An early stroll in the park for Reds
OW Strollers 3 PFFC 8 (friendly)
With eleven goals and three penalties, this match provided plenty of entertainment for anyone who might have been watching at Raynes Park on Sunday morning. I spotted one chap who had braved the wind and rain but he seemed to spend most of his time fagging balls from the gardens surrounding the pitch so maybe he missed the excitement. The match was a friendly against old adversaries Old Wimbledonian Strollers. Fears that the pitch might be waterlogged after the deluge of the previous night were soon allayed: we found the playing surface in great condition, slick and zippy, ideal for the short passing style preferred by the Philosophers.
On arrival Philosophy had only nine players and had to borrow two from our opposition. Not an auspicious start and worrying so early in the season. Thankfully, this being a friendly, they were happy to oblige and it at least meant the match started with both teams on an even footing. We lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation: Marco returning in goal; Andy, Andrea, Khan and Strollers loanee Steve across the back; Will and our other loanee Julian in centre midfield; Ally, Kieran and Ömer as an attacking midfield trio with Neil leading the line on his own up front.
The game started at a terrific pace, both teams initially struggling with the fast pitch. We were quicker to adjust to the surface and started to dominate possession. A quick passing move down the right led to Neil being brought down in the area, the Kiwi getting up to slam home the resultant penalty.
However our lead wasn’t to last, midway through the first half the ref awarded the second penalty of the game to the home side after Andrea handled the ball. Doubts were raised whether or not the foul was committed inside the area, but the ref would not budge, and Strollers were back on level terms.
Kieran missed a great chance to put us 2-1 up, bringing the ball down beautifully inside the area but then put it wide from ten yards out with only the keeper to beat. Fortunately Neil bagged his second of the game just before the break lashing the ball in from distance.
At half time we were 2-1 up and with the prospect of the wind in our backs for the second half, and we were confident of getting a positive result. However we did not expect the onslaught which ensued. A second-half hat-trick from Neil and further goals from Kieran, Ally and Julian completed the rout. Strollers responded with a loan goal, from another penalty.
It was, in the end, a very comfortable victory. We played some really positive possession football, keeping the ball in tight areas and trying to make sure we always passed to feet. Neil put in a fantastic effort to score five goals on his return to the team; hopefully we will see him in a Philosophy shirt again this season. Good performances from new signings Ömer and Khan, who slotted comfortably into the team.
I think the formation we played worked really well. We were very fluid in possession, with the advanced midfield trio able to attack down the wings while Kieran supported Neil in attack, the defensive midfield duo able to collect the ball from defence and initiate attacks. The back four were solid and were unlucky to concede three goals (two penalties which another ref might not have given). Andy and Khan managed to get forward at times to join in the attack, and Andrea was as imperious as ever. We will probably face sterner opposition this season, but there are signs that with the right players on the pitch in the right positions we are capable of matching anyone in the league this year.