Polytechnic welcomed the first weekend of the 2016/2017 BWPL season with quiet optimism. Pre-season training has been committed and focused, with captain Chris Icely directing a thoughtful programme combining raw fitness with tactical development. Regular friendly matches, including a blistering weekend in Leiden with upstanding performances both on and off the pitch, individual performances have been directed at enhancing team performance. Added to this, Poly have made an effort to add grit to our performances, knowing that there are times on a cold night away, that getting the job done with a scrappy performance in suboptimal conditions is what champions are made of (something this author has first hand experience of). Time to put this to the test.
Polytechnic 10 - 6 Worthing
Worthing are an awkward opponent; without clear threats in attack, they have an accomplished goalkeeper and play a conservative defence, with multiple drops off the arc in an attempt to stifle centre-forward and encourage shots from the perimeter. This tactic did not represent a surprise, given Worthing are essentially the same team as last year, where they employed a similar defensive set-up. The Poly plan was clear - drive through the drop, create space at second centre-forward and exploit the individual weakness of the players to draw exclusions or create goals. The problem was, Poly reached 3.30 minutes of quarter 1 before the first drive was deployed. Needless to say Poly were ineffective in attack, peppering the goal with tame shooting, without posing any real threats. At the other end, Poly started with a press defence, having worked on transition from press to M-zone for much of the pre-season. The press was a touch off the pace of the game, with Joan Seca gaining the dubious accolade of giving away a penalty 14 seconds into the match. Not to be outdone, the South African power pair of Chris and Chris (Brown and Icely) quickly threw in an exclusion each, before Brain Hoy arrived late to the party box (a first in this author’s memory), with yet another exclusion. This was still not enough, so goalkeeper Matteo Gaspari gracefully slotted the ball into his own net using his face. Job done. By the second minute of Q2 Poly were 0 - 5 down. In times past this would have signalled the end of the game, with Poly turning inside themselves and giving up the fight, but it speaks volumes that this time things were different. A shift into an M-zone defence, drives in attack and some reshuffling on the arc brought three goals from captain Chris Icely and a further from debutant Chris Brown. Suddenly Poly were in touching distance at 4 - 5. Defence was now on lockdown, with Worthing scoring only once more in the second two quarters of the match. Joan Seca repaid the debt of his previous defensive lapse with a fine goal from the perimeter, whilst Ice-Brown (I did that Brian because I have lyrical skillz) kept the scoreboard ticking over to close the game out relatively comfortably 10 - 6.
Polytechnic 11 - 9 Welsh Wanderers
This was the first game on Sunday and Poly were determined not to repeat the anaemic start of the Worthing game. A good, long warm-up with a brief recap of match tac-tics - press into m-zone defence, tight on Dan Laxton (Wales’ most dangerous player) and drive to create space at second centre-forward. This was a tight match from the start; Luke Jones slotted home a tight flick with handy wrist action following neat interplay with Jeremy Johnson, whilst Ice-Brown bagged a brace. With both teams trading blows for parity at 3 - 3 by the end of Q1. In Q2 Poly began to take control of the match, with newcomer Lyndon Cranley opening his Poly account, with deposits from Ice-Brown causing bookmakers all over the country slash the odds on a Poly victory. Half way through Q3 and Poly were 9 - 4 to the good after another Poly debutant Jorge Fariou ripped a scorcher over the keepers head. Unfortunately standards began to slide, Poly allowing the Welsh glimmers of hope, conceding three goals needlessly from 5m to create a tense final quarter. Poly would only score once in Q4, a blistering effort from Luke Jones, again employing swift hands to push the ball off the water in a rapid breakaway goal from his own half. Rumours are that our ex-captain has rediscovered the use of his hands and wrists following recent changes in personal circumstances (this is unverified and requires fact-checking). Nonetheless, Poly closed out the win with cool heads in the face of a Trump style final minute from Laxton, parried by our Kenyan author in the style of his countryman Mr Obama. #micdrop.
Poly remain unpolished, but the first weekend was truly successful, with the greatest regrets being the failure of M&S to remove hair from their sandwich packets, some wayward gambling on female waterpolo and the image of a certain player’s (absent this weekend) haemorrhoids burned indelibly into the team consciousness. Just don’t ask.
- Jeremy Johnson