and Ryan can continue to build the momentum gathered and keep the team moving in the right direction. COYGssssssssssssssssss
Richard 6th December 2017