Chips fried by Red heat
Athletico Chips 1 PFFC 4
Over the past few weeks, the men in Red have suffered some heavy defeats, physical violence, unjust league disciplinary action and shitty weather. Last night the team provided the best possible response to all this adversity: a full-strength squad (barring the absence of vice captain Kieran) combined well to win a comprehensive victory over league strugglers Athletico Chips.
The conditions were diametrically opposite to the ebullience of the team spirit before kick-off: the water base in the Astroturf had frozen to turn the pitch into a sandpapery ice rink. Conditions like this are often a great leveller in the game, but after a shaky period early on, Philosophy gained in confidence and controlled the game in all parts of the field.
During the first ten minutes both teams were trying to get accustomed to the treacherous surface. Long balls skidded even more crazily than usual on Astro, and many players were finding themselves embarrassingly arse over tip as well. Chances – half chances – appeared at both ends, although no player could find the balance required to take them convincingly. Both keepers were tested early on, and both looked in good form. Then, ten minutes in, the lack of communication that still occasionally plagues our defence struck. Three defenders migrated to where the ball had just been, on the left, which left two Chip attackers unperturbed in front of goal and keeper Crispo without a chance.
As captain Ally reminded the team, 1-0 down is ‘nae bother’ to us, as we have a good track record of pulling back a slim deficit. After another five minutes, the Reds finally got used to the icy conditions and started to function properly as a unit. For the rest of the half, Chips never got much more than a half sight of goal as we wrested control of the game. The defensive unit of Dodo, Damo, Fil and Vips – now becoming established together – mopped up quietly and effectively, and spread the ball wide to Al and Owen, or through the middle to Ally and Marco. Marco, as always, was immensely strong on the ball, and each member of the midfield worked tirelessly, winning many challenges and playing many good passes to each other and forward. Up front, Mauro was finding space, and Clarkey – another revelation – got back to help out the midfield and then hared upfield each time the ball was released.
The equaliser, which came on the half hour, did every bit of justice to the cohesiveness and commitment of the team’s performance. Mauro, with his back to goal, received the ball from the centre of midfield, turned on it and slotted it in front of Clarkey, who was making a run to the touchline on the right hand side of goal. He caught up with the ball just inside the touchline, and made a superbly weighted pass straight across the front of goal. Ally was there, and allowed it to come on to his boot, turning it sublimely inside the far post, beyond the fingertips of the diving keeper.
“Nil nil, lads; fresh start” was the shout among the Reds as Chips got ready to restart. By now we knew we could cope with the conditions; knew that they were hurting the opponents as much as us, especially in defence; and knew that the best tactic was therefore to keep attacking and let them make the mistakes. A hatful of further chances for Philosophy went begging, then the ref blew for half-time.
The Gaffer urged the team to keep it tight, keep attacking, and sent this unit – which had been performing so seamlessly – back onto the field intact, with no changes made. It was a nervy start to the half again, though, and we looked on several occasions as though we might succumb to a spilt ball or counter-attack. We were kept level by some excellent saves by Crispo. One cock-up when the whole team had pushed forward allowed their two strikers free reign in our half. Our hearts were in our throats on the touchline, when suddenly a red streak shot half-way back down the field and cleared up. It was only afterwards that it materialised into the form of Cornish Al.
Nerves were only settled fifteen minutes after the restart, when a good move forward led to Marco receiving the ball in front of goal, 15 yards out; his shot thundered past the keeper into the netting on the right hand side. We had finally gained a lead that now looked only like increasing. Mauro and Marco were slow getting back into our half after a goal celebration at the corner flag, a point about which several Chippies, slightly rattled by Philosophy’s domination, complained to the ref so much that one of them was cautioned.
From here on in, the Reds were in control and Chips failed to put together a convincing attack. What impressed me as much as anything was that even towards the end of the match there were no stragglers in the team; everyone was working flat out for each other, and the improved levels of fitness attained since regular training and nutritional advice became part of our philosophy were apparent. Even Filippo, self-confessed old man of the team, was charging forward when the opportunity arose and chasing back when necessary. Damian kept the back line solid as ever, Dodo added much needed strength in the air, and Vipul was as unflappable and speedy as ever.
On 70 minutes, the Gaffer made his first change of the night: Ronan was brought on to the left flank, as his attacking pace was needed more than Owen’s tough defending. The team kept its shape well and the extra attacking possibility only increased the number of chances we forced in their area. Philosophy Football had been making so many chances during the half that a third goal had to come sooner or later; and indeed it did. Five minutes later, Mauro brought the ball into the box but ran into the keeper at his feet before he had a chance to shoot; however, the ball rebounded to Ronan in the corner of the box, whose shot in was touched safely over the line by Clarkey. By now the Potato-men were so rattled by Philosophy’s domination that several of them ran over to the linesman and remonstrated that only one of their defenders had been goal-side of Clarkey after their keeper had gone walkabout; desperation had taken hold.
Now it was plain sailing, and the yellow resistance had crumbled. Philosophy took full advantage, so much so that Owen yelled ‘Stop showboating’ from the touchline at one point. A Chips own goal, which came off the knees of a defender who literally skidded into the ball, only compounded their misery. Andy replaced Cornish on the right wing for the final five minutes, and helped apply a last ladleful of pressure with his runs. The final score, with the own goal, flattered us slightly, but had we taken our chances more regularly, and had their keeper not been so sharp, it would have been a bigger margin of victory, and the whole team had worked hard to earn it. Philosophy happily took the three points, congratulated their opponents on a well fought match, and retired to celebrate in the dressing room for the 8 minutes allowed by the Pad Rec staff.