Reds savour victory in spring sizzler
PFFC 6 Grafton FC 5
On a baking hot April day, the Philosophers headed to Weavers’ Fields to take on Grafton in the penultimate league match of the season. Perhaps the most important decision of the day was made by Dave when he chose a different changing room from our usual one in an attempt to break a spell of defeats suffered at the Bethnal Green ground. With the luxury of twelve players to choose from, PFFC lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Rob between the sticks; Andy and Owen at full-back with new signing Izzy slotting in at centre half alongside Dave; Dan and Ally anchoring the midfield, with Khan and Michele on the flanks; and Matt and Leandro up front. Lawrence, returning from a nine-month lay-off with a broken leg, warmed the bench.
Kick-off was delayed slightly as we waited for Grafton’s players to show up, but once the game got underway it was PFFC who adapted best to the narrow, hard pitch. The surface made intricate passing moves difficult so the Reds looked to get the ball forward at every opportunity. It was one such direct pass from Matt which put Leandro through. Showing real composure, he slotted the ball past Grafton’s keeper to put PFFC one up. The Philosophers didn’t rest on their laurels, however, but kept up the pressure, taking advantage of a disorganised Grafton side who were making a number of substitutions to incorporate latecomers.
Ally’s long throw-ins and corners were a particular source of danger to the Grafton defence, and it was from one such delivery that PFFC doubled their lead, with Michele showing greater bravery than the Grafton defence to knee the ball home at the back post. This was the start of an action-packed five minutes. First Grafton pulled a goal back when Andy’s clearance ricocheted off a Grafton forward and looped over Rob into the net to make the score 2-1. Post-match suggestions that the goal should be attributed to Andy as an own goal was harsh, but a definite o.g. soon followed when another throw-in from Ally caused havoc as the indecisive Grafton keeper failed to claim the ball and a Grafton defender could only spoon the ball into his own net. Buoyed by this, PFFC really started to take control, with Dan and Ally dominating midfield and Matt and Leandro’s constant movement up front causing havoc for the Grafton defence. So it was no surprise when Matt fired home from a difficult angle to make it 4-1. Further chances for Matt and Leandro followed but no more goals were added before half time. Grafton had caused the PFFC defence few problems in the first half aside from the occasional long ball causing uncertainty due to the high bounce, so the scoreline at the interval was no more than the Philosophers deserved.
PFFC continued to dominate in the early stages of the second half, with the entire team showing an impressive work rate despite the sapping heat. So it was no surprise when the ever-dangerous Leandro grabbed his second of the game to make it 5-1. Grafton quickly grabbed a goal back following a scramble after Rob had parried a long-distance shot, but there was no indication at this stage that anything but a relatively comfortable last 30 minutes were in store. Lawrence was introduced for Michele, who had suffered a wardrobe malfunction (a broken boot), and for five to ten minutes following Grafton’s second goal the game was relatively incident-free. But Grafton then scored three quick-fire goals to make the score 5-5, one of them an impressive individual effort and another a rasping 25-yard drive which Rob got his hand to but could not keep out.
With ten minutes to go and the momentum now with Grafton, most neutral observers would surely have predicted that PFFC would crumble. However, showing impressive resilience and togetherness, and inspired by the vocal encouragement of Matt, Ally and Owen, the Philosophers dug deep and started pressing for the winner. Grafton were also really going for it and pushed their full-backs well forward, meaning the game became increasingly stretched. Both teams had chances, but the decisive piece of action came with about two minutes left. The Reds gained a throw-in level with the Grafton box and Ally, aware that Grafton had finally got to grips with his long throws, directed a shorter throw to the near post. Dan, perhaps playing in his last match for the Philosophers before heading off to set up the Kabul branch of the team, flicked the ball right into the path of Lawrence, who headed the ball home off the crossbar.
The sense of relief in the whole team was palpable. The Philosophers held firm over the last few minutes and there was an explosion of joy as the final whistle blew and a much-deserved victory secured. The whole team deserves great credit for an immense effort in the unseasonably warm conditions, and there was a real positive feeling amongst the squad at the end which, as Owen pointed out, augurs well for PFFC’s upcoming European fixture. A few of the squad then retired to a local pub for beer and hot chocolate to reflect on a gripping match.
(4-4-2): Rob the Cat; Andy, Izzy, Dave, Owen; Khan, Dan, Ally,
Michele; Matt, Leandro.