An enjoyable and entertaining friendly match against local rivals Twickenham Tigers saw the Sharks pull back a 2-0 deficit, despite experimenting with a new system for the first half. They gave the Division 3 champions and Cup finalists a real run for their money – and overall probably should have won the game on the day. All in all a good test for the Sharks, which the boys passed with flying colours.
With next season in mind, we’d decided to try out a new formation against good opponents – a slightly more defensive line up with four at the back, three in midfield and a lone striker up front. We knew the Tigers would give us a testing game, and as we move up the Divisions next season we’re likely to meet better teams, so it seemed the ideal time to experiment.
The boys have really come on tactically this season, and everyone looks comfortable in their roles in the usual system. It’s a very attack-minded formation and makes the most of the natural abilities within the team. Even without an out and out striker, we have scored plenty of goals this season, using clever runs from the midfield and pace down the wings. Defensively, we’ve been solid and enjoyed the covering speed of Martin and Elliott. Players understand their roles well and can slot into different positions within the system very well now.
Naturally, the new formation was unfamiliar, and whilst we’d worked on it in training on Saturday, it will take some getting used to. But they coped well with the change and we’re confident it can prove useful next season.
The game itself was pretty even throughout. Both teams play good passing football, with the Tigers perhaps a little more physical than the Sharks. The Tigers probably had the better of the first half while the Sharks undoubtedly had the better of the second, when they switched to their familiar formation.
The Sharks were slightly slow out of the blocks and the Tigers were up and running right away. They were swift to move the ball to the wings and were putting a lot of pressure on our 4-man defence early on. Phin, Jakub, Alejandro and Martin had to be at their best to keep the Tigers at bay, cutting out crosses and clearing dangerous balls.
At the other end, Nile was working very hard as the lone striker – it’s a tough position and requires a lot of effort throughout the game. Recovering from a chest infection, he did well for the first half of the half, before having to come off for a rest.
There were one or two glimpses of the Sharks starting to get some rhythm to their game, with Sebas, Wiktor and Ben combining neatly with Nile to create openings. Wiktor and Sebas both had decent shots, and Martin and Sebas fired in some dangerous corners. But the Tigers’ defence was very solid and strong and they were proving difficult to break down.
Meanwhile, in attack, the Tigers were causing some problems with high balls into the box. And they soon took the lead after some a lofted ball caused some confusion in the Sharks’ area and the striker used his strength to get control of the ball and slot it home from close range.
Ben then got a small cut on his leg in a clash and had to limp off, being replaced by Francis. Jake also came on and went to right back, with Jakub replacing Nile up front.
Gradually, the Sharks started to get some control in the middle of the park and created some excellent chances. Wiktor and Francis combined well on the left and a great through ball saw Jakub sprint clear. He took his time and lined up the shot on the edge of the area and fired firmly across the keeper towards the top corner. The ball banged onto the corner of the bar and the post and bounced over.
A great effort and unlucky for Jakub not to equalise. It was a good sign though that the Sharks were finding some space behind the Tigers’ defence.
Just when it felt the Sharks were getting on top, the Tigers went down the other end and scored a second. Another high ball bounced awkwardly and into the Sharks’ area. Again their striker showed strength to get to the ball and dribble it past Rory for a 2-0 lead.
It seemed a blow to the Sharks, but as we know this season, they have great belief and their heads don’t drop.
So back they came and soon had their reward. Jakub and Phin worked the ball well down the left and Jakub found himself free. He was forced towards the goal line on the edge of the area and looked to have nowhere to go, but somehow he wriggled away and managed to fire in a shot that took a deflection over the keeper and into the net. 2-1 and great determination and skill from Jakub.
The Sharks continued to find space behind the Tigers’ defence with quick through balls, but couldn’t capitalise and half time came with them trailing by a single goal.
They’d done well to get themselves back into it playing the new system. And we decided to switch back to the usual 3-1-4 formation for the second half.
More comfortable now, the Sharks started to control the ball and the match and pegged the Tigers back for most of the half. The neat, quick passing through midfield was back on show as they looked for the equaliser.
Martin was back in his usual right back role, with Rory coming on at left back and Jakub switching from poacher to gamekeeper between the posts. Jake took up position as the holding midfielder – and did a tremendous job there. As did Rory when he filled in there later in the half.
Francis, Ben, Nile, Sebas and Wiktor were linking up well and forcing the Tigers deeper and deeper in defence. But the Sharks just couldn’t quite find the goal.
Then Francis got free on the right and played in Wiktor who dribbled round two defenders before poking the ball home at the near post. A fine equaliser. 2-2.
Now it seemed there would only be one winner, as the Sharks kept up the pressure. They were passing beautifully and creating space, but the Tigers’ defence was strong – and they seemed to intercept or get a tackle in at the last moment time and again.
At times it seemed the Sharks were trying one pass too many or trying to beat one man too many. Again, the game will be useful for them to learn that as they progress up the leagues, the defenders will become sharper and harder to beat. They’ll need to up their own games and get a little sharper to make their passing count.
Wiktor, Sebas, Ben, Francis, Nile and Jake all had opportunities but couldn’t convert them.
The Tigers did threaten occasionally at the other end, breaking quickly, but the Sharks’ defence was up to the task. Jakub showed his usual good handling and was quick to come off his line. And Sebas made two wonderful last gasp, perfectly timed tackles to avert danger.
The second half was a little stop/start with lots of minor injuries, which interrupted the Sharks’ flow. And right at the end, Alejandro, who’d been excellent as usual at centre back, fell awkwardly on his shoulder – the same one he’d broken last year. Fortunately it was just a bad fall.
And so the final whistle went and we had to settle for a draw.
The Tigers’ management were full of praise for the Sharks – and the boys should be pleased with how they managed against tough opponents who have had such a successful season.
A draw was probably the right result overall, although based on the second half it felt a little disappointing the Sharks weren’t able to find the winning goal. But a decent performance and a really useful workout.
Back to the League this week and our penultimate game – away against Surrey Predators, who were a pretty physical side when we met earlier in the season at Imber Court. Let’s hope the boys can show their flowing football and score some goals. We might not be able to win the league, but we can still emerge as top scorers (provided we bang in loads of goals in our last two games)!
Thanks to Jim for running the line this week.