A really hard-fought and hugely satisfying win for the Sharks against a very physical Hanworth Sports team. The win sees the Sharks guarantee promotion as at least the second-placed team in the Division with four games to go – so massive congratulations to all the boys. They conducted themselves superbly in very difficult circumstances, showed great spirit and character and emerged deservedly victorious – despite playing over a quarter of the game against an extra man!

We knew Hanworth were a tough, physical team after our game against them last November. And we knew that as the only team who could mathematically catch us in second spot, they’d be up for a game on Sunday.  And it proved to be every bit as hard as we were expecting.

With Wiktor and Rory resting, and Francis recovering from a chest illness, there was some shuffling about to be done with the line up.  The defence was as solid as we wanted, with Jake at right back, Alejandro in the middle and Phin at left back.  Elliot took up his usual position in defensive midfield, and Martin pushed forward to right wing. Ben and Sebas took the central midfield roles, with Gabby on the left wing. Nile and Francis waited to come into the action from the sidelines.

Right form the start it was hard going for the Sharks, who seemed to be struggling to get control of the game. Hanworth were everywhere – with players converging on our players and preventing us getting any momentum going.  They were also dangerous in attack – playing the ball forward quickly and creating chances on the counter.

The defence had to be right on their toes from the off, with last ditch tackles required from Jake, Elliott, Alejandro and Phin in the first 10 minutes.

At the other end, the Sharks were passing the ball in their usual confident way – and they had one or to near breakthroughs and a few very tight offside calls against them.  But Hanworth just seemed to be covering so well – with two or three players on a Shark every time he got the ball.

Then, as we approached the 20-minute mark, Vince shouted out “They’ve got 10 players on the pitch”.  Perplexed by their seeming ubiquity, Vince had decided to count their players – and thank goodness he did!  No wonder the Sharks were finding it hard to get a foothold.  Quite extraordinary.

As soon as the extra Hanworth player came off, the Sharks took control.

Sebas and Ben were already starting to find space with good runs and through balls and suddenly with even sides, they were able to make it count.

First Sebas sprinted clear down the right freed by a clever ball from Jake. He jiggled his way into the box, around three players and got to the goal-line.  Looking up, he picked out Gabriel with a lovely cross – and Gabby made no mistake, slamming it home from a few yards out. An excellent goal.

Minutes later it was 2-0 as Sebas played Ben clear with a superb through ball.  Showing great strength to hold his man off (who was doing all he could to hold him back) Ben raced into the area and from a similar position to Sebas, crossed the perfect ball for Gabby to score a near identical goal, his second of the game.

The momentum was really with the Sharks now and they continued to press – but half time came around quickly and they had to be content with a 2-0 score line. You felt another 10 minutes and they’d have added a few more goals – but 2-0 was a decent score at the break, especially as they’d played against 10 men for most of the half!

The second half was to prove even tougher, but the Sharks were more than up to the task. Hanworth pressed and pressured and tackled and fouled, but the Sharks held firm.

The Sharks created chances to extend their lead, but they just couldn’t find a way through. Nile made some great runs on the left wing and fired into the side netting from close range; Ben shot just wide from the edge of the box; Sebas brought a great save out of the keeper; Francis saw a shot blocked by a flying tackle.

At the back, the Sharks were magnificent.  Jake and Martin were tackling hard and refusing to be beaten. Alejandro and Phin were outstanding – strong, courageous and fair in their tacking – time and again denying Hanworth the breakthrough they wanted. Jakub sprinted off his line to clear the danger two or three times and he held the ball magnificently when shots or crosses came in.

As the minutes ticked away, it looked as though the Sharks would hold on. But then, the ball fell to a Hanworth player on the right, who sprinted into the box. Catching him up, Alejandro looked to have timed his tackle perfectly and hooked the ball away. But the young referee, under huge pressure, pointed to the spot.

It was a tough call – perhaps 50/50 – but Hanworth got the decision. Their striker stepped up and smashed the ball into the net giving Jakub no chance.  2-1 and only minutes left.

Showing great character, the Sharks were straight into the Hanworth half from the kick off, looking for the killer goal. But the move fizzled out. Then, as Hanworth hoofed the ball forward, the ref blew for full time.

A really fantastic win for the Sharks – they showed such grit and determination not be intimidated and they conducted themselves superbly throughout – never questioning decisions that went against them.  And fittingly, they won the game with two excellent pieces of football and two well-worked, well-taken goals.

Every player worked so hard and showed such commitment, we should be very proud of them indeed.  Many have battle scars and tales aplenty of what went on out on the pitch.

So onwards. Although they’ve achieved promotion, winning the title  is still in the Sharks’ hands with four more games to play, including the big one against Oxshott in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile it’s a tricky away fixture against Abbey Rangers who gave us a good game a few weeks’ ago. We’ll need to be at our best to keep up our winning ways.

In the meantime, well done boys on a magnificent performance – and congratulations on winning promotion with four games to go!  Fantastic!

 

Thanks to Nick for running the line this week – in intimidating circumstances at times, especially in the second half!