Phoenix 2020 - 2021

Sunday, May 30th 2021

Langton Green Phoenix 2 - 2 Tonbridge Juniors U16s
(Rami, Warwick)

Our penultimate game of the year saw us welcome another side from the year below, Tonbridge Juniors, to the Bennett 3G for what proved to be an excellent game of football in the sunshine.

A bright start saw both teams keep possession well, Tonbridge showing themselves to be every bit deserving of their reputation as one of the strongest sides from the Crowborough League's U16 division A. Tonbridge struck first, a deft finish from a tight angle after we had given the ball away cheaply, but the Langton boys settled quickly and played some good stuff themselves, scoring through Rami's header after Jack crossed the ball back in after his initial corner was cleared.

Second half was very even, our midfield keeping possession well through Sam, Finn, Louis and Dylan, Ben making a couple of excellent stops, as well as showing how much his distribution has improved with some superb long throws starting attacks.

We allowed Tonbridge to score a very avoidable second goal after some indecision at the back allowed their forward to lob the ball into an empty net before a wonderful flowing move saw Louis turn and lay the ball into Warwick brilliantly, the finish inch-perfect to make it 2-2.

A draw a fair result, some excellent football in the second half in particular and an enjoyable game against a very striong side.

Onwards!

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Sunday, May 23rd 2021

Langton Green Phoenix vs Langton Green Spitfires U16s - Friendly

The second of our trilogy of games against teams from the year below, who will be playing in our age group next season, was a friendly and enjoyable affair against our sister team the Langton Green Spitfires, who can consider themselves hugely unfortunate with the final score, which didn't reflect the balance of the game at all, as is often the case in youth football. The younger team grew into the game and were only denied a couple of goals by some superb goalkeeping from Ben, including one of the best saves I've seen him make, from point blank range after a flowing Spitfires attack.

The first 30 minutes were some of the best football we've played all season, with some lovely possession play capped by a left footed strike from outside the box from Finn that nestled in the corner of the net - after Sam and Owen combined to set him up - and a cracking through ball from Joe (who would have had every right to shoot after a surging run), to set Louis up for a smart finish.

Two quick goals followed, the first from Jack, with a wonderful solo effort, and the second from Rami, whose energetic pressing made the chance all by himself, that he then put away with aplomb.

After that, the Spitfires had long spells on top, looking dangerous, with their front three combining well to open us up with some incisive passing and their pressing forcing several errors at the back from us that they were incredibly unfortunate to see end with them meeting the brick wall that was Ben in goal. At the other end, the Spitfires goalkeeper was also playing very well, catching confidently and distributing the ball well.

A quite wonderful volley from Euan that flashed just wide, a great display from Max at right back (the sub-plot of him playing against his brother gave us some good moments of family rivalry), Jack and Ollie's positive running with the ball and a performance from Sam that saw him keep possession brilliantly all game were the other highlights, along, of course, with the excellent Tom captaining the team with his usual calm assurance.

A late goal from Warwick, picking up a flick-on from Finn to score from close range left the scoreline rather harsh on the Spitfires, who played really well for the majority of the game. They reminded me of our team, just one year younger, with their positivity, great attitude, encouragement for their team mates and a willingness to play attractive football and not just lump the ball down the pitch. We look forward to hopefully playing them again at some stage.

Thank you to Ellis for running the line with so much style (he has the dramatic flourish of the flag down to a tee) and of course to Justin for coming out of retirement to referee the game. It said a lot about the two sides out there that he told me afterwards that it was the first game he's ever refereed where he hadn't received any grief from any player or coach. Football talks a good game with regard to respect, but it's rare you see two sides actually backing that up on the pitch. Well done to all those involved.

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Tuesday, May 18th 2021

Langton Green Phoenix 1 - 1 Foresters U16s - Friendly
(Rami)

I'm not sure I've enjoyed a game of youth football this much for a long time. 2 teams playing good, positive football, both trying to play rather than kick lumps out of each other, both competitive but fair and a set of coaches and parents who realised that repeatedly berating the referee or screaming at the players isn't achieving anything beyond venting your own frustration. If that sounds like I'm on my high horse I don't care - we're all thoroughly fed up of the  seemingly large number of "coaches" who inhabit the world of kids football and their insatiable desire to make the whole experience as unpleasant as possible for everyone.

Thankfully, our opposition today were the polar opposite - a thoroughly nice group of people, coached by someone who is my new favourite person for helping me set up (thank you Eren) after I arrived to find nobody had done the lines.

The game itself was an absolute joy. No complaints about the result. It was very even, Foresters being their club's A team in their age group, but being a year younger, I expected it to be a good match up but you never know. We were challenged by the Foresters movement and play with the ball, particularly in wide areas and on the counter attack, where they were very dangerous, but we asked questions ourselves and played some good football.

Both goals came from set pieces, theirs from a marginal decision to award a free kick which looked harsh to me, but you have to take these on the chin (and recognise the free kick itself was well worked and an excellent strike) and the referee was generally excellent today. Ours was a header from (another) Jack corner, Rami leaping like a salmon to head cleverly back over the keeper.

Each team had dominant spells, but neither could quite find a way to take the lead. Foresters came closest when hitting the crossbar late on after a combination of good play from them and a lack of decisiveness clearing the ball from us, but in truth a defeat for either team would have been harsh on the players and a draw was undoubtedly a fair result.

I started writing a sentence about which players stood out today and then realised I was having to include almost everyone, so I'll just say that everyone did themselves proud, everyone played their hearts out and proved to me (and hopefully themselves) that the only way through a run like the one we've just been on is to keep on going, stay positive and eventually, things will fall into place. Let's hope that started today. A friendly, yes, but something to build on and use.

Well done gents - superb. On to Sunday now and another tough game.

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Sunday, May 16th 2021

Langton Green Phoenix 1 - 2 Rotherfield - Friendly
(Owen)

In a game characterised more by the utterly bizarre weather (hail then sunshine and 18 degrees) than the football, we saw two very evenly matched sides play a very even game. In the end it came down to a couple of moments of indecisiveness from us, which is something we know we need to be cutting out and a hallmark of recent performances. Sometimes those happen because the previous ones happened, so it's partly a case of getting out of the habit and committing to make a decision rather than wondering if it's the right one. The wrong decision with purpose trumps getting caught in two minds for me.

Positives were a goal for Owen (his second for the team and from equally close range as the first), from Jack's excellent corner delivery (he is starting to become very dangerous in those situations) and some lovely combination play between Finn, Jack and Dylan through the middle in the first half.

On the frustrating side of things, we held onto the ball too long, didn't use the width of the pitch well and lost our way in the last 20 minutes, individuals trying to win the game on their own rather than working as a team.

Plenty to learn, plenty to forget. Well done Rotherfield - in the moments that counted they took their chances when we didn't.

Onwards - it's getting tough on the lads being stuck in this run, but if there's one thing I know it's that they'll keep going and they have ability and attitude in spades, so they'll get through it.

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Sunday, May 9th 2021

Langton Green Phoenix 1 - 6 Jarvis Brook
(Warwick)

Another very tough game, this one played in a good spirit against our friends from Jarvis Brook and brilliantly refereed by one of the best refs we've had. A couple of experimental changes, pushing Owen into midfield and Joe to centre back, were made purely because with nothing riding on the game from our perspective, it was good to try something different. At the other end of the pitch, no Louis or Rami meant our centre forward was Ollie, who has net really played there before and an injury to Sam and another to Jack in the warm up meant we were deprived of their abilities too, although Jack had recovered  enough to go on at half time.

In a game characterised by errors in key moments, in between spells of playing well, the scoreline was possibly slightly harsh, whilst the overall result was definitely fair. There were some good moments - the lovely sweeping move that nearly saw Warwick score in the opening minutes, some good midfield play from Finn and Dylan and the set piece delivery was excellent, Owen hitting the crossbar with a superb long range effort and Joe swinging in a marvellous cross for Warwick to stab home a late consolation. We could (and arguably should) have had a couple more goals, Jarvis Brook superbly blocking 3 point blank range efforts in a row, but it wasn't to be and despite keeping their heads up and staying positive, the game ended in another heavy defeat.

It's been tough, but these lads will get through this spell and I'm confident all this will stand them in good stead. A lot of teams would be tearing themselves apart with negativity and blaming each other at this stage, but not this group.

Thanks to Jarvis Brook - a very good team with excellent players throughout the side. Hope to test ourselves against them again soon.

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Sunday, May 2nd 2021

Langton Green Phoenix 3 - 4 Sovereign Saints
(Warwick x 2, Louis)

Oh dear...

If you play football long enough, you'll experience almost every conceivable turn of events when it comes to the pattern a match can take. That's part of the joy of the game - the variety, the unpredictableness, the misery of a last minute defeat and the elation of winning a game when you thought all was lost. We all know that, but that doesn't make it any easier to stomach chucking a 3-0 half time lead away to lose 4-3, conceding with the first kick of the second half and imploding in the most spectacular fashion.

The result itself was never going to matter. Neither team could win this mini league or even finish as runners up, with both likely to finish in the bottom half of the table regardless of the result. But the confidence a good performance could bring, against another U18 side, a year older than us, who had beaten us earlier in the season, was going to be the main aim this morning.

And first half, that looked to be exactly what we were headed for, Warwick's well-taken double and Louis' superb, towering header from Rami's corner putting us 3-0 up at the break. We'd defended resolutely, avoided all the nonsense that was threatening to spill over and thoroughly deserved to be ahead. It was a performance that had been coming, with consistent improvement in recent weeks.

Sadly, any psoitivity at the performance of the first 45 minutes was short lived. Sovereign Saints scored from the second half kick off, three of our players putting in lazy, half attempts to tackle their tricky winger, who scored within 10 second of the referee's whistle. It was a woeful lack of focus from a group of players who should by now have the game management skills to keep things tight for the first few minutes of the second half and allow themselves to settle into the game.

A minute later it ws 3-2, with an equally avoidable goal - and our opposition suddenly had all the momentum.

The boys recovered somewhat, gathered a bit of composure and were unfortunate when Rami nicked the ball out of the air as the goalkeeper tried to grab it, only to see his excellent finish chalked off because he had, apparently, taken it out of the 'keeper's grasp. The only opinion that counts is the referee's though, and he deemed it to be foul play, so we took it on the chin and moved on. We then created a double chance that the S.S goalkeeper did very well to save (twice) and as we pressured to try and score the decisive 4th we felt would win the game, Sovereign Saints got their third and the game was all tied, having seemed dead and buried at half time.

It then all got very, very silly. A disappointing exchange saw both teams awarded a red card and the game turned into a scrappy, nonsense of a match for the final 20 minutes, with constant stoppages, the ball spending more time in the trees than it did on the pitch and just as I was thinking "we're going to concede a last minute goal here", we did, direct from a free kick that we really didn't need to give away in the first place - and the game ended 4-3.

All in all, probably one of the least enjoyable games of football I've been involved in, for all sorts of reasons.

A few positives...

  • Ollie's debut - when he came on in the first half he was excellent and slotted into the team really well.
  • Jack and Tom doing a brilliant job of calming the situation down when things got a bit silly in the second half. Real leaders.
  • And it was great to see Warwick back on the scoresheet with a very well-taken double, including a sublime second goal.

If you take the view that it's inevitable you'll experience a game like this at some stage, if you play long enough, it was much better for it to happen in a game that didn't have anything riding on it, than in a cup final or league decider.

In the end, we deserved to lose, and I hope we've all learned something from the experience.

Most pleasing for me, was that when we turned up to train on Tuesday evening, it was with smiles, an attitude of reflection from everyone and straight back to working hard and showing real positivity to improve. The attitude this group of players have leaves me in absolutely no doubt that they will have a really successful season in 2021-2022.

Onwards. Jarvis Brook next week. They knocked us out of the cup earlier in the season in a really good match and are a very strong side - so a big challenge once again and one we look forward to. Our final "league" game of the season and then on to some friendlies and a chance to play some sides our own age group.

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Sunday, April 25th 2021

Langton Green Phoenix U17s 2 - 5 Hollington U18s
(Max, Louis)

A beautiful crisp, sunny, morning for football, back at Groombridge after something like a year, on a flat pitch, with the only downside to the lovely rural setting being the river that runs round two sides of the pitch, which eats footballs for breakfast (as both teams found out today). If anyone was looking for a viable businness idea, setting up a second hand football eBay shop with your headquarters a few hundred yards downriver wouldn't be a bad shout.

To the game, and another tough one. Another side a year older, another side plucked from the division above and with a couple of key players missing for us, we knew it would take everything we had to compete.

We decided to try and take the game to our opposition more than last week's game plan had allowed, the boys deciding we were a much better team when we played on the front foot, but the first 5 minutes were anything but, us camped on the edge of our own penalty area, with no "out" ball and conceding a really silly, scrappy goal that was more than avoidable, but came from the pressure we put ourselves under by continually giving the ball back to our opposition through aimless forward balls and poor decisions. Credit should also go to Hollington though - they were clearly a handy outfit, who tried to play what I would call "proper" football - they kept the ball well, moved it quickly and recognised when to play forwards and when to recycle.

A tweak in the formation saw Rami introduced up front and Louis drop deeper into the number 10 role and immediately we looked far more threatening. A couple of superb, flowing, attacks saw us create two very good chances, Warwick's well-struck, angled strike initially saved, before Max calmly slotted in the rebound for the equaliser. 1-1 and we were in the game.

The game ebbed and flowed, but we had our best spell of the match in this period, threatening to take the lead on several occasions, Rami's energy up front pressuring the opposition into mistakes and Louis, Warwick and Rami all had shots well saved by the excellent opposition goalkeeper. Max then had a wonderful chance after a great combination between Joe, Finn and Louis, but the goalkeeper was once again out quickly to smother his shot.

At the other end, Owen and Tom had overcome a tough start to look dominant and commanding in the centre of defence, Dylan absolutely superb in front of them and Joe and Ellis working hard either side in the full back positions. Ben's catching in goal was top class and his distribution continues to get better and better, hardly a misplaced pass all game.

Unfortunately, despite all the positives, we then conceded two scrappy goals that were, once again, completely avoidable. A combination of our midfielders losing 50/50 challenges, where a bit more tenacity, belief and just outright strength and commitment were required, along with a lack of communication at the back and poor positioning, gave Hollington the opportunities they were after and their finishing from close range was clinical.

Suddenly it was 3-1, in a game it felt like we deserved to be at the very least, on even terms in.

Half time, regroup, unfortunately Dylan was unable to continue. A blow, but Connor and Sam stepped in as the two holding midfield players and we sent the boys out with the wind behind them and the instruction to try and test the goalkeeper more with shots from range, as well as be more decisive and committed in the 50 / 50 moments in midfield.

The overall quality of the game wasn't as high in the second half, as the boys tired somewhat. We threatened, with a couple of dangerous through balls seeing our forwards played in, but the final decision on whether to shoot or pass was either the wrong one or the execution was off. With Connor joining Dylan on the injury list, we were limited to one rotating sub and the boys understandably started to tire as the game went on.

At the other end, Hollington hit the bar with a move that deserved a goal really, for its quality, Ben made two excellent saves and a series of lost balls in the river were the highlights until a penalty for Hollington made it 4-1 and the game was probably done and dusted result-wise.

We then conceded a fifth, disappointingly, as what looked like a clear foul on Owen in the build up went unnoticed. As I said to the boys, though, none of them play a perfect game every week, so they can't expect referees to have a perfect game either. It's one of those things and over time they even out. Thankfully the frustation at a couple of decisions was quickly self-policed by the boys and Tom stepped in as captain to remind everyone there was no point moaning and to respect the referee. Good call.

At 5-1, whilst Hollington had been the better team, the scoreline felt pretty harsh and for the most part the goals we'd conceded felt very avoidable, so it was pleasing to see the boys kept going, didn't let their heads drop and were rewarded with a really good last 15 minutes, Toby playing well in the number 10 position, that culminated in an excellent goal from Louis, Rami's through ball controlled brilliantly, Louis showing superb strength to hold off two defenders and poke the ball through the goalkeeper's legs to provide us with something to cheer. It was very nearly another one a moment later, a superb flowing move ending with a little bit of overplaying in front of goal, rather than someone just being clinical and getting a shot off.

5-2 the final score. The result was deserved on the balance of play, but the scoreline itself felt a little harsh. But - loads of positives. Once again, the attitude was first class from the boys. When challenged, they show their true colours and support each other and work hard until the end. Great personality traits to have in all walks of life and when we get round to facing teams of a similar age / standard, I suspect this period of challenge will stand them in great stead.

Congrats to Hollington, who were the best side we've faced this season in a pure footballing sense. They played some really excellent stuff today - quick, one touch passing and real commitment all over the pitch. As Tom said at half time, the only difference between the teams was that Hollington were playing mens football and we were playing boys football. It was a statement it was hard to disagree with.

Thanks to Justin for running the line - once again a faultless performance from him.

Onwards to next week and once again, another U18 team, another challenging game and another opportunity to learn, to develop and if we get the rub of the green and learn our lessons from this week, you never know...

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Sunday, April 18th 2021

Langton Green Phoenix U17s 0 - 6 Heathfield & Horam U18s

We knew this run of games would be tough. With the exception of one team, all the other sides in our group are older than us. Every one of the sides in our group are very strong sides, whose results suggested we'd have a real challenge every week. And so it's proving, but that's no bad thing. This is a great opportunity to see how the boys cope with a run of tough games and the frustrations that potentially come with that, both in terms of their attitude and mental toughness, but also how they cope in a footballing sense with playing against the physicality and added experience that comes with these opponents.

The lads came up with a game plan, that was intended to play to the strengths of the players we had available on the day. No Louis, but Rami and Max up front meant they went for a more counter attacking approach against a side we knew would have plenty of the ball. Sit back, soak it up and look for quick breaks was the plan they settled on.

As we discussed though, the key thing if that's our approach is that on the occasions we do have the ball, we have to use it well and our counter attacks have to be quick, with our passes intelligent and accurate and our forwards' runs proactive.

First half we did well defensively, the whole team working hard to limit H&H to one goal, scored from a corner. Tom and Owen were excellent at the back, Ben solid behind them (excellent catching / coming for crosses & high balls today), with Toby covering across to clear well on the one occasion the Heathfield striker got past Tom.

Unfortunately our attacking play wasn't up to the same standard, too many forward passes were rushed or aimless, with our forwards chasing balls after they were played, rather than making proactive runs to force our midfielders to make the right pass. It wasn't a lack of effort - but the intelligence, confidence and composure I know our players are capable of in possession was in short supply in the first half. They looked rushed.

With Jack at left back, we had a more attacking option down that side and our most dangerous few moments came from him, a clever switch of play finding Max, who was well blocked and a couple of forward runs from Jack causing overloads that led to our best chance, Rami just having the ball nicked off his toes, before Owen, up for a free kick, saw an audacious backheeled effort go just wide. Owen then so nearly connected with Warwick's dipping free kick, but was inches away from his debut league goal. Great delivery. Ellis, Finn and Joe came on, all slotting in brilliantly and continuing the good work the team were putting in defensively.

But in the main, in terms of an attacking threat, we were feeding on scraps - and we weren't bringing our knife and fork to the table when the scraps were served up.

At 1-0 though, whilst we knew we were definitely the underdogs on the balance of play, we were always in the game and the second half started well, with probably our best spell of the match. Interestingly, we looked at our strongest when we kept the ball and played a more possession-based style, involving our midfield in a more patient build up. Finn, Sam and Dylan were calm and composed in the middle, slowing the tempo and allowing us to start to keep the ball, Connor doing a good job of covering the defensive midfield area and allowing the others to get forward.

We had our best chances of the game during this spell, Rami nearly getting on the end of a forward ball from Warwick, before some lovely combination play between Jack, Dylan and Joe saw Finn recieve the ball in space on the edge of the box, his first time attempt a rare mis-hit when he probably had time to take an extra touch, but the rebound fell to Warwick, who connected brilliantly, only to see his goalbound strike blocked by some brave defending. It would have been an unbelievable goal if it had gone in.

It felt like we were finding a way back into the match, when we conceded two sloppy goals in a row, basic strength in the tackle letting us down, before tiredness on a hot morning, a goal that might or might not have been offside and the extra space created as we pushed forward looking for a consolation meant the final scoreline had a slightly harsh look to it. For 70 minutes we did really well, but the quality, strength and experience H&H have told in the end and they were absolutely deserved winners. We looked tired and disorganised in the last 20 minutes, but the boys kept positive and as the weeks go on I'd expect an improvement in that stage of the game from everyone.

Plenty to be positive about. We've challenged ourselves every season in terms of the divisions we've entered and this is probably the most challenging division we've played in since we moved to larger sided football. Hopefully in the remaining three matches we'll be able to pick up a point or two, but the priority is learning, enjoying being back on the pitch after so long out and preparing for next season, our final one in youth football.

Massive thank you to the referee, who was superb (one of the best we've had), well done to the boys, especially those who walked away from a couple of silly situations without getting involved. Today was challenging, but you all showed superb attitude, kept going to the end and supported each other brilliantly despite the scoreline. It's an absolute pleasure to coach this group of lads.

Onwards to next week and an equally tough game against Hollington, another U18 side and not one we've played before. Whatever the result, we'll learn, enjoy the challenge and if everyone gives 100%, you never know...

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Sunday, April 11th 2021

Langton Green Phoenix 3 - 5 Rusthall
(Rami, Louis x 2)

Back on the huge Bennett 3G pitch, we were treated to an entertaining, if rather shambolic, performance against a strong Rusthall side who knew very little about, having not played any Rusthall team for around 5 years.

Rusthall started sharper and for the first 5 minutes looked more up for it, hungrier and full of energy, where we looked sleepy and jaded, Rusthall deservedly taking the lead after about 2 minutes when we failed to pressure the second ball after a corner was cleared. An excellent finish, it has to be said, but we should never have allowed the shot to be taken in the first place, the Langton boys slow to react and deservedly behind, the wake up call we needed.

Almost immediately, Rami made it 1-1 after a corner of our own wasn't cleared and a goalmouth scramble saw him poke home. And then we scored again, Louis this time finishing well from close range and with barely 10 minutes gone it was 2-1 to Langton and it felt like we were growing into the game, with some excellent attacking play.

Rami then had a great chance to make it 3-1, Finn and Jack combining well to set Max free, his cross cleverly dummied by Louis, but Rami's strike went into the side netting. He then had the ball in the net from a tight angle for a goal ruled out for a very close offside but you have to take these things on the chin and Rusthall then scored twice, turning the game on it's head and despite chances for Louis, Jack and Warwick, the game stayed 3-2 until half time, where we regrouped, the general consensus being that we were "all over the shop".

Second half started better, Jack moving to left back and offering a real attacking threat and we dominated the next 20 minutes, looking every bit like it was only a matter of time before we scored again. Dylan was starting to boss the midfield, with Sam solid and working hard alongside him, Tom and Owen clearing what came their way and we looked more solid than we had in the first half. Louis had two brilliantly worked 1v1s with the Rusthall goalkeeper, who made two superb blocks. Warwick's wonderful curled effort came back off the inside of the post, Louis hit the bar, Dylan had a double strike from range blocked and it began to look increasingly like it wouldn't be our day. So it proved when Rusthall scored with their first effort of the second half on target, a clever header but one that we didn't do nearly enough to challenge for. 4-2, soon turned into 5-2 with a very well worked goal from our opposition as we pushed forward and with Owen off injured we were opened up more and more, Ben making two superb saves to keep the scoreline down, before a late consolation from Louis put a slightly more respectable gloss on the scoreline. 5-3 it ended.

What pleased me today though, was the attitude the boys showed on a number of occasions when things got difficult. In the face of some tough moments, they walked away, didn't get involved in anything that could have got them in trouble with the referee and supported each other through a tough game.

Well done to Rusthall, who deserved their win purely for the greater energy and desire they brought to a game that was otherwise very even. Their goalkeeper was also superb today. We weren't at our best, not even close, but in the big scheme of things, just being back out playing football after the year that's just gone is more than we thought we might get a few months ago, so let's celebrate being back and focus on the positives. With Rusthall the only team in our mini-league who are our own age, it doesn't get any easier over the next month, but we love a challenge and as long as we see an improvement each week we'll be happy as we head towards next season, our last in youth football.

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Wednesday, April 7th 2021

Langton Green Phoenix 6 - 1 Tunbridge Wells Youth Rockets
(Rami, Finn, Sam, Max, Louis x 2)

After a useful and enjoyable friendly defeat to our excellent Giants team on Saturday, the boys played their first "proper" game against another club since October 18th - nearly 6 months (!!!) - against our friends from Tunbridge Wells Youth, who we shared a close first game of the season with back in sunny September.

A tight first 45 minutes saw both goalkeepers make solid saves, moments of note for us were a wonderful move involving Warwick, Louis and Max that sliced through the opposition defence only to draw an excellent block from a TW Youth defender, another superb through ball from Dylan setting Max free, to work a good chance that went just wide and a well taken goal from Rami, latching on to a ball over the top and using his pace and tenacity to poke the ball home with an excellent finish to make it 1-0. Our pressing high up the pitch and the decisiveness of our back four to come and engage the TW Youth forward line and not let them turn were also pleasing to see and Ben in goal was commanding and solid with his catching, whilst distributing the ball intelligently and accurately.

Joe was filling in at centre back alongside Tom, with Owen missing through injury, and both of them did brilliantly, communicating well, commanding the defensive line and clearing anything that came their way with intelligence and quick thinking. Ellis and Connor were equally impressive in the two full back positions, Ellis doing what he had to without putting a foot wrong and Connor getting forward on several occasions to shoot / cross in a more attacking performance than I've seen from him before. And in front of them, Dylan, Finn and Sam were moving the ball well and Jack was causing havoc with his quick feet and direct dribbling, working hard off the ball as well as on it. When Euan came on he contributed going forward with some nice moments of skill and tenacity to defend well too.

But there were still moments of confusion at the back and some sloppy passing at times, particularly in the closing stages of the first half, which saw TW Youth push back well and create a good opportunity of their own, their forward finishing well after some good build-up play to make it 1-1. The system we used during that spell wasn't being executed as well as we'd have liked, with the team lacking width and things getting very congested in the middle of the pitch. Note for next training session...

Second half saw a change of system to try and get more width into the team and it worked well, Rami, Max and Warwick rotating to provide options on the wings that saw more space open up in the middle for the likes of Jack, Finn, Sam and Dylan. Louis' presence in the number 9 position was a huge plus point in the second 45 - he played with intelligence, communicated well and worked hard. It's great to have him back from injury and looking sharp again.

Finn made it two in two with his head after scoring against the Giants on Saturday, his first effort an excellent looping header back across the goalkeeper from Warwick's superb cross, that rebounded off the crossbar, the loose ball picked up by Sam, who expertly chipped it back across goal for Finn to head in, this time the crossbar being kinder, the ball bouncing just over the line off the underside of the bar. 2-1 and a really well worked goal after an excellent spell of patient possession in midfield and out wide.

Max made it 3-1 with a really good finish under the goalkeeper following some excellent play from the back, our goalkeeper and defenders passing the ball out well under pressure. Max deserved a goal for his hard work off the ball and clever movement to get in behind the defence on several occasions.

It was 4-1 moments later, Sam scoring his first goal for the team since joining in October, with an absolute worldy of a strike from 25 yards that again came after some really pleasing quick combinations that started with Tom and Euan combining to play through to midfield. Really pleased for Sam - not many players open their account with such style and it capped an overall intelligent and assured performance from him.

Jack was notably involved in a lot of the good things we were doing in the attacking third, demanding the ball, taking players on and drawing opponents towards him to create spoace for others. A wonderful passage of play ended with a rocket of a strike from Finn that was superbly saved by the opposition goalkeeper, before Louis capped a man of the match performance with two well-taken goals (the second from an excellent cross from Rami), that he fashioned through intelligence, good movement and desire to be first to the loose ball in the box. He nearly had a hat trick moments later but a really good double block / save from the TW Youth defence and goalkeeper denied him. As I say, great to have him back, not only for his goals, but also for his intelligence and communication in the middle of the attacking third.

Warwick very nearly got himself on the scoresheet in the dying moments, but his well taken shot flashed just wide and that was the final whistle, to end an enjoyable and useful preparation game ahead of the league season resuming on Sunday.

Well done all. A shame Toby couldn't take part after feeling an injury resurface in the warm up, but great to see him stay and support his team mates. Well done to TW Youth, who played some good stuff and probably felt a little hard done by with the scoreline, with three of the goals coming very late on after a tight first 60 minutes where there was only one goal in it.

And thank you as always to Justin, for running the line and to Brian, for very kindly refereeing without charge.

Roll on Sunday and a home game against our friends from Rusthall, but mainly, just great to be back on the pitch and enjoying football again. Good luck to TW Youth in their league games too.

Onwards!

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Sunday, December 6th @ Bennett School 3G (friendly vs LG Chiefs)
(Rami)

With the league postponed until after Christmas and no game since our defeat to Heathfield on October 18th, it was nice for the lads to be back out on the pitch. A very evenly contested intra-club friendly against a spirited and well organised Chiefs team, who have improved hugely over the last few years, was settled by a moment of brilliance from Rami in the last few minutes. Both teams played some good stuff and both will have benefitted from the runout after so long without any football.

The Chiefs were arguably the better side for much of the first half and when we did create chances, we fluffed our lines somewhat, with a series of shots that were either underhit, scuffed off the surface or straight at the goalkeeper. A change of formation saw the boys grow into the game and improve, but both teams created opportunities and both could have had a couple of goals on another day. The last 20 minutes or so saw both sides getting a bit tired, which would be expected after the break and the game turned into a bit of a basketball match with end-to-end action that could have seen either team score the winning goal. Rami managed it in the end, with a very good run and finish after good build up play from Louis.

Overall, it was a very even game, that either team would have been unfortunate to lose, but the main thing was just being out on the pitch, playing football again, after what has been a hugely difficult year for everyone. Well done to the Chiefs on a good, solid performance - if they play like that over the rest of their league season I would expect them to win a lot more games than they lose. Well done all.

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Sunday, October 18th @ 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.