No January blues for Red men
PFFC 1 Grafton FC 0
The Philosophers started 2010 with a narrow but well earned victory over Grafton, in a match in which the margin of victory could easily have been greater. Some say statistics don't tell the story of a match: that percentage of possession does not reflect quality of possession, that ‘shots on target’ cannot relate how good each shot was. The only statistic available after this game is the only one which counts: one nil to the Philosophers, goal scorer Matt Prout.
Following an enforced winter break due to heavy snow (seemingly Britain’s first encounter with the white stuff) Philosophy’s first game of 2010 was played late in January. Boots which had not seen daylight never mind a polishing brush for over a month were pulled out and the changing room rang to the sound of men bragging about how much weight they had accumulated over Christmas.
A crisp, clear winter morning and a pitch which had held up despite the meteorological battering offered surprisingly good conditions. The disappointment from the last game of 2009, in which we were beaten 4-1 by Sporting Falcons, was not forgotten and we needed not only a result but also a good performance. With no ref available Dave stepped in for the first half, a much appreciated effort. He was the first of a round robin of stand-in refs: Clarkey, Issy, Rina were all to take their turn, much to our opponents’ confusion.
We lined up with the same 4-4-1-1 formation that has served us well in recent matches, the blip against Falcons aside. Dodo deputised in goal, Andy at right back, Damo and debutant Davide at centre half and Francesco at left back. In midfield Will started on the right wing with Andrea and Rina in the middle and Ally on the left. Matt was the withdrawn striker and Clarkey the lone hitman.
We started brightly, pinning Grafton back in their own half. Rina and Andrea were winning the midfield battle and feeding the wingers, Clarkey was holding up the ball and bringing Matt into the game. On the rare occasions that Grafton broke forward Davide and Damo comfortably mopped up and intelligently moved the ball to the full backs. Francesco and Andy then bombed forward in support of the midfield as we built another attack.
Unfortunately injury hit us mid-way through the first half. Clarkey, making his come-back, pulled up and had to be replaced by Issy. Andrea shuffled the pack, moving Matt up front, Will into the withdrawn striker role and Issy to right wing. This injury did not affect PFFC’s performance, however: we continued to dominate, and eventually our efforts paid dividend. Andrea clipped a lovely ball over the head of the Grafton right back, which Matt picked up. Still with plenty to do, he ran 20 yards with the ball to the corner of the penalty area and lashed a left-footed effort which the Grafton keeper got his fingers to but couldn't keep out. We continued to press their back four, exploiting their weakness on the turn. Half chances came and went, goalmouth scramble followed goalmouth scramble. Typical Sunday league fare.
At half time Dave replaced Issy and moved to centre midfield, with Clarkey taking over with the whistle. The second half picked up where the first half ended with the Philosophers on the front foot. Andy was having great success from right back and put ball after ball into the Grafton box. Likewise down the left Ally repeatedly powered past the Grafton full back and set up numerous chances which invariably Will or Matt squandered. As the half progressed the Grafton team looked devoid of ideas and we pressed forward, looking for a second killer goal. Chance after chance fell our way but some good keeping and – yes – some poor finishing meant we were unable to score again. Among many other missed opportunities were: a header from a corner over the bar from Matt; Will side-footing past the post; a couple of long-range efforts from Matt which tested the keeper, some close-range ones which did not.
In spite of this, at the final whistle we had done enough. Special mention goes to Andy, who had a great game at right back. Davide, on his debut, was outstanding, with a left foot as powerful as a whole field of traction engines; and Andrea had a commanding game in centre midfield. And thanks to Dodo for standing in as keeper: a job that not many would put their head above the parapets for.
The fallout from the game was a search of the collective memory banks of Philosophers old and new to see whether a Philosophy team had ever won a game by one goal to nil. Captain, keeper of the archives and sometime keeper of goal Owen recalled a 1-0 victory over Deportivo back in 2003: case solved. If we win every game by this small margin from now to the end of the season, this particular Philosopher will be happy. If it’s good enough for the Arsenal it’s good enough for us.
PFFC (4-4-1-1): Dodo; Andy, Damo, Davide, Francesco; Will, Rina, Andrea, Ally; Matt; Clarkey. Subs: Issy, Dave.