We start the sermon today with a quote ; “With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that the team is not truly one, but truly two.” Know where that comes from (with a slight edit)? The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Bobby Lou Stevenson and quite frankly I’m starting to wonder if the Russians are interfering with the outcome of this league campaign as the team that looked like a dreadful shipwreck in the Cup on Tuesday night, somewhere in north Kent, somehow got hold of a serum that turned them into an evil Hyde-like reincarnation, to take all three points at Alderbrook on Saturday. It’s almost impossible to know which version of Crowborough Athletic will turn up to any game, and I don’t know whether to be optimistic and relaxed as the team takes to the field now or cover my eyes, ready for a tonking and a short course of psychotherapy. The pattern could not be more Jekyll and Hyde if it tried, demolished by Beckenham but fantastic against Chatham the following week, then outplayed by Cray but fighting for a gutsy point at Erith seven days later before the portaloo sunset at Gay Dawn Farm now being offset by this tactical cat and mouse display to thwart Lordswood only four days later. It can be a tough watch but it’s also kinda fun and this pattern also includes my new favourite football cliche – if we score first, the opponent cannot win the game. The really important thing – and I still have to stare at the table just to reassure myself of this every now and again – is that we have now won 7 league games and taken 22 points from a possible 42 which is a cracking return when you also consider we’re only 6 points behind the leaders! That’s absolutely bonkers for a new team still finding its feet and it’s a huge credit to everyone on the playing side, as the tactics have been spot on and the attitude of the players, even in defeat, exceptional.
Did we witness a tactical masterclass yesterday to secure the win? I don’t know, I certainly hope so, and from the sidelines it was pretty clear that our modus operandi was to let Lordswood have as much of the ball as they wanted, when they wanted it and to sit back and see if they could do anything interesting with it. I’m sure the casual non-football minded observer would expect the team without the ball to tackle and get the ball back as soon as possible, but the Crows seemed reluctant to do that, at least until Lordswood got anywhere near our goal, and by that I mean within about 25 yards. Had we watched them previously and decided that they didn’t have anyone who could shoot for toffee? Their goal, when it came in the 92nd minute, was a tap in from inside the 6 yard box and almost the only time anyone in orange had managed to get that close. In the previous 91 minutes they’d had 65, maybe 70% possession but were 2-0 down. It’s also worth noting that there was only one booking in the whole game, Connor Pring after 24 minutes, who mis-controlled a pass and then grappled the Lordswood forward as he looked to capitalise. That fact alone should tell you that this was very much a “non-contact” game, Connor just reacting to his error, and there were a couple of half-hearted player lectures as the ref got a bit bored, but the patience of the Crows in defence was admirable. We didn’t need to tackle if we didn’t feel any threat. Why waste the energy?
The first half shuffled off harmlessly, with a couple of easy saves for each keeper (Dan Smith returning to Boro after completing a move from East Grinstead to Lordswood) but no goals, and admittedly we were all alarmed by how much time Boro were allowing Lordswood to have when they had the ball. I personally spent the whole of the first half shouting for Boro to “close them down” which was probably the exact opposite of what the players had been told to do. I wonder if the supporters should be fully briefed on the game plan before the game, like the players? Our debutant, George Sarafoudis, looked lively enough in the no.9 role up front but he’s very similar to Kieran Scantlebury in the runs he makes and service he needs, so unusually for Boro, we made a half-time substitution to bring Trey Masikini into the battle, a different type of player, to sit in just behind Kieran.
With this tweak, we looked much more threatening coming forward, and while the Lords were still enjoying large chunks of time with the ball, the minute the Crows got a hold of it, it was like flicking a switch and the game roared to life. We had a couple of near misses, Kieran heading wide when he should’ve made Dan Smith do a little more work, but then the Masikini/Scantlebury understanding clicked in and Trey played a delightful through ball which Kieran gleefully side-footed under the advancing Dan for the opening goal. Boro continued to sit deep, possibly even deeper now they were defending a lead, and Lordswood worked hard to try to equalise, with Ryan Burbridge producing a fantastic save to keep a decent shot out. While the Lords still had all the possession, Boro defended well and looked more likely to score again on the break. With five minutes to go, the excellent Phil Appiah was replaced with the fresh legs of Ollie Welbourn and it was Welbourn who started the dance that prodded the ball through to Masikini who again turned provider, this time the perfect square ball for Jack Funnell to slot into the bottom corner for 2-0. Funnell, it should be said, had an excellent game for Boro, his best since his return, and the Lords must have been sick of the sight of him as he was a constant pain in their attacking backside, breaking up move after move, sticking his foot in as our chief disrupter. It was great to see him on the score sheet again, especially as he’d missed a sitter five minutes earlier!
With 4 minutes of time added on, 2-0 looked secure but Lords finally got through the Boro defence through sheer weight of numbers, and despite another excellent Burbridge save, managed to stab home a consolation with seconds left. It had been a good second 45 for the Crows, with the usual high-performing suspects all present and correct, particularly the skipper Tom Boddy as always but ably assisted by Lee Jules and Max Carbune. Connor Pring seemed to be everywhere and Dom Welsh and Harvey Killick just ran and ran, and really stuck to their jobs. With a number of players at Butlins or some such, and another couple on International duty (get us!), the squad is now feeling like it’s equipped well enough to get the results we need, when we need them. I’d like a little run in the Vase but I’m not greedy; we’re getting results in the League where we really need them and that’s good enough for me.
Upwards and onwards now with a tricky run of games on paper followed by chances to consolidate our lovely mid-table position. Knowing this team, we could quite easily win them all or lose them all, but it ain’t gonna be dull that’s for sure.