A really good victory for the Sharks against a very tough, physical Hampton Rangers team, where the boys showed class, spirit and determination to record their third straight win of the season. Although there were one or two familiar faces amongst the opposition for some of the Sharks, they were a largely unknown side. And with Ben and Alejandro down as starting subs this week, there were a few changes to the usual Sharks formation for kick off.

Having played so well there for a while last week Elliott stepped into central defence alongside Phin and Martin, while Gabriel covered the defensive midfield role.  Jake took up the wide left midfield position with Wiktor and Francis central and right, and Nile slotted into his usual striker’s role.  With Rory away, Jakub was down to go in goal, but he was struggling throughout training on Saturday with a back injury and we wondered whether he’d be able to play at all.  As it was, he bravely agreed to give it a go – with Elliott (who had very selflessly agreed to stand by as substitute keeper) ready to step in if needed.

The pattern of the game was set in the first few minutes as Hampton used their strength to muscle the ball and hoof it goalwards, while the Sharks used their skill and technique to pass the ball and create space and width.

Last season the Sharks had often come out second best against bigger, physical opponents, but they looked much more unruffled on Sunday. Despite some hefty challenges and some meaty duels, they stuck at it and were creating all the good chances, punctuated by the occasional Hampton foray into our half.

Francis continued where he’d left off last week and was full of tricks and running, causing havoc on the right hand side. Martin also continued his excellent corner-taking with some beautifully lofted balls into the box.  And Gabriel was firing in some great corners from the other side. But Hampton were very solid defensively and were heading and clearing the balls well.

The Sharks were probing and creating half chances through Gabriel, Jake, Nile, Wiktor and Francis in the front line, but nothing clear cut.  At the other end, the defence were having to be quick and strong to defend the high balls and through balls from Hampton.

And they stood up well. Jakub, despite his injury, came and collected the ball well on a few occasions and was safe with his hands when the ball ran though to him. His kicking was also solid and strong.

Alejandro and Ben came on midway through the first half with the game still in deadlock. But slowly, the Sharks’ slick football began to create more and more chances.  Eventually they opened the scoring when a nice move between Phin, Wiktor and Nile saw Ben freed on the left.  He skipped inside two challenges, drove along with edge of the penalty box and fired a low shot just inside the post. A well-worked goal.

The second followed soon afterwards as the Sharks kept up the pressure.  Martin took another great corner, and again the strong Hampton defence cleared it, but only as far as Francis, who played it back to Martin.  He saw a gap and fired in a hard shot, which was too hot for the keeper to handle and the ball powered into the roof of the net.  A well–deserved goal for the Sharks and for Martin.

Now the Sharks were well in the ascendancy, and as Hampton played a very high defensive line to try and catch them offside, they used the ball brilliantly, holding their runs and sending each other clear of the static defenders. Wiktor, Francis and Nile all found themselves running free, only for the keeper to save well, or for a defender to get back just in time.

Chance after chance was falling, but we just couldn’t seem to put them away. Finally, the third goal came as Wiktor pounced on a loose ball in the box and fired home powerfully.

The second half continued in the same vein, with the Sharks pressing for the fourth.  Again they created chance after chance with some great football, but just couldn’t quite add the finishing touch. At times we seem to want to walk the ball into the net!

But it was great to see the boys using what we’d practised in training on Saturday.  Nile especially was playing the back-to-goal striker role excellently, laying off the ball well as we’d be working on.

Eventually the fourth goal did come as Wiktor added his second with a good finish inside the box.

At that point I think the Sharks thought it was job done. Their concentration wandered a little, and suddenly Hampton Rangers had their tails up.  They scored two quick goals on the break and with ten minutes left it looked as though they might stage an unlikely comeback. Last year, I think the Sharks may have let them back into the game, but this year they showed their strength to take control again.

There were some fierce battles in midfield as the Sharks pressed for what would surely be the killer fifth goal. They got a free kick on the edge of the area which Alejandro curled just wide.  Francis continued to create opportunities down the right and Ben was jinking down the left.  Twice Nile and Wiktor came close.

And then finally the fifth goal did come, as Ben battled for the ball in midfield, won it back and played it to Francis in space on the right.  Francis beat his man, powered into the area and sent an inch perfect cross towards Nile who made no mistake with the shot to settle the nerves and make sure of the points. A really well worked move: “a good team goal” as one of the Mums said on the touchline!

As the final minutes ticked away the Sharks were well in control and created a couple more chances but couldn’t add to the score, and so it finished 5-2.

It was a bruising encounter, but the boys really showed their character to hold their own and let their football win the day.  A very satisfying victory all round, as the Sharks maintain their 100% start to the season.

Jake is starting to find his feet as he gets games under his belt, and he’s adjusting to the pace and intensity of a “real” match, which as we know, is difficult for everyone to settle into. Most of the boys have a three-year head start on you, so keep it up Jake!  There were some nice touches on Sunday – and all with an injured hand, too.

Special mention to Jakub for doing so well in goal despite his sore back.  And thanks to Elliott for volunteering to go in goal and giving Jakub a 10-minute rest at the start of the second half.  Well done both.

Another home game next against new opponents, Cheam Sports, on Sunday. Let’s hope we can keep up the momentum with another win.

Thanks to Jim for running the line this week.