In brief this Challenge cup 1st round tie between Salisbury Dev and Midhurst and Easebourne reserves could be summarized as ‘men v boys’ or equally you could say ‘talent v a team with a plan’.
Unfortunately the stags from Sussex used all their experience to make themselves as difficult as possible to break down. And to their credit they managed that, possibly better than any side the dev have faced this season.
The opening 15 minutes saw the whites comfortable on the ball and exchanging blows with the visitors punch for punch so to speak. First opportunity the whites had came just 5 min in when skipper Hawke delivered a decent enough cross but Sam Butts effort went wide of the upright.
on 11 minutes a good Salisbury move involving about 8 passes produced an opening for Ruben Smith but his effort was straight at the keeper. The visiting stopper was to prove to be a stubborn nut to crack for the rest of the afternoon.
4 minutes later Hawke has a chance to shoot, but yet again a whites effort did not trouble the visitors goal. It has to be said by now in the game Midhurst realised they were not going to have the ball much in this tie and played most of the game with 8 plus the keeper behind the ball. That said they chose their moments well and executed the few chances they had in the game far better than their hosts were able to do.
on 19 and 25 min according to my notes firstly one of many Sam Butt runs down the left wing ends with a cross that see’s striker Smith in space, it looked enough possibly to be able to actually put this one away. However, he was adjudged to be offside. On 25 some clever juggling with the ball by Ruben Smith allowed him to find enough time on the edge of the box to get a shot away, for once with a clear path to both sides of the goal. However yet again a whites man failed to find the target.
Midhurst took the lead on 25 minutes when they first forced a corner, which was partially dealt with but the ball came back at the home side down the right hand side and the Right back for the visitors was gifted enough room to find the far bottom corner past Duff to give his side the lead. There where opportunities to clear the lines, but this is where we struggle occasionally, when to play out with neat passing to a team mate, and when to just put the ball as far away from your goal as possible and get your shape back.
The stag’s then for a period had the whites shaken a bit although for their next goal the player could try this again 10 times and not repeat his heroics for his side again. While Salisbury where building their own attack, comfortably playing the ball around at the back, into midfield, a loose pass gave away possession some 45 yards out. The Midhurst midfielder with no one ahead in a blue shirt ahead of him to pass to took a hopeful pop at the home goal. Maybe I am doing him an injustice and he noticed Seb Duff was off his line. But his 40 yard plus strike went millimetres under the cross bar giving the back peddling keeper who at over 6ft could only get within 2-3 inches of the dipping shot no chance. That’s how perfect the strike was.
Anyway a shell shocked home side now had a mountain to climb in this cup tie. On the bench we needed half time to come but that was still 10 minutes away. Ed Timperley had a couple of efforts and Lichowe another but all efforts came to nothing and the now packed out defensive wall the whites had to break down held firm. Why not they had a lead to hang on to.
2nd half continued as the 1st ended with the home side bossing possession but failing to break down the opposition defence. That was only to last about 5 minutes into the half though. In what was turning out to be a rare Midhurst venture into their opponents half of the pitch, they won a free kick some 35 yards from goal. A shot which looked too tame to trouble the home keeper dipped and bounced a couple of meters in front of Duff and unfortunately he failed to read it, and the ball ended up in the net to give the visitors a 3 goal lead. If 2 down was a mountain to climb, it was now Everest for the home side.
The game was now defence versus attack more than ever before, but there was a new find urgency about Salisbury. There had to be they were 3 down. However, for all the effort they were struggling to break down the visitors packed lines that were happy to sit on the edge of their box and defend what they had. Who can blame them.
On 60 minutes the home side finally managed to get a runner breaking through those defensive lines when Kelvin Lichowe tore though and found himself past the last man or so he thought. A last ditch trip by a defender brought down the flying winger just inside the box, Penalty. Lichowe himself picked up the ball and took it. A powerful strike to the right of the keeper into the roof of the net and it was 3-1.
The last 35 minutes of the game was a whites onslaught. Wave after wave of attack, but now their was a real urgency and desire being shown by the home side. Which one can’t wonder that if we can get this young side starting like that, they probably wouldn’t be 3-1 down in this game. Getting the goal back seemed to bring believe that maybe this game wasn’t over yet.
A Midhurst coach on Twitter long after the game rightly praised his side for sticking to the game plan, and admitted that they didn’t have much of the ball in the match. He was right, I think at best in some periods it was 75/25%, in the last 30 minutes that must have been significantly lower than their 25%. But, possession does not win you matches without a cutting edge at the coal face end of the pitch, the oppositions goal. Unfortunately that is where this performance from Salisbury broke down.
However, in every defeat their are positives, and there are also lessons to learn. This is a development side, deliberately with young players. We know that they will have a lot to learn, and have the time to learn importantly.
To end on a positive though, the midfield pairing of Alfie Hawke and Rob Jones for the Whites, for a 3rd game in a row dominated the middle of the park against much more experienced players. Both playing well above their combined 33 years of age. There are other players too, and there will be many more positive days this season. If we had have been told 7 games in we would have won 3, lost 3, drawn 1 then we would have ripped your arm off at the start of the season. Now its time to build on that.
MOTM: Alfie Hawke
Next up for the dev is the visit of Wimborne Town reserves next Saturday 24th. With the 1st team home on Tuesday, this match will be moved to another venue TBC.