Back to winning ways
PFFC 7 Grafton FC 1
Philosophy Football's first game of 2003 meant a return to the Market Road Astroturf, scene of so many events in the club’s short history. This was an attempt to beat the floods of Regents Park and would be the first fixture for 5 weeks. Following a Christmas break it is always a worry as to what shape the team would take –– in more ways than one.
There was the inevitable creaking elastic of shorts for some, following an over-indulgent festive period. Being the day before Twelfth Night, I suppose Neil could be forgiven for still wearing his white beard – although he did claim it was to ward off the cold. Puskas was basking in the winter sunshine in his vest and sandals, enjoying the warmth in England compared to the –20°C temperatures in his homeland.
So the match kicked off at a punctual 10:30am. It almost didn't kick off at all, as Barry McNamara , the Grafton boss, set about his pre-match panic(s) concerning the state of the pitch and the frost in one goal-mouth. (I wonder if this is just a traditional ploy to unsettle the opposition.) His antics appeared to work in the corresponding away fixture when the kick-off had been delayed for 30 minutes because of various foot-stamping on the waterlogged pitch, and the Philosophy team had never really got going.
Philosophy started with a familiar defence but the midfield had a strong central pairing of new signing Kieran alongside the returning Ally. Stefano was a debutant down the right flank, so Cornish Al switched to a new ‘LEFT WING’ role – what would his father say? Up front saw an untried strike partnership of Marco and Neil.
It was a sluggish start as the home team struggled to find its usual passing game. However, despite being camped in the Grafton half for the first 20 minutes, it was inevitable Grafton would take the lead with a counter-attack which led to a speculative shot from about 35 yards. Poor Ian fell foul of the icy surface and was left helpless as the ball whistled over him.
Philosophy pushed for the equaliser and piled on the pressure with some excellent corners from Cornish Al testing the opposition’s defence. Eventually one such corner lead to a goal courtesy of a lofted effort from Marco on the half-hour. Soon after, Marco put Philosophy in the lead, this time with a left-footed lob which came down with snow on it before dipping over the Grafton keeper. Was it a cross or a shot?
Throughout the first half Ian, in goal, had been a mere spectator. Brian's return had added real steel in the heart of the defence and Owen had been impeccable, stopping anything down the left. Half-Time 2-1
Soon after the break, Stefan replaced a slightly leg-weary Stefano to add another attacking dimension. Philosophy desperately needed the decisive next goal and Stefan duly obliged, making an instant impact with some fine play to set up Neil for No 3 with a tidy one-on-one finish. Almost immediately after the restart Marco was brought down outside the box which allowed Puskas to step up and curl an exquisite free kick over the wall and into the top left hand corner – a superb effort to make it 4-1.
The Philosophy defence, which had looked so troubled from set pieces in the previous game at Grafton, was rarely troubled, and Grafton managed just two corners throughout the game. It was the second of these corners which led to a breakaway by Marco and Neil, and Neil made the game safe with the fifth. Grafton struggled to make any impact and resorted to some kind of board-game, a ridiculous number of substitutions making a farce of the rolling subs rule, continually switching two players at a time within their 13-man squad. Paul stupidly got involved in a tussle with one of the young Grafton forwards but not much else happened in the Philosophy half during the second period.
Marco, the man who can't finish (his words, not mine) completed a fine hat-trick with a tap-in to make it 6-1. With 15 minutes remaining, Stefano returned to the pitch and immediately almost capped his fine debut with a goal from 6 yards out but was foiled by a fine save. Other good efforts came from Cornish Al after a mazy run, Stefan who hit the woodwork, and Brian who stole into the box and slid the ball just wide with only the keeper to beat.
Kieran and Ally – wearing his DIY ankle protectors – were involved in everything in the middle of the park, breaking down the opponents and providing excellent service to the front line. Philosophy rounded off their performance with a seventh goal on the stroke of full-time when Neil broke clear to notch his third hat-trick of the season.
It was a great to return to winning ways against the team that had broken Philosophy's unbeaten record in the previous match. Picking a man of the match is difficult but probably the player most instrumental in the win was Rob. Once again we fell foul of not providing a referee for a home game - but Rob's presence (despite being injured) and willingness to ref the game meant we were able to have 12 players throughout the 90mins. Who knows how different the game would have been if we'd had to rotate players with reffing duties? It is also great for the rest of the team to have the support from injured players. Thanks again Rob!
PFFC (4-4-2): Ian; Puskas (1), Paul, Brian, Owen; Stefano, Ally, Kieran, Cornish Al; Marco (3), Neil (3)
*official stats courtesy of Motty.