Phoenix 2020 - 2021

Sunday, October 8th @ TWGSB 3G

Langton Green Phoenix 0 - 5 Heathfield & Horam U18s

We always knew this was going to be a tough game, against a Heathfield & Horam side who, for the most part are a year older than our boys and who have regularly finished runners-up in the "A" division in their own age group over the years. Missing three regular starters and three of our most physical players in Louis, Will and Jack didn't help us when playing a side a year older either, but we were up for the challenge after two good results in recent weeks with largely the same squad and a particularly good performance last week to win 5-1 against another U18 side.

We actually acquitted ourselves really well in the opening 40 minutes or so, the score staying at 0-0 for the majority of the first half. Max had a great chance to open the scoring after showing superb skill on the left to cut inside and hit a teasing cross / shot that just shaved the outside of the far post, our forwards just not quite alert enough to gamble on that ball coming in and arriving a fraction too late for a tap in.

Midway through the half, Max did have the ball in the back of the net, but he was adjudged to have been off the pitch when the opposition took their goal kick, having gone to grab a quick drink. In returning, he won the ball from the unsuspecting defender and slotted home adeptly, only for a conversation between referee and linesman to lead to the goal being disallowed. It was certainly tight, but probably a fair call given the circumstances and the fact that in theory, you aren't meant to leave the field of play without the referee's permission anyway.

At the other end, Ben made several outstanding saves / catches, our full backs blocked a lot of what might have come into the box, Euan impressing against a lad who was very tall and physical, Ellis continuing his good form on the other side and Dylan superb in the holding role just in front of our central defensive partnership of Tom and Owen, who were excellent - plenty of high balls to head clear and set pieces to defend, with those two, Finn and Dylan heading everything away. Much better than at the start of the season where every set piece or high ball was cause for heart-in-mouth panic.

Unfortunately, on the ball we struggled a bit against the extra physicality and speed of our opponents, our usually very solid midfield not keeping the ball anywhere near as well as they can, with a couple of usually reliable players looking a bit tired, passes going astray and a lack of rhythm meaning our best hope was going to be a counter attack to take advantage of the pace of Max and Rami up front. The boys, in fairness to them, recognised this themselves and began playing the ball over the top against a very high line that on several occasions nearly paid off. Unfortunately for us, the opposition goalkeeper was excellent off his line to clear the balls through and their central defender, number 5, was superb - the best defensive player we've come up against in years - strong, quick and decisive with his clearances, but also good on the ball. But we kept plugging away and had a few half chances, won a free kick that went narrowly over and generally asked a few questions of our opponents, particularly in wide areas.

Five minutes before half time, Owen had to come off with a tight hamstring and the disruption to the very settled and organised back four meant we suddenly looked a lot shakier. A drop ball from the ball hitting the wire was pumped into the box, a flailing arm led to a free kick on the edge of the box, which was very well tucked home by the H&H forward. 1-0, which moments later turned to 2-0 after we failed to make a simple clearance in the box (twice) and ended up conceding a very scrappy second. Small margins.

We might have had a free kick of our own in a very dangerous position after it looked like Rami was clumsily fouled from behind when clean through on goal, but the referee's view was blocked and Rami stumbled but stayed on his feet, the honest lad that he is, and as such play was waved on when on another day we'd have had a penalty. Again, small margins.

Half time and 2-0 down in a game where despite our opposition dominating, we'd been competitive and could have scored a couple of goals if we'd been a bit sharper in the box.

Sadly, the second half didn't pan out the way we'd hoped and any thoughts of a miraculous comeback were distant ones when the third goal went in after a spell of pressure down our right that led to a half-cleared ball being smashed into the net from the edge of the box. Tiredness crept in, unsurprisingly given the huge workload our players had put in and with further knocks to players on the day giving us very little choice by way of substitutions. We suffered from a combination of mental and physical fatigue leading to poor ball retention and lazy passes going astray, which of course meant more pressure and in the end that told.

Rami kept running, creating something from nothing on several occasions. Warwick found himself in some good positions, Sam and Joe worked hard in the middle and a sublime passage of play down the right that saw Connor, Finn and Rami interlink beautifully all gave us the hope we might get the goal to spark that miraculous comeback, but ultimately, the combination of our tiredeness and the quality and physicality of the opposition told. They scored a fourth goal midway through the half and a fifth with an excellent finish with the final kick of the match after we failed to block the ball into the box, that sailed straight in. In between all that, Ben was superb in goal, making 3 or 4 brilliant saves to further cement his place as one of the players of the season so far and distributing the ball well too.

On balance, absolutely no complaints about the result. We weren't at our best by a long stretch, and we had to be to get anything at all off this team. Heathfield and Horam were excellent for much of the game.

All in all, a lot of positives from the first half and plenty to learn from the second. Well done for keeping going to the end boys - several of you had to play the full 90 minutes today due to injuries and knocks meaning we were hamstrung a bit in the substitutions department and I could see a good number of you were absolutely shattered by the end, understandably. Great attitude from all of you to keep going.

Well done to H&H - a nice bunch of lads, who play good football in the right spirit. We wish them luck for the rest of the season and look forward to facing them again further down the line.

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Sunday, October 11th @ Rotherfield

Langton Green Phoenix 5 - 1 Rotherfield U18s
(Rami. Finn, Will x 2, Warwick)

A beautiful morning for football, clear and bright, saw us travel the short distance to Rotherfield to face a side with a year's more experience and a solid start to the season behind them in terms of their results so far. With Jack, Max and Louis all missing through injury and several of the boys having spent the week recovering from various bugs, we knew we'd have to be at our absolute best to get anything from this game against a strong, physical and well-drilled Rotherfield team.

The Rotherfield pitch is one of the better grass pitches around and that suited us just fine, allowing the boys to start well, keeping possession, keeping the ball on the floor and playing through the pitch with confidence. An early chance for Warwick, that the Rotherfield defence did well to snuff out, before Will and Warwick combined superbly to set Rami up at the far post for a confident finish to make it 1-0 after about 15 minutes.

With Ben vocal in goal, organising his defence superbly, Tom and Owen imperious in front of him and the full back duo of Ellis and Joe linking up superbly with the midfield, the signs looked good for a solid base to build from going forward.

One of the most impressive aspects of the game was a superb debut from Sam, who slotted in alongside Finn and Dylan in midfield like he'd known them for years and been playing football with them since the U7s. He harried, hassled and worked his socks off when we were out of possession and used the ball intelligently when we were in possession. His hard work to win the ball back led to a chance for Rami, with another one created a moment later through Finn's relentless tenacity to win two tackles and then slide a precision ball through for Rami to strike powerfully, but just past the post.

Rotherfield had moments of their own, Ben sharp off his line to smother a couple of through balls and both Tom and Owen making excellent clearances when under pressure. But we defended well... every corner dealt with brilliantly, decision making at the back generally very decisive and positive, with no-nonsense clearances when required and passing from the back when it was possible.

Half time and a 1-0 lead that felt like it could easily have been more, but very aware of the threat the opposition posed, especially with their extra height and physicality, that had caused us some problems in the first half. They also played some very good football at times, particularly down our left, where they had pace and strength in abundance and where most of their chances came from.

The half time message was that we knew we had to be at our best to push on and win this one, which thankfully, we were.

The tone straight from the kick off in the second half was outstanding. We won the ball straight from the restart through Warwick's energy and spent the next 10 minutes knocking on the door, the breakthrough coming from Will's excellent free kick, that the goalkeeper did well to parry, but Finn was first to react, chesting the ball down and poking it through a packed penalty box to make it 2-0.

The only major disappointment followed, the boys switching off at the time we were most looking to consolidate, conceding within a minute of the kickoff, from what was an excellent finish from Rotherfield. Suddenly the momentum was with the home side and we had to be at our very best to repel a wave of attacks.

Thankfully, the boys were very much up for the task, defending superbly, with Owen and Tom leading the rearguard action, protected ably by Dylan and Will in front of them and by Euan and Ellis. who was outstanding today, alongside them.

Connor joined them for a fantastic last 20 minutes where he was critical to the shape of the team and in allowing our attacking players to get forward and express themselves. Having said that, he did a fantastic job of playing some really positive football himself, breaking up the opposition's attacks and using the ball intelligently to start several excellent counter-attacks of our own. Euan also put in an excellent shift at right back in the second half, with some good long range passing and his usual tenacity and enthusiasm.

The third goal was a really excellent finish from Will, who went through three challenges to strike the ball from range just under the bar to give us some breathing space - a brilliant individual effort and thoroughly deserved for how hard he's worked this season. Warwick scored the fourth with a classic bit of predatory striker's instinct, running on to a ball that sliced through the defence to stroke a superb finish past the goalkeeper for his fourth goal in four games. A scare at the other end saw Ben make a brilliant save low to his right, before Will then scored the fifth. This came after some lovely play wide left from Finn, Dylan and Ellis, short, incisive passing cutting through the defence for Will to absolutely hammer home a cracking finish from the edge of the box. Some lovely combination play between Toby and Will nearly created a chance for a sixth, but the final whistle went to signal the end of a very enjoyable morning of football.

5-1 and probably the best the boys have played this season. The energy, control of the match, game management and intelligence the boys showed was really impressive against a team that is as good as any we've faced so far. More importantly, the attitude the boys showed was once again first class. Other results ensured we finished the day top of the league, but we're under no illusions as to the size of the challenge ahead, with the team everyone expects to win the division up next week. As an U17 team playing in a division where the majority of the sides we face are a year older, it's been a very encouraging start, especially with the injuries we've had. Every game has been close, one goal or less in it at half time and that's exactly what you want. We're enjoying the challege.

Well done boys - the last couple of weeks you've done yourselves proud. Now let's go again and turn a positive couple of weeks into something to really celebrate.

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Sunday, October 4th @ TWGSB 3G

Langton Green Phoenix 2 - 1 Westerham
(Warwick 2)

After a week of torrential rain, we were very pleased to be playing on 3G, even if it meant a short warmup and quick turnaround to allow the other games to go ahead after us. We hadn't played Westerham in a league game before, so weren't sure what to expect, but their results suggested the teams would be evenly matched and so it proved.

The game started a bit scrappily, with the wind making it tough to play over the top to our fast strikers as the ball tended to bounce straight through to the opposition goalkeeper. Finn won a free kick on the edge of the box, that Will cleverly chipped over the wall only to see the ball cannon back off the crossbar and scrambled to safety. Another free kick went into the wall, Rami created a good chance for Warwick and Max and Finn combined well to create a good chance from the left. It felt like we were on top, but Westerham were dangerous on the break and strong on set pieces, so we knew the danger of conceding was there and so it proved. A drop ball from the ball hitting the wire was slammed into the box by Westerham and well turned-in by one of their players with a good finish. We switched off and didn't clear our lines well enough, but the goal itself was well-taken and no complaints there. 0-1 but plenty of time left.

We created more opportunities as the half wore on. Another free kick that caused problems, a goal for Warwick from Rami's cutback that was ruled out for the ball going marginally over the line. Another goal ruled out, this time for offside against Warwick, rightly so and then the same at the other end, where Westerham had the ball in the back of the net from a free kick but the goal was ruled out for handball. So three goals, all ruled out and at half time it was 1-0 against us in a game that could have been 2-2 on another day.

Second half was much better from our perspective. A superb debut from Ellis at left back saw him linking up brilliantly with Joe and Dylan in midfield. Will was excellent, breaking up play and picking some good passes, with Tom and Owen superb behind him. Ben in goal was an absolute legend, calm and composed in his distribution, communicating well and making two outstanding saves when called upon. Euan at right back got forward and communicated well, with Connor playing brilliantly in the same position - his best performance this season, particularly in possession. We missed Max's pace and trickery after he had to go off injured, but Rami and Warwick gave everything up front in a switch to a 4-4-2 formation that gave us the extra man in midfield and plenty of pace in attack. Toby playing as a number 10 continued his good work from the previous week.

It felt like a goal was coming and so it proved, Warwick firing home direct from a free kick to make it 1-1 and all to play for. Not satisfied with a draw, the lads really came into their own in the last 15 minutes, pushing forward again and again, creating chance after chance. Owen was on fire, striding out of defence on several occasions and hanging around in the box after a corner had been cleared, he had a strike superbly saved by the Westerham goalkeeper from close range. Finn had two left footed efforts go just wide from the edge of the box and from close range unselfishly laid the ball off when he could possibly have shot himself. Joe had a good strike saved, Dylan hit an absolute rocket that skimmed past the post and it was feeling like "one of those days", where we'd concede right at the end, when Westerham played a ball over the top that we didn't clear, leaving their striker 1v1 against Ben, who pulled off one of the best saves I've seen from him. 1v1 goalkeeping at its absolute best.

From the subsequent passage of play he caught the ball, threw it to Ellis, who played a smart ball infield to Joe. He drove forward, picked a wonderful through ball to Warwick, who took a touch, superbly held off the defender and stroked the ball beautifully into the corner to make it 2-1 with a couple of minutes to go. Wonderful goal, from back to front in 5 seconds, ball on the floor the whole time and a deadly finish from one of our most natural finishers.

There was still time for Westerham to get into our box with a couple of high balls that Owen and Tom dealt with well, for Ben to pull off a brilliant one handed save low to his right to tip a thunderous shot round the post and for Rami to almost get through for a third goal at the other end but just see the goalkeeper beat him to the ball. The final whistle went to much delight from the Langton Green half of the pitch but no mistake, this was a tough, tight game against a strong team. The return, I'm sure, will be similarly challenging.

Well done boys - great resilience, hard work and quality to create so many chances. Huge well done to Ellis on his debut, to Warwick for his goals, to Ben at the other end for one of the best performances I've seen from him and to everyone else for contributing. Rami also deserves a special mention for his constant running, energy and the threat he created with his pace in behind.

Finally, it was great to see Jack there watching. It's horrible having a long term injury and the support he came and have the team was hugely appreciated, just as it was early in the season when Louis did the same. It's hard watching from the sides when you want to be out there, so credit to Jack for supporting the team - it meant a huge amount to the rest of the lads. These boys have had a rough start to the season in terms of injuries to key players, players leaving and positional changes, all off the back of a very difficult situation in the wider world, so huge credit to how they've bounced back and to what a brilliant team spirit they have shown. It's a genuine pleasure to coach such a thoroughly decent bunch of lads.

Thank you, as always, to the referee and both linesmen, without whom the game could not have gone ahead.

Onwards...

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Sunday, September 27th @ Jarvis Brook

Langton Green Phoenix 1 - 4 Jarvis Brook (Cup first round)
(Rami)

After a week of not ideal preparation given we had no game last Sunday due to a Covid scare (thankfully negative), the boys travelled to Jarvis Brook for what we knew would be a tough cup tie against a strong, physical side with plenty of ability. Added that Louis was struggling with injury and Finn and Joe were both missing with illness, leaving us with a small squad and some good players not on the pitch. Opportunities for others to shine though...

Playing up the hill and into the wind, the game started well, Warwick having an early chance after great work from Max and Jack, the team looking full of energy and playing some good football. A bit sloppy playing from the back and we conceded a couple of chances, but the boys were trying to do the right things and special mention should be made of Toby, playing the number 10 role with real class.

The first half could have gone either way. Jarvis Brook grew into the game and had chances of their own, scoring from a corner after a goalmouth scramble and they ended the half the stronger team. At half time, we were reasonably happy with 1-0 given the slope and the wind being against us first half. The chat was all about taking advantage of the conditions in the second half and continuing with the good parts of what we'd done, whilst Louis rightly pointed out that defensively we had not cleared our lines quickly enough and ended the half allowing too many high balls to bounce and not be dealt with.

The second half started perfectly, Rami scoring with what looked like a cross from a crazy angle. If he meant it, it was one of the best finishes I've seen, but the wry smile he gave when asked if it was a shot or a cross sugested maybe it was the latter. Having said that, his approach play was superb and his pace to get in behind caused real problems all game.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got. Jarvis Brook scored a well taken goal after we were a bit weak in the tackle in midfield, they then won a penalty after we had two players rush to the ball and they played a (very good, it has to be said) one-two through our midfield to leave our centre backs exposed as the JB striker ran at them - a clumsy tackle and the penalty duly despatched.

Ben made a couple of superb saves to keep us in the game, Owen was excellent in the last 20 minutes pushing up to clear numerous high balls and bring the ball out from the back with purpose, Jack fashioned a wonderful chance out of nothing by dancing through four players and seeing his shot flash just over the bar, Rami had another good chance, a goalmouth scramble didn't quite fall our way and Jarvis Brook then scored a well taken goal on the break after we pushed up to try and get a goal that might have changed things.

So a final score of 4-1 probably didn't reflect the game entirely, but there are no complaints from us about the fact we lost. Jarvis Brook deserved to win the game. They played to their strengths well, which we didn't and when they got chances, they took them. Congratulations to them on progressing into the next round. Plenty for our boys to think about and work on, but given the injuries and absences we've had, as well as the disruption to the team in terms of changes in players, there is lots to be positive about in how the lads have played for long spells over the first three games. We've stuck to our philosophy on how we want to play, the players are improving and there is a great atmosphere around the squad.

Today's game was a really good example of youth football being played between two good teams, in an excellent spirit, which given some of the behaviour we've seen on the sidelines recently, was great to see. Football should never be a canvas for grown adults to throw their rage around, which sadly seems to have been a theme over the last couple years that we've experienced far too often. We're living in strange times, which may have been a factor in some of what we've seen, but it's no excuse. It's time for all of us to double down and work as hard as we can to make football the enjoyable escape it should be rather than a confrontational nightmare. I'm pleased to say that both sides did exactly that today and despite losing the game, I went away feeling positive.

Thank you to Jarvis Brook for hosting us and being so welcoming - we very much look forward to meeting again in the league and testing ourselves against them again. On the basis of today's match, it should be a good game and I expect them to have a successful season.

On to next week, back in league action against Westerham, who have started the season well, so another tough challenge.

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Sunday, September 13th @ Ashurst Rec

Langton Green Phoenix 3 - 5 Sovereign Saints (League)
(Max, OG, Finn)

A strange game in many ways. First half we played really good football, passing out from the back well, through Ben, going longer when needed and dominating the majority of possession, with the first goal deservedly coming after 25 minutes when Will swivelled and played Max in with an outstanding through ball, Max driving towards goal and finishing brilliantly beyond the goalkeeper to make it 1-0. It was very nearly a lead that was doubled a few minutes later, Finn's excellent pass finding Warwick, whose strike was really well saved by the opposition goalkeeper.

We then conceded a free kick, which happens - and with Ben facing a ball dipping millimetres under the bar, coming out of the sun, it was very tough for him to reach. Some more good passages of play but we then conceded again from an error that was punished by great energy from the opposition striker and we were suddenly behind in a game we felt we'd been the stronger team in, although there were worrying signs in terms of our decisiveness and communication all game.

Finn and Owen both had headers flash over the bar that would have levelled things up but second half we conceded two more silly goals, where everyone rushed to the ball and we left a player completely unmarked to score with two good finishes from close range.

At 4-1 it was game over, but credit to the boys, who worked hard until the end, forcing an own goal from Rami and Max's pressure, a flash shot from Warwick squirming over the bar, before our opponents scored another very avoidable goal after we overcommitted to a ball we were unlikely to win and left Tom with two players running at him at pace. A good finish that deserves credit made it 5-2, with Finn scoring at the death with a pinpoint header from Warwick's corner to make it 5-3.

All in all this was a very winnable game, but our opposition deserve credit for playing to their strengths, taking their chances when they got them and working hard until the end. In general, reasonably happy with our performance in terms of chances created - we just need to take a few more of them.

Next week is arguably the toughest game we're likely to have in the league, away to a Broad Oak U18 side who have won both their opening matches comfortably and have a good record in the top division in previous seasons. We'll do all we can to give a good account of ourselves and play some excellent football.

Man of the match I'm giving to Jack for his work rate, skill, never-say-die attitude and some excellent movement of skill. Finn, Warwick and Will also deserve a mention for putting in a stella shift and playing some great football.

Onwards - let's take the positives, learn from the negatives and be better for it. Well done all and well done to our opposition, who we look forward to playing again later in the season.

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Sunday, September 6th @ The Cadogan Playing Fields

Langton Green Phoenix 6 - 3 Tunbridge Wells Youth Rockets (League)
(Max x 2, Jack x 2, Warwick, Dylan)

After a difficult week, this was just the tonic we needed. A beautiful morning for football, a really positive feel around the squad, some exceptional individual performances and the best half of football we've played in a long while.

The first half started at a frantic pace, both teams full of energy after 6 months without a competitive game and the first chance fell to Tunbridge Wells Youth after a mix up at the back saw us concede possession cheaply. Thankfully, Ben was equal to the striker's shot and made a routine save. An early warning for a few sleepy heads perhaps.

After that, the boys playing some of the best football I've ever seen from them. The opening goal was sublime - excellent combination play in the middle, Warwick, in a lone centre forward role dropping deep to receive a pass from midfield and playing a brilliant crossfield pass inside the opposition full back to Max, who had timed his run perfectly. He still had plenty of work to do, but he did it superbly, dinking his finish over the goalkeeper to make it 1-0.

The second came shortly afterwards, Warwick finishing superbly after a route 1 clearance from Ben bounced over the opposition defence for our centre forward to volley calmly over the goalkeeper's head.

At the back Tom and Owen were equal to everything and communicating well, Dylan and Euan playing the full back roles brilliantly either side of them, with Will having a superb game in front of them in the holding midfield role, ably replaced by Joe later in the half, who continued his good work. Finn and Sammy were sharp in midfield, Sammy having a couple of chances to extend the scoreline thwarted by some good goalkeeping and Finn's one and two touch passing progressing the play with pace and opening up a couple of opportunities with some incisive through balls. Jack, Max and Warwick posed a real threat up front, although Jack's influence was increased when he moved more centrally and he scored a fantastic goal from just that sort of position with a low finish across the goalkeeper to make it 3-0. The fourth came shortly afterwards, from the best piece of individual skill in the game - Max picked the ball up in his own half drove forward, dribbled past 3 defenders and replicated his earlier finish with a very similar one, calmly dinking the ball over the goalkeeer to make it 4-0 at half time.

We discussed keeping the intensity up and the danger our opposition would pose after half time and so it proved. We had a great chance to make it 5-0 after Toby's superb run to receive the ball from Jack's pass opened our opponent's up, but the finish was saved by the goalkeeper. Moments later we had conceded - nothing Ben could do about a very good strike from our opposition, but we were sloppy giving the ball away and slow to react. An excellent finish from the TW Youth striker, who had been dangerous all game. 4-1. Meanwhile we had Connor making some positive forward runs from full back, one of which nearly created a chance for Toby but a defender's toe just nicked the ball away in time.

It was route 1 again for the 5th goal - a long clerarance bouncing over everyone and Jack bringing the ball down before emphatically striking it into the far corner for his second of the game. But immediately we conceded again - a frustrating goal from an aerial ball. Perhaps the intensity naturally dropped with the lead we had and the warm weather, but we were making some disappointing choices and looking indecisive and mentally tired. A sixth goal quashed any chance of a comeback, Dylan finishing well from Warwick's excellent lobbed pass and it could have been a couple more but for some stray finishing and good goalkeeping. And still time for TW Youth to score another goal, that was equally as disappointing to concede as the previous one - some indecision and chaotic defending that was completely at odds with the first half performance. One more chance for us to add to our tally, but alas not and the final whistle blew to signal the end of what was a generally successful morning, despite feeling a little disappointed with the second half performance and game management.

Over the course of 90 minutes, we saw some of the best football these boys have played and we had a cracking feel around the squad today - positive, hard working, everyone giving their all and some absolutely superb team goals and individual performances all over the pitch. If it had happened in reverse and we'd come from behind to score four in the second half, the boys would have gone home buzzing, so I'll ask them to try and remember that first half, to learn from what happened next and to be proud of how they've bounced back from a tough week and a tough 6 months in general, to play such good football today.

Man of the match today goes to Warwick, who was playing a lone striking role he's not been used to fulfilling for us, but due to Louis' injury, he did it today and did it well. His movement and ability to create space for others was excellent. Max and Will also deserve special mention for giving two of their strongest performances of the last few years. Well done all though - you were very, very good today.

Credit to TW Youth, who were excellent in the second half and were thoroughly welcoming hosts. A good game, well refereed and played in exactly the sort of spirit you want to see in youth football. On to next week, where we are due to face an U18 team from Eastbourne who we've never played before. Looking forward to it and hoping it will be as enjoyable as this morning, whatever the result.

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Sunday, August 30th @ Bennett 3G

Langton Green Phoenix 5 - 0 Rotherfield
(O.G, Max, Dylan, Warwick, Toby)

Briefly... a competitive game against a side we last played out a 2-2 draw with back in January in the Mid Sussex League. Really pleased with the way the boys looked after the ball today and the majority of our play off the ball was much improved too. A couple of cracking saves from Ben H in goal gave the lads a confidence-boosting clean sheet, some superb interplay between our forwards, solid defending from Tom and Owen and some excellent performances all over the pitch, with our midfield dictating large spells with real intelligence. Some excellent finishing too. Warwick deserves a particular mention for some superb link up play and proactive movement off the ball.

Well done all - we had some players missing today and the whole squad were called on to show what they can do. A couple of injuries were the only real downside - Louis, Max and Connor all being forced off the field. Hopefully we'll see them back to full fitness for next week's opener against Tunbridge Wells Youth.

Well done lads. Onwards.

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Sunday August 23rd @ Bennett 3G

Langton Green Phoenix 3 - 2 Crawley Down Gatwick (HT 3-0)
(Louis x 2, Sam)

So, back to it, with our first full pre-season friendly post-lockdown. Sanitising subs benches and goalposts, keeping 2 metres apart and having to remind the boys they can't pick the footballs up were never things we would have expected to be doing, even 6 months ago. The world has changed - and it's not lost on any of us that we are very fortunate to be in the position of being able to play football again at all.

The game kicked off at a good pace, with both teams creating early openings and keeping the ball well. CDG were comfortable on the ball and using the width of the huge 3G well and in terms of both possession and territory, were just shading the opening exchanges. Our lads showed real threat on the break though and the opening goal came from an early ball over the top, that Crawley Down cleared. The returning ball dropped to Sam though, who very intelligently lifted the ball back over the defence and goalie and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.

CDG came back strong, with more possession and a couple of long range efforts, one of which was very well taken, left footed, and despite the calm way in which Ben left it to go wide, didn't miss by much.

Our ball retention wasn't great, but we continued to defend well and play effectively on the break, with our full backs Stan and Jack getting forward well. A clever break down the left involving Warwick, Finn and Sam, saw Louis through on goal and a calm finish from him made it 2-0. With Ben G organising the midfield and Owen and Tom solid behind him, we were looking reasonably comfortable even with the lower amount of possession we had. The third came from one of the big positives of the opening 30 minutes - our pressing of the opposition defence when they had the ball was full of energy and better in terms of shape than in previous games, with Finn, Ben G and Sam backing the front three of Rami, Louis and Warwick better. We won the ball through exactly that and Louis was sent through on goal by Rami, possessing the composure to open his body up and strike a very good left footed shot past the onrushing goalkeeper and into the back of the net. 3-0. Sam nearly made it four with another attempted lob, but the goalkeeper saved well.

It was a scoreline that our finishing deserved, but our overall play didn't, with CDG keeping the ball better than we did.

In the interests of getting everyone some game time, we switched the team up with 4 simultaneous substitutions. Whether it was too many at once, whether it was some tiredness creeping in or the fact that the break came at the wrong time for a team who had just scored three goals, the first 30 minutes proved to be about as good as it got, despite Dylan and Will both putting in good performances in midfield, Evan slotting in well alongside Owen at centre back and Euan defending resolutely at right back.

A couple of silly tackles and we started giving away free kicks as well as territory, sinking deeper and deeper into our half, with the goal inevitably coming from one of those set pieces, given away on the edge of our box. 3-1 and CDG were right back in the game and most definitely on top. I was disappointed with how we handled the situation, but the whole point of these games is to learn, try things and see where we can improve, so it was an interesting situation to be in and has hopefully provided us with an opportunity to address a few things. When what we needed were calm heads and intelligent play, we went for the headless chicken approach, losing our composure and chasing the ball rather than covering the space. Because of that, gaps started opening up and our midfield couldn't get on the ball and dictate the play at all.

We also seemed to lose our ability to string more than 3 passes together and as legs got more tired, we looked decidedly second best and no longer even the same threat on the break we were earlier.

Having said all that, we still created 3 or 4 very good chances to score, but our finishing wasn't at the level it had been earlier in the game either, and as such we didn't manage to add to the early flurry of goals. The route 1 ball over the top was looking like our most likely source of a goal, which is never how we want to be playing. A switch to 3-5-2 looked shambolic, which in the boys' defence, isn't a formation they are used to, with several players not looking clear on what their roles were. Something else for us coaches to look at working on in the future.

In the midst of that, CDG scored again with 15 minutes to go and despite us being on the back foot in the final exchanges, it's credit to our boys for holding on with some brave defending and for not giving up. Ben H made several excellent saves in goal and Ben G produced a phenomenal goal line clearance to keep his team in the lead. Returning to our usual formation wth Euan coming on at right back and Stan shifting to left back, gave us a much better balance and shape, but it still looked more likely that we would concede than score, so well done for hanging in there boys.

A couple of unneccessary yellow cards and a nasty looking injury to Will gave an unfortunate end to what had been an interesting game. Hope he's okay.

Good luck to CDG on their forthcoming season, thank you to Warwick for the very tasty birthday chocolate donuts and thanks to Brian for very kindly refereeing and explaining a few decisions to the boys afterwards. Onwards.