Binfield Titans 1 Ashridge Park 4
8 mins: 1-0
39 mins: 1-1 (own goal)
51 mins: 1-2 (Jack Clayton)
77 mins: 1-3 (Toni Baciu)
88 mins: 1-4 (Toni Baciu)
Star Player: Sachin Vara
Autumn has arrived. I know that to be the case because mince pies and selection boxes are all over the shelves in Lidl. I predict that by the weekend, Christmas songs will be piped on loop in shops. Can't wait.
Years ago I did a night shift in a Mr Kipling bakery. 11 hours packing Country Slice. You could eat as much as you liked from the conveyor belt. More mature readers might remember the TV advert, which described Autumn as "the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness". I am still not sure whether that line came from the pen of John Keats or Mr Kipling. What I can say is that I have never been able to eat Country Slice since those days.
Anyway, in spite of the leaves, the weather was dry, albeit cool. Graham had a full squad of 16, at the same venue as last week, against Binfield’s second string, this time on the King’s Academy 3G pitch.
We started as if we had in fact scoffed a jumbo pack of Kipling cakes – slowly – and Binfield took the initiative. A clever overhead kick was plucked out of the air by Joe. But shortly after, a speculative cross from a rapid break on the right drifted into the net. 1-0 Binfield, on 8 mins.
That seemed to jump-start us into life and we had several near misses. A flowing move from midfield saw Ice play Sachin in on the right of the box but the shot drifted wide of the far post. Further efforts from Toni, Jack C, Jack G and Bertie also missed the target, though the last of these needed a helping hand from the keeper to deflect it into the side-netting It wasn’t all one way traffic and Joe again saved easily from a free header and then tipped a shot smartly round the post.
But finally our dominance paid dividends and Ice's in-swinging corner from the right was punched into his own net by their keeper. Unlucky, but 1-1 on 39 mins and that was the score at HT.
We pretty much bossed the second half, as Binfield tired. A cheeky back heel from Toni was saved. Then Jack C was played through by Bertie's smart pass from midfield and he buried the chance with aplomb. 1-2 after 51 mins.
A great ball put Jamie straight through, only to see his effort shave the post - some questions being asked on the sideline as to whether he was clipped by the keeper and / or defender as he was shooting, but credit to him he stayed on his feet. This was followed by a lovely pass from Sachin and Jamie’s effort was cleared off the line. Then a ball swung in from the wing was put over from close in by Toni. But Toni made up for it, timing his run superbly to latch on to a terrific through ball from Ice and finishing (yes in ice-cool fashion) in the corner. 1-3 on 77 mins.
By this stage it really was one way, and after an excellent move involving Alex, Felix and Jamie went just wide, Toni converted an equally impressive play. 1-4 with 2 minutes left, and at full time.
Fair play to Binfield, who never gave up, but we were not flattered by the 4-1 final score. In fact it could easily have been double that. I have a vague recollection of a former tennis professional (maybe Andre Agassi) who said that he used to wait to read the writing on the ball before making contact with his racket. In other words, keeping his eye on the ball. If we had done a bit more of that, we really would have hit 7 or 8.
However, unbeaten in three games – that speaks for itself. Some PL managers would start giving it the big one. Not Graham, because you never know what’s round the corner, but nevertheless a great run, and at our best when playing simple, neat, passing football.
Having spent the majority of training sessions working on the team's mindset to play a simple passing game, it was great to see it finally transfer from the training ground (where I regularly see them playing neat and fluent football) to an actual match. I was prompted to do a bit of analysis on the video, and we hit 78% pass completion rate and had 21 strings of 5 or more successul passes - way up on previous games. In particular it was pleasing how many of our 21 shots came from moves that started on our own 18 yard line. Yes, it's easier to do when there is little pressure on the ball, and on a true surface, but it sets a new baseline for us to build from. Top marks to Josh, Jamie and Sachin who were all on or around the 90% mark. It's not the whole story, as you still need the risk-takers like Ice (3 assists) and Toni (2 goals and other chances) to inflict the final damage, but it's the way to give those players the platform to do their work.
Easy call for star player today - Sachin was at the heart of most of our moves, laying the ball off and then demanding it back, basically provding the pivot through which our better moves came. He had 40% more touches than the next nearest player in the game (Jamie); the only shame was that he couldnt round off his performance with the goal he richly deserved.