A tough game for the Sharks against a very physical Surrey Predators side saw them take all three points on Remembrance Sunday with an excellent win, showing character, strength and their usual pleasing passing football.
The Sharks were keen to get back to winning ways after their first league defeat of the season last week, but the Predators ensured it was no easy task.
The Predators were very quick out of the blocks with crunching tackles and the Sharks struggled to get find their rhythm in the first 10 minutes. But eventually, they started finding their passes and the chances began to come.
Gabriel fired in a couple of dangerous corners, but the determined Predator defence cleared the ball well. In the midfield, Sebas was finding some space and working the ball well with Wiktor and Francis on the left wing.
The Sharks continued to probe and looked increasingly dangerous as the Predators started to tire after their energetic start. Another corner from the left dropped for Jake who stabbed at the ball, but just sent it wide.
Then Sebas picked the ball up on the right, looked up and played a delightful curling through ball over and behind the Predator defence. Staying onside well, Francis collected the ball on the edge of the area, kept his cool and drilled it past the keeper for the opening goal. Classy stuff all round.
The goal visibly settled the Sharks who now took almost total control of the game. Sebas and Wiktor combined on the right but Sebas’ cross was cut out. Then Wiktor had a mazy dribble into the box but was just tackled as he lined up to shoot.
But the second goal soon came, when Francis found himself clear again on the left after a lovely through ball from Wiktor. Again, he kept his head and slotted the ball past the keeper for his second of the game.
At the other end, Martin was filling in magnificently for Alejandro at Centre Back, with Gabriel on the right and Nile, followed by Phin midway through the half, on the left. Elliott was his usual excellent self in front of the back line. The occasional danger was coming from long through balls for the Predator strikers to chase. But the defence was snubbing out the danger well – ably assisted by Rory who was really coming off his line quickly and effectively to sweep up when needed. His handling was also outstanding throughout; the Predators played a number of high balls, which could have caused problems, but Rory caught and held onto all of them very confidently.
Meanwhile the Sharks were looking for the third goal at the other end. Ben, who’d had a torrid start to the game with some tough tackles, came back on after a rest, and looked much more like himself. He skipped past a couple of defenders on the right and was brought down as he surged towards the box. The referee awarded the free kick, which Martin stepped up to take and sent narrowly wide.
Francis then wriggled free with some fine skills on the left, cut inside the box and curled a beautiful shot towards the far corner – but it went inches wide of the post. It would have been a superb goal and a first half hat trick.
And so the Sharks had to be content with 2-0 at half time – a decent lead, but not realty reflecting their dominance after the opening 10 minutes.
The second half really saw the Sharks’ football coming to the fore.
Ben and Francis swapped wings to their more familiar positions and Nile went up front after his time at left back.
Wiktor in his advanced midfielder position was threading through some exquisite balls and Ben, Francis and Nile all went close when put through on goal. But the Predators were showing great determination at the back and again and again they just seemed to get back in time to deny the Sharks.
Phin then picked up the ball, strode into midfield and played another superb through ball to Wiktor, who danced into the area and pulled it back only for the Predators’ defence to clear again.
Sebas then came back into the action on the right and powered down the wing, beating his man and sending in a great ball across the area. Nile connected with the ball, but was stretching and it bounced just wide. Then Ben got free on the left, beat his man and fired a good cross along the six-yard line; but again it just evaded the onrushing Wiktor.
Sebas again got involved in the action and dribbled into the area only to be brought down. We thought it might have been a penalty, but the ref pointed to just outside the area. Gabriel floated in the free kick, but the Predators cleared behind. Wiktor took the corner and the ball bounced dangerously in the middle of the box, eventually hitting Ben and spinning towards the goal, only for a Predator defender to kick it off the line before Nile could slam it home.
It was getting a bit frustrating now, as the Sharks just couldn’t make their great play count with further goals. Things got worse when the Predators broke downfield and got the run of the ball with a couple of deflections. It fell to a Predators’ attackers only yards out who smashed the ball goalwards, but Rory somehow pulled off a magnificent save, only to see the ball rebound kindly for the striker to stab it home. A real shame for Rory after such a fine save – and a real blow for the Sharks who suddenly found themselves only 2-1 ahead.
But as we’ve seen previously, the Sharks are made a sterner stuff this season and they rallied immediately. Gabriel played a high ball into the box for Ben to chase and he was bundled over as he challenged. A blatant foul – even Jim as the linesman at the other end of the pitch flagged for the offence! The referee agreed and pointed straight to the spot.
It was a great chance for the Sharks to put some distance between themselves and the Predators again – but it was a high-pressure kick. Having been fouled for the penalty – and a good few times throughout the rest of the match – Ben was determined to take the kick himself. He spotted the ball, took a run up and blasted a great penalty, hard to the keeper’s right, to give the Sharks a 3-1 lead. Relief all round.
As the minutes ticked away the Sharks continued to press. Wiktor picked up the ball in the centre and dribbled past two Predators before being brought down in a hefty challenge. In the perfect riposte, he got up, received the ball from the free kick and played a brilliant through ball to Nile on the left. Taking it in his stride Nile hit it sweetly first time, across the diving keeper and into the net. A great move and a great finish.
And 4-1 is how it finished.
It was a great win for the Sharks against very tough opponents. They showed character and spirit and played some tremendous football – at times it was a real joy to watch. Well done boys!
Thanks to Jim for running the line this week. And to Kasia for her excellent pictures as usual.