And so we complete the first half of our league season with more score draws than either wins or defeats (five now and three in a row!). But this was not just another draw, it was a pulsating match which we grabbed by the scruff of the neck, ending Clarendon’s 100% record in the league (just as we did to St Mary’s last season) and almost inflicting their first defeat. Seven weeks ago Clarendon tore us apart in the second half of our first league encounter so our first thoughts were to make sure that we were in every regard prepared despite significantly fewer options than in the first encounter. Our game plan was about being solid defensively and getting at Clarendon in wide areas and it worked pretty well. In a complete reversal of the last game we were straight at them and might have had three in the first twenty minutes.
Both Fowler and young Tom were making great progress wide and Ben Smith delivered a captain’s performance alongside the ever combative Haydon Richards in the centre while the focus of our offensive intent circulated around a properly muscular master class from Christie McKenzie. Sadly Obi in the Clarendon goal had a man-of-the-match performance saving from both Bens and generally filling the goal and making everything difficult. And when he had no hope of stopping Ben Smith’s cracking drive, an offside flag kept the score level. Clarendon were playing largely on the break but our inability to take our chances starting to increase the tension (at least on the side!). Sure enough, and absolutely against the run of play Clarendon took the lead when a cracking drive from outside the box was well saved by Al, our stand-in keeper, only for a poacher to break the deadlock. And to make it worse a sharp move just before half time, produced an excellent finish to leave us disbelievingly 0-2. Mark’s team talk was spot on , reinforcing the game plan that was working despite the reverses.
Just after half time I had to leave for a family trip so I got Mike Ibrahim to write a second half report to supplement the accounts I got over a number of tense phone calls.
In the second half, Rowley started off on the front-foot. Kicking down hill and with a strong squad they felt that they were still in the game. Early on they had three clear chances, all foiled by the Clarendon goalkeeper. One of these was a well struck free kick from just outside the area that Christie bent round the wall, it looked to be going in at the far post but Obi got down well at full stretch and turned the ball away. Clarendon were playing on the break and after more Rowley pressure, Christie was brought down in the penalty area. He got up to convert the resulting penalty.
More pressure from Rowley, who were now winning more possession in midfield, and after a ball was played across a crowded penalty area, Ben Smith ran through a group of players to head home at the far post for 2-2. There was still time for a winner, and both sides felt it could be them. Clarendon came back into the game more, but after more end to end play, both sides had to settle for a point.
Thanks to Katie Evans and her officials today: always in control and clear in her judgments.