A great win and a terrific performance from the Sharks in only their second 9v9 game, with a seemingly massive pitch and the offside rule to get used to.  They played some fine football, scored some great goals and kept a clean sheet – despite facing two penalties.

As we measured out the pitch at the start of the game, it was clear the step up to 9-a-side was going to be a tough challenge. 75m x 46m is quite a jump up from 7v7, and with 30 minutes each way, fitness and stamina are going to be key factors for next season.

We welcomed Alejandro back to the starting line up after his long lay off – and it was great to have his determined, calm presence marshalling the back line. We opted for a 3-4-1 formation, with Alejandro joined at the back by Martin and Gabriel at full back.  Seb and Phin took up the central midfield roles – continuing their excellent partnership from the last two games of the tournament last week.  Ben and Wiktor took the wide midfield positions and Nile played the lone striker.

Right from the off, the Sharks were excellent.  They pinned Hampton back into their half and played some great passing football. The chances soon came as the Sharks used the width of the pitch well and stretched the Hampton defence.  Both Nile and Ben ran clear, only to be denied by the excellent Hampton keeper.  Martin was whipping in some superb corners from the right hand side, and it seemed the Sharks would surely score.

Phin and Seb were winning the midfield battles well and Wiktor, Ben, Francis and Nile were passing superbly. The breakthrough came after some great work from Seb, who surged from midfield and into the Hampton box. He was tackled well but the loose ball fell to Ben who fired it home confidently into the bottom corner.

The second quickly followed, despite some team changes, as the Sharks continued to press.  A corner from Martin was only half cleared and Wiktor slid the ball to Francis out on the left hand side, just outside the area. He steadied himself and shot first time. The ball soared, curled and dipped into the far corner for an absolutely magnificent goal.  2-0 and no less than the excellent Sharks deserved.

Hampton did start to get their game together and created some moments of alarm, but the Sharks were solid at the back.  Alejandro was commanding and strong as we’ve come to expect while Martin and Gabriel were quick and alert when called upon.

The midfielders worked especially hard, with Seb seemingly everywhere on the pitch – and Phin and Wiktor getting back well.  Rory had little to do, but as ever he was alert when needed.

Our use of the ball was good to see; hardly any hoofing, and calm, confident passing right from the back helping us to retain possession and play around the Hampton team. We used the width of the pitch excellently, stretching the game to open up space and get in behind Hampton.

The second half saw Hampton come out and show a much more determined performance, but the Sharks were a match for them, even with some major positional changes.  Rory came onto the pitch at left back and Alex came into the striking role.

The Sharks soon made it 3-0 after some great work down the right hand side.  Wiktor whipped in a great cross and Jakub connected perfectly to slot it into the net.  A sweeping, impressive move and a fine example of the Sharks at their best.   Good passing, positive movement and a super finish.

Hampton were causing us more problems though and had plenty of attacking possession themselves.  On two occasions, the referee decided Alejandro had committed a foul and awarded penalties. We’ve really drilled it into the boys not to argue with decisions, but both awards did seem very harsh on Alejandro, who looked as though he was being fouled for the first and won the ball with a superb sliding tackle for the second. Nevertheless, the referee has to call it as he sees it and Martin – who had volunteered to go in goal for the second half – found himself facing two spot kicks.

The first was sent wide and the second he saved brilliantly in the middle of the goal.  Great stuff – and a clean sheet to hold on to.

As the game came to a close, the indefatigable Seb picked up the ball on the left hand side.  Skipping round two players he set himself up and curled a beautiful shot into the top corner.  Just as it seemed to be heading for the back of the net, the Hampton keeper appeared and pulled off a breathtaking one-handed save – pushing the ball away with his left hand. It was a great piece of football – superb shot, superb save.

Unfortunately for the keeper (and fortunately for the Sharks) the ball fell to Wiktor, who smashed it into the back of the net with a skilful finish.

And so it ended – 4-0 to the Sharks and a well deserved win from an accomplished performance against a useful Hampton side.

We’re coping very well with the offside rule so far. The defenders are holding their line excellently and catching the opposition offside, and up front we’re good at breaking from deep to run into the space behind the opposition defence.

We need to work a little on holding our runs when we break forward, and on not getting caught offside from short corners.  But so far, so good.

We’ve got another chance to test ourselves at 9v9 this weekend, with our first all day tournament. Let’s hope the boys carry on where they left off this Sunday.

Damien

Thanks to Kasia for the super photos as usual.