A tough away draw in the Cup proved too much for the Sharks in the end. But even the opposition manager admitted the final score was not a fair reflection of the game, where the Sharks showed fantastic character throughout, played some great football and created chance after chance against a side two divisions above them.
It was always going to be a big ask for the Sharks; Rocks Lane are riding high in Division Two and had been banging in the goals recently, so overcoming them away from home was never going to be an easy task.
But the Sharks did themselves proud.
For the whole first half they were the better team. They played the better passing football, created numerous clear-cut chances and looked every bit as fluid and dangerous as they have all season. In the end, finishing was the difference between the sides – as Rocks Lane showed better composure to put their chances away.
It was a cold and misty morning as the game kicked off, but the Sharks were bright and full of invention. Given the quality of the opposition, we’d opted for a strong midfield with no out and out striker – hoping the boys in the middle could win the ball, use it cleverly and break through to support the wingers.
And that’s exactly what they did. Elliott, Sebas and Wiktor were superb in the middle. Francis was outstanding on the right wing, working well with Gabriel at right back. And Ben and Phin were linking up well on the left.
The interplay was excellent in the first half and the Sharks were really pegging Rocks Lane back. On four occasions the Sharks found themselves one-on-one with the goalkeeper having got through the defence. Francis twice, Sebas and Ben all raced clear, but just couldn’t beat the keeper who did well each time.
At the other end, Rocks Lane were being restricted to breakaways, often chasing long hoofs forward. They created their own chances, though, to be fair, and Rory saved magnificently on more than one occasion. They were quick and strong on the break and Alejandro, Phin, Gabriel and Elliott all had to be at their best to keep them at bay.
And then Rocks Lane took the lead, and added another soon afterwards despite the best efforts of Rory and the defence. It seemed cruel after all the Sharks’ good work, and hardly reflected the ebb and flow of the game up until then.
But rather than look despondent the Sharks rallied and got themselves right back into the game. Good work from Sebas saw the ball played into Wiktor in the area, who controlled the ball well and looked to shape for a shot. But he was bundled over and the referee pointed straight to the spot for a penalty.
Gabriel stepped up and slotted the ball home well, but the referee hadn’t blown his whistle, so he asked for the kick to be taken again. Under great pressure Gabriel remained composed and smashed the ball into the net, for 2-1 score line heading for half time.
But as the seconds were ticking away, the Sharks gave the ball away in midfield, Rocks Lane seized on it and worked it well to their striker who drilled it home for 3-1. They were certainly good at punising errors, which was perhaps the main difference on show along with their finishing.
It was a blow to the Sharks having deservedly got themselves right back into it. But they had plenty to be positive about at half time and could go out with all to play for in the second half.
Rocks Lane are a big side, and although by no means dirty, they used their physical presence much better in the second half and made life very difficult for the Sharks, who couldn’t quite keep up their momentum.
Rocks Lane scored another very soon after the break, and so we changed the shape to bring on Jake as a striker, having to chase goals now. This inevitably left us short in the middle, and Rocks Lane started to dictate the play from the centre, putting us on the back foot for large periods.
But still the Sharks were determined. Alejandro was magnificent. Despite the pressure, he was strong and cool, winning tackle after tackle and using the ball superbly from defence. Phin and Jakub were solid and spirited, but it was extremely hard work at the back. We were finding it difficult to get it out to the wings second half, as Rocks Lane realised we were using that outlet in the first half to cause them all manner of problems.
Inevitably, the pressure led to goals for Rocks Lane, despite some great saves and excellent handling from Rory and some dogged defending from the back line. They added two more to give them a rather flattering 6-1 advantage (and it was at this stage that the opposition manager commented on the fact that the scoreline did not reflect the game).
But again, the Sharks did not let their heads drop. They continued to work hard and started to create their own chances that other end. Jake was working well up front, laying off the ball well to the wingers and midfielders. And Jakub was excellent on the right wing, showing skill, determination and power to cause problems for the Rocks Lane defence.
As the game went into the final 10 minutes, the Sharks got back on top again. Jakub was heavily involved and he looped one great shot from the right hand side over the keeper only to see it bounce back off the post. It was a superb effort and he was desperately unlucky not to score.
Minutes later, the Sharks got the second goal they certainly deserved when Jakub again did brilliantly on the right. He beat his man and fired in a powerful shot, which the keeper saved well, but could only push to the edge of the six-yard area. And there was Jake following up well, making no mistake with a first-time left foot shot. A good finish and another goal for Jake after his debut strike last week.
The only sour note was some rather classless, disrespectful comments and shouts from some of the opposition spectators during the second half. A very poor show. The fact is, it was far from an easy game for Rocks Lane, despite the difference in divisions. The Sharks did themselves proud and made it very hard indeed for the opposition.
So well done lads. It’s good to test yourselves now and again against better sides. You acquitted yourselves magnificently and showed character, spirit and skill, never giving up right until the final whistle.
Back to league this Sunday with a trip to Kew Park Rangers Royals for the start of half term week.
Thanks to Nick for running the line this week. And thanks to Kasia for her superb pictures as usual.