Weekend 1 of championship 1; this is the start of the business end of the season and the moment when it's time to step up to the plate. There are no easy matches from here and games will be won or lost on tight margins and clinical execution. Poly has a strong tradition of technically gifted and tactically intelligent players. At times passion has been lacking and a fear of losing rather than a desire to win has been stifling. Preparation had been hampered by several players being unwell in recent weeks and consistent team attendance at training has been less than hoped for. Nonetheless, this team is committed to achieving promotion to division 1. This weekend was a chance to prove it.
Team Northumbria 10 - 10 Polytechnic
Preparation for this game has focused on shutting down Northumbria's principal strength at centre-forward, played by American left-hander Zack White. White is slow and lacking fitness, but is a technically gifted player and responsible for the majority of Northumbria's goal haul in division 1. Poly have been working on a new three man drop, similar to an M-zone, but with an emphasis on closing the space around centre-forward as opposed to pressing off the arc for rapid breakaway. The system is unfamiliar and this showed in quarter 1, with White scoring 3 from centre-forward, the main issue being 3 playing too high, ending up in a position that was neither a drop, nor closing the space to the arc. The Poly attack was also new, with Andre Ferdinand taking an unfamiliar role at centre-forward and newcomer Lorenzo Cacciola playing on 2. Andre was getting some good position and Lorenzo scored twice in quarter 1, Poly trailing 4-2 at the end of the quarter. As the game developed, the drop defense improved, reflected by the diminishing return at centre-forward; White scored twice in quarter 2, once in 3 and failed to score in quarter four. The Poly attack was struggling however; dynamic and creating chances, there was a lack of end-product and perhaps some better in game management would have seen Poly utilising the individual strengths of individual players more effectively, such as new centre-forward Andreas Anastasiou, who returned four kickouts from 5 attacks. At times he was suffocated by unnecessary crowding from a second centre-forward. Ultimately the game was getting away from Poly and with four and a half minutes to play of quarter 4, we faced a 10-5 deficit. Many teams would have capitulated at this stage, but it is to Poly's credit that we remained determined and active. Four unanswered goals in four minutes brought the Poly to within 1 goal of parity. 22 seconds left, Poly call time-out. This was a moment to create self belief and for the team to step into a division 1 ready outfit. Poly worked the ball across the arc and moved Chris Icely into position at 5m on position 5. Taking the foul, Chris rose to shoot, but disguised a fine lob out the side of his hand, dropping the keeper and slotting an equaliser with 5 seconds left. Moments like these can be defining, let's make this one count.
Polytechnic 12 - 8 Croydon
The Sunday game saw Poly take on familiar opponents Croydon. The two have played each other several times and Poly have often come unstuck against a mercurial Croydon side that can be problematic, but ultimately Poly are a better side, with greater dynamism and technical prowess. Pleasingly Poly dominated from start to finish, putting the hammer down from quarter one by taking an unassailable 6-0 lead. Carlos Ardid channelled his new found spiritual purity with an outstanding game at centre back and three fine goals including a rather outrageous backhand. Chris Icely chucked in four and there were further contributions from Ben Van Doren, Luke Jones and Jeremy Johnson. Often times Poly have allowed our quality to descend to the level of weaker opponents, but pleasingly this was not the case today. A clear defensive plan was executed crisply and goals flowed in attack. Understandably Croydon pulled a few late goals when the game was 11-4 but this did little to blemish an accurate performance by Poly.
Overall the weekend was successful then, with Poly retaining a strong position whilst looking keenly ahead to the January fixtures. It's crucial the team carries the momentum of this weekend through the Christmas break and delivers the performances necessary for promotion. All the tools are there, so let's do this!
Merry Christmas to all.
- Jeremy Johnson