A good opening day win for the Sharks, which could – and really should – have been more comfortable, given the chances the boys created. But there were some glimpses of the slick passing Sharks we know, some fine football at times and some great individual performances. And three points on the board.
Hanworth were transformed from the team we played a few months ago, showing great sportsmanship and spirit throughout. And they proved tough opponents to break down.
Joe was making his league debut but in goal, with Martin, Ale and Phin in their usual back three positions. In Elliott’s absence Gabby took the defensive midfield role, while Wiktor and Sebas started in central midfield with Francis and Ben out wide.
It was blisteringly hot day, so we knew we’d need all of our three subs for lots of rotation during the game – Jake, Jabub and Nile were all ready to join the action.
It was a slightly stuttering start from the Sharks who took a good ten minutes to find their rhythm. Hanworth meanwhile were troubling us with two strikers and quick high balls played in behind our defensive line.
Ale, Phin, Martin and Gabby were tested, but were up the task – along with Joe who was quick off his line and a commanding presence in goal throughout.
Gradually the Sharks stated to get on top and find their passing. Wiktor, Gabby and Sebas were winning the ball and using it well in the tight midfield area. And when we managed to spread the play wide to Francis and Ben we caused Hanworth some real problems.
Ben got in behind after a great through ball from Wiktor but his fierce shot was well saved by the keeper. The Hanworth keeper was excellent throughout and made at least 7 or 8 great saves. Francis went through next but his shot was parried and then Sebas, Wiktor and Francis again went close with shots just wide of the post or over the bar.
It was all Sharks now apart from the occasional break from Hanworth, but they were defending stoutly and their keeper continued to pull off great saves. At times perhaps the Sharks were guilty of trying to walk the ball into the net, although to be fair every time they did shoot the Hanworth keeper saved.
All three subs came on in the heat and immediately got into the action. Jake was solid and effective in the midfield defensive role, Nile was determined and dangerous on the wing and Jakub was threatening in the centre.
Wiktor played a superb through ball to Jakub who ran clear of his man and scooped the ball towards goal. We all thought it was the opener, but his shot just cleared the bar.
The rest of the half was more of the same as the Sharks’ supporters oohed and aahed time and again as the ball just wouldn’t go into the net.
And so the half ended 0-0.
But we knew the boys would score eventually if they kept up their passing game. And so with more fresh legs on for the second half, they did just that.
They started brilliantly with fast, accurate passing and swift interchanging which pulled the Hanworth defence apart. But still they couldn’t score and we started to wonder if it might not be our day.
Francis was freed on the right and did superbly to beat his man and race towards goal. Seeing Jakub free he slotted it across the box, where Jakub met it – only to see it agonisingly hit the post and roll behind. So close!
Then finally the goal came as the ball bounced clear on the edge of the area. Running in from left back Nile met it outside the area and fired in an unstoppable piledriver that almost broke the net. A magnificent goal to start the season and a real relief.
The Sharks visibly relaxed now and their football was superb; sweeping moves from one end of the pitch to the other with fabulous one touch football. But again, the second goal was proving elusive.
Sebas and Gabby both hit the post, while Ben couldn’t quite keep his shot down as Gabby played him through beautifully. Francis and Jakub also both went close again.
Eventually the second goal did come as Francis played in a clever ball, which Wiktor slammed home at the near post from 6 yards out. 2-0 and much more like it.
The heat was relentless and despite constant changes in the line up, the boys started to tire as the minutes ticked away. People were having to play in unfamiliar roles and we looked a little shaky at the back. Fair play to Hanworth, they didn’t let up and continued to look for a goal.
Joe had to rush out several times and made a superb high catch from a corner to keep thing steady. Joe was magnificent throughout and has really settled in well. He’s brave and quick and has such safe hands – he brings a real sense of authority to the back line. Great stuff!
But even with our usual defenders back on the pitch for the final few minutes, he couldn’t quite keep the clean sheet his excellent performance deserved.
A quick Hanworth throw-in caught us napping and their striker powered into the box and fired a low shot which Joe could do nothing to stop. 2-1 with just 2 minutes plus injury time left.
The Sharks may have panicked at this stage, but in fact they settled down well and never looked in further danger. Jakub filled in at right back as Martin went off injured and he immediately dealt with a high ball calmly and effectively.
At the other end, it looked as though the Sharks might get a third. Ben jinked through the box and was upended; surely a penalty? But the referee was well placed and waved it away, explaining that he’d seen the Hanworth player just get a touch on the ball.
And that was the final action.
A good, well deserved win for the Sharks. Even the Hanworth coach admitted a come back would have been a travesty based on the overall play.
The coach (and club chairman) – Iain – who has stepped in temporarily to manage the U12s deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the way he has transformed the team in just a few weeks. The management, players and spectators were impeccably behaved on Sunday. A good show.
On to the Cup next Sunday, where we travel to Kingswood Falcons. They are in our division, but won 14-1 in their opening game last week. So it could be a tough one for the Sharks!
Thanks to Jim for running the line (and to Nick for agreeing to referee even though he didn’t have to in the end!)