A terrifically exciting game, befitting the top two teams in the division, saw the Sharks narrowly held to a draw, despite leading three times and creating numerous chances.  The Sharks were undoubtedly the better team overall, and deserved a win, hitting the woodwork three times, and playing some quite delightful one touch, passing football.  But they can be very proud of their efforts; we’re certainly very proud of them. 

There was a big crowd for this top of the table clash and a great atmosphere, which seem to inspire both sets of players.  Right from the kick off, you could see why these teams were first and second.  The action was fast and frenetic as both sides tried to take control and threatened the opposition goal.

Oxshott were very quick to get the ball forward to their strong striker – that seemed to be their key tactic. The Sharks were more measured in their play, as we’ve come to expect, neatly passing and creating openings with quick balls to feet and good overlapping. 

The Sharks lined up with their usual formation – with Jakub in goal, Martin and Rory as full backs, Alejandro in central defence and Elliott in front of the back three.  The midfield was Ben on the right, Wiktor and Sebas in the centre and Phin on the left.  And Gabby and Francis were ready to come on.

Unfortunately, Elliott had injured his hamstring and was not moving as well as he normally does, so he had to come off midway through the half to be replaced by Francis.  We certainly missed Elliott’s usual quick covering as Oxshott pressed with fast counter-attacks.

The Sharks were creating their own chances though, with their slick passing, one of which almost lead to the opening goal. Sebas freed Ben on the right after a good interchange with Wiktor and Ben surged past his man and into the box.  He crossed well along the six yard line, where Wiktor had made up the ground to arrive perfectly, but he just couldn’t connect cleanly and the ball bounced to safety.

Slowly, the Sharks were starting to get the upper hand. But as they pressed, the danger from Oxshott was all about countering – and to be fair they were quick and accurate at getting down the pitch.  The Sharks’ natural game left them looking rather exposed at times with men caught ahead of the ball, and it took some heroics from Alejandro, Martin, Rory and Jakub to snuff out the danger on a number of occasions.

It felt like a boxing match at times, as the big burly Oxshott tried to land knockout blows, while the lighter, sharper Sharks dodged and weaved and looked for their own telling shots.

It was intense, edge of the seat stuff throughout the first half – and it felt as though either side could score – albeit the Sharks were playing the better, neater football overall.

Eventually they got the breakthrough as Sebas surged forward from the halfway line.  Using his pace he ran onto his own through ball and found himself one-on-one with the keeper. Keeping his cool, he slotted the ball neatly and firmly into the bottom corner for the Sharks to take the lead. Superb stuff.

They couldn’t hold on to the lead for long though – as the Oxshott pressure paid off with an equaliser.  Another quick break from a Sharks’ corner saw them work the ball well into the box where their striker banged the ball home from close range, giving Jakub no chance.

It was a blow to the Sharks so soon after getting ahead – and we worried their heads might drop.  But not a bit of it.  Their spirit is strong as we know this season – and they kept playing their game, tackling back and passing the ball.

As we moved towards half time, the Sharks brilliantly retook the lead. After some neat passing between Martin and Wiktor, Ben got the ball on the right and skipped past two men.  Seeing Sebas in space on the edge of the box he played a quick ball into his feet.  Sebas controlled it instantly, turned and fired a screamer into the far corner of the net. A fabulously worked and superbly taken goal. 2-1 to the Sharks and two goals for Sebas.

And the Sharks held on until half time.  Real chances had been few and far between for both sides – the Sharks had taken theirs well, but Oxshott looked a constant threat on the break and but for good work from Jakub, Alejandro, Martin and Rory, they’d have scored more.

After half time, we were looking for a little more steel from the Sharks; Oxshott were a fairly physical side (but not overly so) and they used their physicality to good effect.  It was crucial the Sharks got their tackles in and broke up Oxshott’s swift attacks. But we also wanted the Sharks to continue their fluid passing game.

And the start of the second half saw the Sharks totally dominant.  They were passing the ball brilliantly, using it intelligently and pressing Oxshott back.  Gabby, Wiktor, Francis, Martin, Phin and Sebas were running Oxshott ragged in the final third with their passing and movement. It seemed only a matter of time before the Sharks scored again.

After a great move involving Gabby and Wiktor saw Francis emerge with the ball on the left.  He beat his man and then lined up a shot from the edge of the area.  He curled it beautifully around the defenders and the keeper, only to see it cannon off the far post and out to safety.

Francis was then fouled and had to limp off, but the Sharks kept up the pressure.  A free kick from Martin caused all sorts of problems in the Oxshott area – and Gabby hooked the ball high along the six yard line. Ben climbed above everyone and got his head to the ball, but it bounced agonisingly onto the cross bar and behind. Close again for the Sharks.

Then, against the run of play, Oxshott scored an equaliser.  They worked the ball well down the wing and played in a good cross. Their striker met it well and slammed it into the net. 2-2.

Again, the Sharks didn’t let their heads drop.  And again they soon had the lead.

Sebas won the ball well in midfield and played a one-two with Wiktor and then sent a through ball to Ben who was running from an onside position.  Using his pace Ben wriggled free of the defender and shot hard from the right of the box.  The keeper seemed to have saved it, but it was too hot to handle and he lost the ball over his head and across the line for a goal. Gabby was there to follow up, but in true Sharks’ spirit he assured us the ball was already over the line!

So 3-2 to the Sharks with around 10 minutes to go. Could they hold on?

It was real end-to-end stuff now with both sides looking dangerous every time they attacked.  At the back the Sharks were so strong.  We’d practised defending corners after the last match with Oxshott – and we dealt with them magnificently on Sunday.  Alejandro cleared at least three with brave, forceful headers.  And everyone was doing their jobs superbly – standing strong and not shirking.

Rory was having a tough time at left back – often having to deal with two attackers at once. But he stuck to it under immense pressure and even managed to stay cool in possession, using the ball well. Martin was his usual energetic and determined self on the other side – and floated in some superb corners all match.

Jakub was excellent in goal.  His handling was faultless – he held onto everything securely and confidently, and his distribution was good.

Phin battled away in the defensive midfield role – but also using his nous in attack and contributing well to the excellent passing football the Sharks were showing.

Some of the one-touch passing was breathtakingly good from the Sharks – really classy clever football.  It was a joy to watch. 

And then, almost inevitably, Oxshott broke away and scored a lucky equaliser. Their striker fired in a good shot from the edge of the box, with the Sharks desperately trying to close him down.  The ball hit Phin, who was running back to cover, and he could do nothing about it as the ball bounced wickedly into the net.  The shot was hard and looked to be going in anyway – Phin was just very unlucky, especially as he was doing exactly the right thing in getting back with such gusto.

It was certainly a cruel blow for the Sharks, with just minutes left, but they still battled on for a winner.  And as the seconds ticked away, it looked as though they’d got it.

Sebas played in a great corner from the left which bounded around dangerously.  Gabby tried a shot, then Wiktor – but Oxshott were defending for their lives.  Then the ball fell to Ben, unmarked on the penalty spot.  We all held our breath momentarily as he controlled it and fired a hard shot into the corner.  As we waited for the net to bulge, somehow an Oxshott defender got his knee to the ball and deflected it upwards.  The ball struck the cross bar and bounced over.

So close for the Sharks – the third time they’d hit the woodwork.  Martin took the corner, which Ben headed over – and the referee blew for full time.

What a game –and what a performance from the Sharks! Credit to Oxshott who came from behind three times.  But it felt as though the Sharks had been robbed of a deserved victory.  All their best qualities were on show – spirit, determination, desire, talent, skill and teamwork.

Despite the disappointment of not winning, they can be immensely proud of their display. The Oxshott coaches admitted the Sharks had deserved to win and they were generous in their praise.  The Sharks are the only team to have taken any points off Oxshott this season – and they almost got all three.  Well done boys!

And so to a local derby friendly against Twickenham Tigers on Sunday – who’ve had a great season themselves. Champions of Division 3 and in the Cup Final. They’ll give us a tough game, but it will be a good test for the Sharks.

Thanks to Andrzej for running the line this week.  And to Kasia for her excellent pics.