Our first game at our new ‘home’ venue of Alvaston Park found us facing New Mills who were expected to be difficult opponents after being the form team of the latter half of last season.
It’s often possible to judge how prepared for the game a team, or individual players, are from how they approach their warm up and, judging from yesterday’s warm up, the girls were not ‘ready’ for the match to come. At the risk of repeating myself (again) the league will be very competitive this season, and we cannot afford to take any opponent or game lightly – any complacency before or during the game is likely to be punished.
If our opponents could be excused for being slow out of the blocks after their 60 mile journey, therefore, we had no such excuse when we found ourselves a goal behind after only two minutes.
This did serve to rouse the girls, and slowly but surely they came into the game and started to get shots on the New Mills goal. About half way through the first half we won a free kick just outside the New Mills area, and skipper Beth’s carefully controlled direct free kick just grazed the top of the new Mills’ crossbar with the ‘keeper beaten. It was by no means one way traffic, however, and New Mills continued to threaten at the other end – and could have increased their lead when they had two one-on-one chances against Vicky, the first of which she did well to save, and the second and arguably better chance was put high over the crossbar when it seemed easier to score.
As the half was coming to an end we finally broke through when, after a good run Otty put in a low cross from the right, for Chelsie to slot the ball past the keeper for the equaliser. The equaliser was no more than we deserved, and there was a sense that we had slowly gained the upper hand as New Mills appeared to be running out of steam towards the end of the half. Half time 1-1.
We started the second half as we ended the first, when after only a few minutes Jordele had a good run down their right, battled through a couple of challenges and then found the gap between ‘keeper and post from an almost impossible angle to make the score 2-1.
We were having the better of the possession, but we weren’t able to capitalise on it by extending our lead, despite creating good opportunties. With only a one goal lead a team is always susceptible to the sucker punch, and it came just after the half way mark of the second half. An attempted pass infield from our left in the defensive third was underhit and intercepted by a New Mills striker who ran through to score. I have been encouraging the girls to play the ball out from the back, and there will be times when it comes unstuck, but they do need to be aware of danger, both when in possession and off the ball – passing infield from the flanks in the defensive third is always risky, but the other two defenders also need to be aware and drop back to provide a clear pass (with less chance of interception) and more particularly cover for the girl on the ball just in case possession is lost. We have been working on defensive shape, and especially providing supporting cover, in training but it’s not something that the girls do automatically yet and requires more work.
Having had the better of the play we had been pegged back and could have been disheartened by this setback, but we responded almost immediately as Chelsie scored her second of the game to restore our lead. We had a few anxious moments in the final ten minutes but held on to record our first win of the season.
Overall, this was a much better performance in which all the girls played their part on a warm morning. Beth L was very disciplined in the ‘holding’ midfield role - it may not appear as glamourous as some other positions, but it’s the one that catches the eye when it’s done well and it can make the whole team function so much better - ‘sitting’ in front of and protecting the defence Beth linked play between defence and attack, and provided an anchor which helped midfield keep its shape better, with the other girls on either side working noticeably harder to track back when not in posession, and get forward to support the attack. This helped the defence who were not outnumbered on as many occasions, and made it more difficult for our opponent’s attack.
We do, however, need to ‘come out’ up the field to follow the ball out of defence more quickly when it’s cleared or we are in possession – so we don’t allow attackers to stay too close to our goal and so we compress the space between defence and midfield to keep a compact shape. There were several occasions when one or more players were slow coming out from defence, and were too far behind the rest, and therefore played one or more attackers onside when New Mills regained possession and counter attacked.
It was good to see the girls making themselves available for short balls from Vicky, allowing us to build from the back. Some of our build up play was very impressive, although we are still in the “thinking about it to do it” phase, but if we can do this at a slightly quicker pace it will be even more productive.
The game was played in very warm conditions and it was no surprise that both teams tired towards the end. I was able to use our substitutions to the full and said at half time that if we continued to pass and keep the ball, that New Mills would tire in the 2nd half. We had the better of the play and created three times as many chances but, to New Mills’ credit, they kept going and didn’t make it easy for us. On a few occasions we rode our luck at the back, but with a little more luck and composure in front of goal we would have scored more – as well as New Mills played, the winning margin should have been greater than the one goal – although it would be more of a worry if we weren’t creating the chances.
After a somewhat inauspicious start this was an improved performance which should give the girls confidence for the games to come. Well done, girls.
Final Score: Pride Park 3-2 New Mills
Scorers: Chelsie (2), Jordele