The Sharks travelled to leafy Surrey today for a top of the table clash with Oxshott Royals and put in a gutsy display that was full of excellent individual performances but short of the luck that decides such encounters.

After last week’s narrow win, the Sharks trained hard this week in preparation for the long awaited showdown with Oxshott and came into the match in a focused state of mind. Starting with Rory in goal and a back 3 of Martin, Alejandro and Phin, the Sharks began quietly, repelling a couple of incisive Oxshott attacks. But soon we saw the traditional fluency of the Sharks passing play come to life, with Francis and Wiktor combining well for the first incursion on goal. Elliott was excelling again as the defensive midfielder and Sebastian made several crunching early tackles – the first signs that this was going to be a towering performance from him. Jakub on the left combined well with Wiktor and Sebas and the sharks were clearly on song.

In a period of end to end attacking play Francis played Wiktor in for the Sharks’s first half chance and shot narrowly wide, before Oxshott played the first of many penetrating balls behind the Sharks defence, only for Rory to come swiftly off his line to repel the danger. Then it was back up the other end, where Francis was continuing his excellent start-of-the-season form by giving the defence a torrid time, running strongly down the wing and causing panic with a centre that Sebas drilled just past the post.

Oxshott were proving to be tough opponents, however, despite the Sharks playing the better football, and after Elliott had made a superb tackle to deny one attack, they duly took the lead and quickly added a second. In a sign of what was to come later in the half, the first goal came as a result of a corner with the Sharks failing to clear a loose ball, leaving Rory with no chance against a point blank shot.

But even when 2 nil down against the run of play the spirit in the Sharks remained impressively strong, and soon we were again on the attack, with our quick ball-to-feet movement causing big problems for Oxshott. Jakub put a perfectly weighted ball through the channels to Sebas who forced a great save from the keeper and then Sebas had a shot from the resultant corner kicked off the line in a desperate last-ditch effort from the home team. Panic was spreading in the Oxshott defence, and in the next Sharks attack Francis, who tormented the full back all match, put a defence-splitting ball through to Sebas running from deep.  Wiht a brave stab at the ball as the goalie came out, he scored low into the left corner. A great goal from the Sharks attack – quick, incisive and direct.

The Sharks had made a clear statement of intent – this was a battle royal and they would not lie down meekly. With Alejandro marshalling the defence well and Wiktor and Sebas combining well at the heart of our best attacking moves, we strove for a deserved equaliser. Instead we were hit by 2 sucker punches as the half neared its end: 2 corners where the Sharks’ normally effective marking lapsed and the attackers pounced to leave Rory with no chance. The second of these goals came after a deliberate push on Alejandro which went unnoticed – an unfortunate event but something that happens in all matches and will work in your favour as often as against you. But it was another sign that today was perhaps not going to be our day.

Still the Sharks failed to let their spirits drop – with Nile and Jake joining the fray, Martin started a new attack down the right, putting Sebas in on goal again from where he shot inches wide. At the other end Rory raced out to repel another attack and then made a wonderfully acrobatic stop to push a goal bound shot to safety.

The half drew to a close with the Sharks on the receiving end of a very misleading scoreline.

It is a great sign of the strong spirit in the team that heads did not drop at half time – there is a steel in this team now, and a confidence that it can come back from a losing scoreline and turn a game around. So it was no surprise when the Sharks scored early in the second half – great play this time from Martin and Wiktor and then Francis before the loose ball fell to Jake who drove it first time with his right foot into the corner. Another fine goal for Jake who is slotting well into the team, and a well deserved second for a resilient Sharks team.

The Sharks knew that they now had to keep Oxshott at bay before seeking to add a 3rd and set things up for a great finale. Nile was working hard up front and combining well with Wiktor whilst Phin and Alejandro were proving strong in defence –  but Oxshott were proving to be a good attacking team too and in one smooth move attacked fast down the right and the winger drove in an unstoppable cross shot that gave Rory no chance. Out of nowhere it was suddenly 5:2 , and yet still the Sharks failed to let their heads drop. With Jakub and Wiktor back on we continued to pose a real threat each time we attacked.

But then came the killer blow – another Oxshott corner, a half clearance and then a fierce shot that deflected out of Rory’s reach.

So what did the Sharks do? They picked themselves up, regrouped and attacked again; Wiktor waltzed through the home defence only to be thwarted at the last moment; Nile was inches away from getting on the end of a good Sharks corner and then beat his marker on the left before drilling in a fine shot that was well held by the ‘keeper.  At the other end Alejandro made a stunning sliding tackle to deny a home attack , Martin then saved the day with a superb block and subsequent tackle of his own, and Rory – who looked strong throughout a great display on the day by him – made a couple of confident catches and then dived well to block a goal-bound effort from Oxshott. Jakub,who had slotted in well as defensive midfielder when Elliott came off, was performing miracles at the back and there was continuous evidence throughout the team of an impressive never-say-die spirit that bodes well for the rest of the season.  Sebas then somehow blocked another shot on the line before the Sharks forced a couple of late corners at the other end but it was not to be. The whistle went for full time.

The Sharks had come up against a good team on the day but had held their own in impressive fashion – heads never dropped and we continued to play the game the right way. On another day, with more luck, there would have been a different end result, and the boys should be proud of their performance. With such excellent spirit and commitment in the camp, we can confidently look forward to a return to winning ways next week.

Thanks to Vince for this week’s report.  And to Nick for running the line.