Polytechnic travelled to Lancaster for the final weekend of games before the table split. We were in 6th position, on the borderland between Super 5s and relegation battle. At the start of the season the team had set a primary goal or making the Super 5s, with a promising team filled with ability and pedigree, but as yet showing signs of genuine ability, without the results to show for it. Failing to put Solihull to the sword whilst leading for the majority of the game, allowing Lancaster too much attacking play and gifting Caledonia their only win of the season was juxtaposed against a muscular display against champions Cheltenham and the promise that Poly could dominate against tough opposition. Two wins was a must for Super 5 status, but three wins would send a message.
Invicta 8 - 13 Polytechnic
Invicta occupied 7th place in the table going into the weekend, one place and one point behind Poly; losing this game would make the rest of the weekend an uphill battle and Poly were aware that despite being below us in the league, Invicta had shown their ability with a win over Manchester, a draw with Sheffield and narrow loses to Cheltenham and Solihull. It was clear that they were no walkover. Missing their talisman Sean King, there was a sense that they were vulnerable, but Poly could afford to give no quarter in such a high-stakes game. Tactically, Poly elected to start with a press defence, with Jorge Garijo and Joan Secanell playing with focus and skill at centre-back and the Poly attack setting up to play with a passer/driver on 2 and a second centre-forward from the wings. Poly shipped two counterattack goals with a slow start following a long travel, but pulled the game back to 2-2 with goals from Chris Brown and the returning Lyndon Cranley who has struggled with injury in the build up to the season, but shown some fine form since returning to action. Campbell “Bambi” Gregory took Poly into the lead with some explosive centre-forward play; not to be outdone by his junior countryman, captain Chris Icely followed suit. Invicta continued to battle, restoring parity with some long-range shooting, despite Poly identifying this as a key area to shut down in the pre-match team talk. Jeremy Johnson took Poly back into the lead with an assist from Giacomo Cupido, who then added a goal of his own moments later. Invicta tried to fight back once again, but once Poly moved to a drop, with a high press from position three shuttling between the Invicta two and three positions, Poly started to pile on the pressure, with 6 unanswered goals from Peter Benedek, Chris Brown, Giacomo Cupido, Luke Jones and Joan Secanell.
Overall, this was a very solid performance, with a comfortable margin; Poly started slowly, taking some time to get their heads clear in the first quarter and suffering from a failure to follow the pre-match tactic of shutting down their key shooters with discipline. Nonetheless, this was a platform on which to build.
Manchester 7 – 8 Polytechnic
Manchester were also to play their match against the Poly without one of their key players, but remained strong opposition and the Poly knew that this was likely to go the distance. Having had particular success with the drop in game 1, Poly elected to play a similar defensive tactic and once again set up with multiple attacking threats from both centre-forward positions and shooters off the arc. The game was tempestuous, with questionable refereeing decisions creating a chaotic affair that stifled what may have been a decent game of waterpolo. Attacking exclusions from centre-forward, innocuous kick-outs from the centre of the pool, a case of mistaken identity leading to Federico Carucci being incorrectly labelled with an additional exclusion and unfairly wrapped as a result meant that this game was as hard to watch as it was to play. In defence Poly looked comfortable for the most part, with limited threats from centre-forward, forcing low-percentage shooting from distance. The Poly’s defensive discipline was their strongest asset and a critical aspect of this game; a wildly lopsided count of 13 majors to Manchesters’ modest 6 effectively created 3 or 4 extra goals for Poly’s opponents and it is testament to the fighting spirit and quality within the team that Poly managed not only to remain relatively calm, but force a victory in a match that could have easily run away from us. The attacking display was understandably erratic, but goals from Giacomo Cupido, the South African triumvirate of Chris Brown, Chris Icely and Campbell Gregory, fellow southern hemisphere harrier Lyndon Cranley and a gloriously disguised shot out of the hand from Gareth Keen ultimately gave Poly victory.
Sheffield 6 – 12 Polytechnic
Furious calculations were being made from the moment Poly took victory number two and looked almost certain to qualify for Super 5s. Almost. Based on calculations radioed in by Simon Gardner-Bond, 25 results would put Poly through without further points required, but two permutations could still put Poly out of the Super 5s. With two victories secured, Poly were not about to start hoping for results to do the work for us and focused on taking a third scalp to cap a fine weekend. Sheffield play off two key players, with limited but effective attacking options if not correctly martialled. Confidence was flowing through the Poly by now and this was a dominant display. A tight press with front marking in centre-back and high work rate overall in defence severely blunted the Sheffield attack. At the other end of the pool, Sheffield were unable to deal with the range of attacking threats posed by the Poly, who took an early 3-0 lead following goals from Chris Brown, Campbell Gregory and Giacomo Cupido, a margin that would never be recovered for the rest of the match. Focused defence, excellent man-up play and confident shooting meant that Poly started to rain down goals, with Chris Brown and Giacomo Cupido having a personal scoring contest ending in four goals apiece, with Giacomo Cupido just managing take ownership of Poly goal of the season from Gareth Keen (for now). Jorge Garijo capped an outstanding defensive performance at centre-back with the final goal of the game, ripping a long-range effort over the goalkeeper’s shoulder; such was the Poly’s defensive presence, that they gave away only 3 majors in the entire match.
This weekend was an opportunity for Poly to fulfil the pre-season goal of making Super 5s; what they managed to do was lay down a serious marker of intent and signal to the other teams in the division that we mean business and can seriously challenge for honours this season. There remain, as ever, points for improvement, but if this team brings the level of focus and discipline shown in the matches played this weekend, then there should be reason why we cannot put ourselves right in the mix. A merry Christmas to all and a banging new year.