Blues banished as Reds break duck
PFFC 1 Abbey 0
After another break of over two weeks, the Thinkers found themselves, yet again, in need of the kind of momentum that normally comes from playing week in, week out. The constant sense of ‘starting again’ did not put the team off, however, and the mood in the camp was one of cautious optimism.
This came from the previous three games, in which the Reds played well and were unlucky to come away with just one point. After the last game, Filippo sent round a hopefully prophetic e-mail proclaiming that, if we can ride this early storm, our performances will give us the points we deserve. This match will hopefully be the catalyst in fulfilling that prediction.
The squad was a strong one. Despite the absence of the injured captain and vice captain, a strong starting 11 was established. The now familiar partnership of Filippo and Damian (who was presented with the captain’s armband by the crocked skipper before the game) at the heart of the defence in front of Brian was bolstered by the presence of Vipul and Ronan as full backs. A bullish centre-midfield partnership of Giacomo and Marco was accompanied by Gibbo and Cornish Al at either side, and Dennis was supported by debutante Vito playing in the number 10 role.
The first half began with both teams foraging rather fruitlessly into the opponent’s half, but it was Abbey that came closest to scoring when they hit the bar after 10 minutes. This came in a somewhat sustained period of pressure by Abbey but, predictably, PFFC’s defence held firm. They were targeting our left flanks but Al and Vipul were dealing with their advances with the kind of ease that would allow the Thinkers to attack more successfully in the second half. At the other end, Philosophy didn’t create too many chances, but Vito’s effectiveness and precise back-heels linking the midfield with Dennis were surely a reminder to our opponents that they were involved in a game. The first half ended goalless; something positive had to be done.
The Gaffer’s half-time team talk ran along the lines of: “Keep things the same at the back but push forward a bit more.” There were two changes at half-time: Gibbo made way for Adam and Vito was instructed to push up front more with Dennis. The second half was to go down in Philosophy folklore as one of the great battles and performances in the history of the team.
Watching from the sidelines now were Gibbo, the Gaffer, Owen, Tony and Ally, and from about five minutes into the half there was an air of excitement and possibility emanating from the men in red. The shape of the team was fantastic. We still held firm any attack that Abbey threw at us, yet we also pushed forward quicker and countered more effectively. The ball was being distributed more to Al and Adam and Dennis could push forward more rather than having to collect the ball 40 yards from goal and hope for the best.
The whole team were working towards a common goal. A goal. This seemed all that mattered. The pride of the team had been hurt by a similar performance in the previous match which had ended in a 1-0 defeat, and the lads were determined not to let the same thing happen again. Abbey were intent on a similar prize, however, and Brian was called upon to make some great saves – a welcome and timely return to form. Around the mid-point of the second half Abbey went down to 10 men. Filippo now gathered his defence and uttered those immortal three words: “Have a look”. Whatever that means, his defence seemed to understand and they looked, saw and conquered.
Philosophy were now attacking in waves and shots were flying in from all directions. The deadlock was finally broken with 15 minutes to go. Dennis picked up a through ball just outside the box, he turned his man and fired the ball into the bottom corner of the net. Jubilation followed, but so did an agonising 15 minutes. The supporters were screaming to their men to keep it tight at the back, which they did right up until the last minute. But then disaster almost struck. Abbey fired a shot that looked destined to go in, but Brian dived to his left to parry the ball away from goal. Abbey then reacted quicker than the Philosophy defence, two of which admitted after the game to watching this incident from outside their own box, eating ice-cream and talking about the Fordham–Taylor darts match. Brian again palmed this ball away, and this time the Reds stopped another shot from going in and the match was won.
When the final whistle rang out, the release in the team was tangible. This had been 90 minutes of blood-and-guts football. All 13 players on the night were magnificent, and the match ranks among the best team performances this commentator has seen – sentiments echoed by the Gaffer.
This jubilant mood was carried over post-match in Meson Bilbao with a ten-strong squad for food and drink. This was a night to cherish, and acts as a timely reminder to why we play football for this team in particular. The whole night was great and one of my favourite moments was our entrance into the restaurant after the game.
“We won the game!” proclaimed Filippo to one of the waitresses. “I know,” she replied; “you’re smiling.”