A bitterly cold day in driving rain saw the Sharks start explosively, fade a little as the weather worsened, before recomposing themselves to take all three points. There were two goals apiece for Jason and Francis and one for Jakub – along with some good individual performances, even if the team as a whole is making a slightly stuttering start to the season.
The conditions were truly awful; pelting rain, icy wind and a soggy, heavy pitch. Not ideal for sweeping, passing football, but the Sharks started well enough, and for once were quick out of the blocks.
Cheam Sports were a decent side when we played them last season, so we knew they’d give us a good game. At the same time, we were trying a new 3-2-2-1 formation, to give us other options on top of our usual, highly effective, striker-less 3-1-4 line up.
Jason showed his finishing skills last week with two superbly taken goals in the 7-3 cup defeat at Kingswood. He’s also strong enough to play the lone striker role, so we thought we’d give it a go for the first half against Cheam.
It immediately looked good, with the Sharks quickly into their stride and creating chances. There was some getting used to the unusual formation at the back and in midfield, but we looked solid enough. Up front, we were creating chances right from the off.
Jason was thriving in the front role, and exchanging good passes with Francis, Gabby and Sebas in the final third. And soon the Sharks were off the mark.
Gabby played a neat through ball into Jason’s path and he coolly dinked it over the keeper for a well-taken goal.
There were some early signs of the trouble to come as Cheam posed some problems in midfield and for our defence, but for now we held firm and dealt with their attacks well. Jakub was quick and alert in his first spell as goalkeeper this season. Rory was solid and determined at left back while Elliott was composed and quick at centre back (with Alejandro starting as sub). Martin was recovering from injury but showed his usual calm assurance at right back.
Jake was great in the central midfield role, providing strength and cover and some great tackling (although his socks kept falling down and his shin pads kept coming out, which he had to come off to sort out).
In attack, the goals kept coming, with Francis getting on the scoresheet with an excellent finish after good work from Sebas and Jason.
Minutes later he added a splendid second after another great through ball from midfield, calmly slotting the ball past the diving keeper. 3-0 and only around 10 mins gone.
And then it seemed the Sharks took their foot off the pedal and starting letting the weather affect them. Perhaps they thought it was game over.
Cheam began causing some real problems – mostly because the Sharks were standing off and not tackling, allowing Cheam to push forward and create chances. Jakub was called into action several times and had to make some close-range saves to keep the strikers out.
Eventually, Cheam did make the breakthrough. The Sharks’ lethargy continued and a Cheam player waltzed through the entire half without a real challenge, before firing a low shot past into the goal from the left.
So at half time it was 3-1 – and we decided to switch back to our more familiar formation.
And while it was a better performance, it was still not quite the Sharks we know. They created chances, and played some great inter-passing football, but they were often too narrow and turned inside instead of using the width. Even so, they should have extended their lead before Cheam pulled another back.
The Cheam keeper, to be fair, was amazing, pulling off brave saves and somehow keeping the Sharks out. At one point he saved three close-range shots in a row from Jason, Sebas and Gabby.
As the minutes ticked away, it looked as though the Sharks had done enough without ever really hitting their stride in the dreadful conditions. But then Cheam won a corner and floated in a great cross. Sebas climbed high to meet the ball, but could only head it backwards and past the diving Joe into the net for a spectacular own goal. Very unlucky for Sebas, and just one of those things.
With the nerves jangling a little, the Sharks conceded a free kick on the edge of the area, where Joe had just carried the ball out of his area before releasing it. It was correctly flagged as an offence, and Cheam lined the ball up in a dangerous position.
They made the most of it with a great free kick smashed into the top of the net, giving Joe no chance. 3-3.
With around 5 minutes left, there seemed a danger the momentum was with Cheam now and they would go on and win the game.
But finally the Sharks seemed to spark back into life and went up a gear to secure the points.
First Jakub, out of goal second half and playing at left wing, found himself by the right corner flag (!), where he wriggled free of the defender and fired a low shot towards goal. It seemed the keeper would collect, but the ball just squeezed under his body and rolled into the empty net. Very unlucky for the keeper, but great work from Jakub and 4-3 to the Sharks.
Then, Jason capped it all off with a wonderful strike to claim his second of the game (and fourth in two games). Receiving the ball after good work between Sebas and Ben, he clipped a perfect shot that looped over the keeper and into the far corner. Brilliant goal. 5-3 and the win was safe now for the Sharks.
The boys haven’t quite got going this season, and haven’t been at their best, and yet they’ve won 2 out of 2 in the league. They’ve scored some great goals, and we’ve seen some glimpses of the flowing football we know and love. I’m sure it will click into gear soon enough and we’ll see a rout – perhaps this weekend?
Thanks to Jim for running the line this week – and for his integrity in correctly flagging for the ‘out of the area’ offence – even though it lead to the Cheam equaliser. A credit to the Sharks’ philosophy Jim!