And so what was excellent at five games becomes mediocre by ten as we have contrived to mirror results: a draw and four wins (including a cup win) followed by a draw and four defeats (including a cup defeat) which puts us bang mid-table (W3-D2-L3) when we wanted to be so more. And it’s been a brain-teaser since it has been the same set of committed players in a strong squad (despite 5 missing today we still had 14) which seem to have flipped the good football habit of freely scoring and not conceding into its sinister alter ego where letting them in coincides with failing to score. Conceding 16 in the last four games led us to set up with two holding players but our best intentions were wrecked early as sloppy defending allowed Leon a chance which he tucked away. And while we were realising there was plenty in it for us, Zion took full advantage of sloppy defending twice more to lead 3-0 after barely a quarter of the game.
Even Phil, the ever affable and honest Zion gaffer, admitted they hadn’t needed to play particular incisively for these goals, though speaking to Leon after the game I have to agree with him that they were certainly clinical. The rest of the game was very much like our earlier victory against them with us with the bit between our teeth and playing most of the football and carving out chances. Though I could easily argue that ‘on another day we might have scored x’, this was a very different Zion team to last game; more organised and resolute: good forwards and a centre half who cleared nearly everything. I prefer to say that we were excellent in the second half, having the better of a properly competitive game and also that they defended brilliantly. And, despite Phil’s obvious discomfort for pretty much the whole of the second period, from which much good quality banter ensued on the touchline, neither Mark nor I thought that we were likely to recover three against a decent team.
Better then to take heart (it’s the only way forward) from a proper return to form and a particular heads up for Matty Williams who absolutely embodied our second half resolve. Matt has lacking a bit of form, as even the best players do but has never shirked his responsibilities and really there was little or nothing going productively our way in the second period. Likewise for Josh, who was excellent and Nathan Hylton looking back towards his best after a long lay off. There were saves and scrambles and thrills but only one goal, an absolute cracker from that raw young talent who is Haydon Richards. It was an exocet and though deflected was never going to be stopped!
Leon dropped into centre half for the last 15 minutes to see the game out, which proved he can play anywhere and blunted us a little as he was largely unflappable. Next week will prove if we ‘ve really turned the corner but it felt better and that eased the pain of another defeat.
All the best to Zion!