A surprisingly tough game for the Sharks against a well-organized and quite physical Whitton Under 9s side.  We played some great passing football at times but couldn’t quite make it count with goals. But the lads did manage to salvage a point with a last minute equalizer – when a slightly embarrassing defeat seemed on the cards.

I think a few of the boys were a bit cocky coming into the fixture against an Under 9s side – but they soon found out it wasn’t going to be an easy game. Whitton were well drilled, disciplined and strong – and their keeper was brave and made some good saves.

As it was, the Sharks looked the most likely to score in the early exchanges, once they got into their rhythm. There was some lovely quick, accurate, often one-touch passing between the front players – Ben, Francis, Wiktor – with Gabriel and Phin joining in well from full back.  There were some delightful through balls and some great ‘triangles’, which were great to see.  But they just couldn’t find the end product.  Ben and Wiktor both fired wide or at the keeper on a couple of occasions and Francis hit the post from a Wiktor cross.

In the midfield, Whitton were battling well and disrupting our flow.  But we seemed secure enough. Until a Whitton defender hoofed the ball into our half over Phin’s head and into the path of an attacker who was doing up his laces seconds before.

Of course, next season, that will be offside, and having drilled the boys last time about pushing up, it was unfortunate to encounter the tactic at 7v7 again.  But credit to the Whitton forward, he carried the ball well and beat Rory with a convincing shot into the bottom corner.  A well-taken goal.

And so it stayed until half time.

The Sharks came out more determined in the second half – having realized they were in a proper game.  They were pushing Whitton back and starting to win the midfield clashes.  They won a rash of corners – all played in superbly by Gabriel – and from one, Martin rose and met the cross with his head.  Soaring above the keeper he directed it into the net with aplomb.  A terrific goal, and a rare header  – only the third this season for the Sharks (Wiktor having scored the previous two).

The Sharks were pressing now and looking like they’d go on and win it.  Alex was sent clear with a lovely though ball, but the determined Whitton defence got back to block his effort.

But we were leaving ourselves open at the back to long balls played over the top – and only some great tracking back from Ben and Martin prevented Whitton shots on two occasions.  [I’m not a fan of hoofing myself and it’s not something we try to encourage.  It can be effective when there’s no offside rule, of course, but I’m not sure it’s teaching the fundamentals of the game properly.]

A few defensive changes in the final quarter of the game saw us concede a sloppy goal to go behind again.  Whitton won a throw-in on the right side and we somehow left two Whitton players totally unmarked in the middle of the penalty area.  The throw cleared our static line of defenders and fell to one of the attackers who had time to control it and slot it impressively past Rory.  Another good finish, but a very frustrating goal for us to concede.

So the boys were facing a defeat with a few minutes to go.  They continued to press. Gabriel and Phin were pushed up and joined Ben and Alex in attack.  As the seconds ticked by, it looked as though they might not get the equalizer. Then Ben picked the ball up on the right, beat his man and fired in a shot from the edge of the area.  It bounced off a Whitton defender and fell nicely for Nile on the penalty spot. He controlled the ball, turned and fired home low into the net.  Phew!

And that was the last kick of the game – just in the nick of time.

All round it was an entertaining game – and Whitton deserve much credit for their application and organization.  They were strong in the tackle and defended in numbers – and scored two very well taken goals. A good performance for an Under 9s side against Under 10s.

But as so often this season, the Sharks really could have been out of sight had they taken their chances. It’s something we’ll have to work on for next season – because it’s all very well playing nice, passing football along the floor; you need to make it count through goals.

A good workout though – and probably our last 7v7 (except in summer tournaments) as we prepare for the new season with 9v9 as much as we can.

The first tournament is a week on Sunday – so let’s hope we can give a good account of ourselves then.