This was possibly a game of a half and two quarters, to corrupt the cliché. With only 12 players available and Martin and Francis leaving at half time, Sharks knew a good start was vital. They would play the entire second half with only ten men and no substitutes to refresh tiring legs. This against a physically strong CB Hounslow team keen to make amends for a 4-1 defeat in our previous meeting.
Sharks started the game well, playing sharp incisive football and out-manoeuvring the opposition. On the right wing Charlie, Francis and Enrico combined with great fluidity, causing lots of problems for the CB Hounslow defence. Alejandro was prominent in the middle of the park and it was no surprise he was involved in the first goal, winning the ball in the CB Hounslow half and playing a neat pass to Francis. On the edge of the area, Francis weighted a diagonal ball into Charlie’s path and the finish was crisp and true, hard and low past the CB Hounslow goalkeeper.
CB attacked sporadically but in the Sharks defence, Joel, Martin and Jaden were reacting well to the long ball over the top. Sharks continued to force the pace without finding the finish to match our great approach work. Last ditch defending played a part too; a combination of keeper and defender deflecting Ben’s goal-bound shot away and Enrico’s controlled chip over the keeper cleared by a desperate defender. Corner after corner came and went for the Sharks, but only one excellent cross from Luka caused any real concern for the opposition.
The second goal was another great team effort, again following good combination play on the right wing. Francis notched up his second assist of the game, putting an excellent cross low across the goal. Sylvester met it first time, getting in-front of the defender and side-footing high into the net leaving their keeper with no chance. 2-0 at half-time was possibly flattering to CB Hounslow on the balance of play – the question was how would Sharks cope without the Copes and with only ten men in the second half?
Initially very well. Territory was conceded to the 11 of CB Hounslow but few clear chances. Sharks were keeping their opponents at arm’s length. Joel and Rory were strong in the air, both fullbacks were preventing any significant danger from the wings and Alejandro and Joel were comfortable intercepting and bringing the ball out of defence in the middle. Behind them Jaden was reading the game well, clearing his lines whenever needed. It felt like a dogged 2-0 win was a real possibility, though Sharks’ presence in the opposition half was becoming more and more fleeting. Finn and Enrico stayed busy in the midfield but as we tired Ben and Sylvester became isolated and outnumbered when we did break forward.
CB claimed their share of the spoils late in the game. The first goal was a close-range tap-in after Jaden had dived low to save a shot from their left; the ball came free at the feet of their striker who nudged it over the line. Sensing their advantage against a tiring team, CB Hounslow then poured forward with renewed enthusiasm and intent. A moment of quality put them on level terms. Good control and first touch put one of their players clear of three Sharks’ midfielders in his own half. With space to exploit he moved in-field towards the Sharks’ goal, running unchallenged before firing an excellent shot above and beyond Jaden’s reach. It was a fine strike and the last significant event of the match. At the death, good skill from Ben drew a foul on the very edge of the opposition area. There were no complaints when the referee awarded free-kick rather than penalty and after Enrico’s shot cleared the bar, the referee called time on the game. The boys can be proud of their performance, they worked hard, played the better football and deserved to get something from the match.