A frustrating game for the Sharks, but one in which they showed great character and discipline, and were very unlucky not to come away with at least a point and possibly all three. The Sharks scored two excellent goals, hit the bar, had a shot cleared off the line and created numerous other chances. But unfortunately the game was most memorable for an extraordinary refereeing display.

The Sharks looked to pick up where they left off after last week’s excellent performance and they had the best of the early exchanges. Wiktor, Francis and Ben were creating some panic in the Target area and all three had half chances in the opening minutes.

Target are a big side with plenty of boys who can hoof the ball – and they used that tactic throughout the game to pressurise our back three. They also played some neat football down the wings and got in behind us a few times, but determined defending from Gabriel, Jakub and Alejandro kept them out, along with some fine keeping from Rory who tipped one thunderbolt over the bar and turned aside another couple.

At the other end their goalkeeper was playing a very effective sweeping role – and he rushed far from his area on a number of occasions to snuff out promising through balls from the Sharks.  His good kick ensured he was able to get away with it almost every time.

The game was deadlocked until Target got the breakthrough with a lucky deflection. They were pressuring us well down the right when the ball bobbled to an attacker who tried a snap shot.  It was heading for a goal kick but bounced off a Sharks’ player and past a stranded Rory.  A little harsh – although Target were creating chances.

The Sharks continued to look threatening themselves. But Target were defending well and we just couldn’t seem to find the final touch or get the lucky break in their area.

Halftime came and we were very much still in the game. And once the second half kicked off, it didn’t take us long to even up the score.  Francis received the ball from Phin in the middle and used his pace to outrun his man on the left wing.  He played a superb ball across the box, which fell to the onrushing Wiktor who slid it home neatly first time. Their keeper made a desperate lunge for the ball, but it had crossed the line by the time he gathered it.

Having got back into it, the Sharks switched off and Target were back in the lead within minutes after some good play down the left hand side. A powerful shot left Rory with no chance.

But heads didn’t drop on the Sharks team. They got on with it and continued to press for another equaliser. Gabriel came on for the slightly out of sorts Ben and was almost immediately involved in the equaliser. He won the ball in midfield and played it to Jakub who lofted a great pass to Francis on the edge of the area. Francis spun and hit a superb volley into the far corner – a magnificent goal. 2-2.

The Sharks had the momentum now and were piling pressure on the Target defence. Francis was involved again with a good run down the left wing, but he pulled up with a muscle strain and had to hobble off the pitch.  As we waited to make the substitution the ball fell to Gabriel in the area and he shot hard towards the goal.  A Target defender put up his hands and clearly committed a foul on the penalty spot. A dead cert, handball penalty. The referee blew his whistle and the Sharks were debating who should take the kick to give them a 3-2 lead.

Then bizarrely, the referee came and placed the ball on the edge of the penalty area for a free kick to the Sharks. It was astonishing and perplexing to everyone watching. But again the Sharks did not complain or question the decision. They lined the ball up, and Ben, who had just come on for the injured Francis, placed a curler around the Target wall. The ball dipped and hit the top of the bar with the keeper well beaten – very unlucky for the Sharks. A few inches lower and they would have got the goal they deserved.

Minutes later another extraordinary decision saw Target score the winning goal.

Phin – who had an excellent match – brought the ball out of defence confidently and was accelerating through midfield.  A Target player stuck out his leg and fouled him badly in the centre circle.

It was a waist-high foul, nowhere near the ball and as clear a free kick as you’re ever likely to see. Play stopped as both sides acknowledged the foul, but for some inexplicable reason, the ref, who was quite close the action on this occasion, didn’t blow for a foul. The Target players started to carry on while Phin was lying on the floor clearly injured. Encouraged to play on by the ref, Target worked the ball around the confused Sharks and eventually scored a goal to take the lead.

By now things were feeling a bit surreal and the boys were as bewildered as the rest of us.  But again they didn’t complain or give up. They continued to press for the equalizer.

As the minutes ticked away, it looked as though the Sharks might not get anything from the game. But then Jakub won the ball at right back and fired it into the box. For once the Target keeper was a little slow off his line and Ben just got there ahead of him.  He managed to poke the ball past the goalie and towards the goal but without real power. As the ball edged closer to the goal a Target defender managed to get back and hook it away virtually off the goal line.

And that was the last action of the match.

It was a harsh end to a hugely frustrating day for the Sharks. They created numerous chances throughout the game, which just went wide or just needed someone to connect. Their keeper made some good saves and made himself hard to beat with his quick sweeping.

But the boys can be very proud of themselves. They conducted themselves brilliantly despite some strange decisions and they never let their heads drop. They didn’t argue or question the decisions, however ludicrous they appeared.

And they all worked hard throughout the match. Phin, Jakub and Alejandro were under constant pressure from long balls played into our half but they stood up superbly. Rory made some great saves and came off his own line well when required.  There was nothing he could do about any of the goals.

Wiktor, Gabriel and Francis all worked their socks off up front and Ben almost scored twice despite having a bit of an off day.

Their heads never went down – and they fought right till the end with the goal line clearance.

It must be said, Target Sports were not a dirty team by any means, and the match was played in an excellent spirit.

It’s especially disappointing that the defeat in such circumstances means our league position will not reflect what has been an excellent inaugural season on the whole. We’ve got the 2nd best goal difference in the league (+15), the joint 2nd best defensive record (26 goals conceded) and the 3rd best attacking record (41 goals scored).

That all suggests we should be at the very least in the top 3, which is a fairer reflection of our season overall.

Of course, league position is not the most important measure. As we’ve seen the boys have played some great football, learnt some valuable lessons, bonded as a strong team and shown spirit and determination.

We’ve got one more game to go – against the Champions Waddon at home. Waddon are unbeaten all season so far, so it would be a great honour for the Sharks to be the first and only team to take three points off them and end the year on a real high.  The game in December was incredibly close, with a narrow 1-0 defeat, and we matched them that day.  So there’s no reason to fear them – let’s just go out and play our passing game and show them what the Sharks are all about!

And well done for your performance and discipline last Sunday boys – we’re very proud of you.

Damien

Thanks to Kasia for the great shots as usual (even through the rain this week!)