Phoenix 2021 - 2022

Langton Green Phoenix 1 - 4 Oxted & District
(Joe)

Toe recovered (although Joe did his best to ruin that by standing on it whilst I was putting cones out during the warm up), we arrived in Godstone (Tony's old stomping ground apparently), in the freezing cold, to be greeted by a huge pitch and a very nice coffee place that made a lovely flat white. Expecting to see a ski lift running up one side of the pitch, such was the prevelance of the slope, we knew we'd be in for a challenge and a lot of the pre-match chat was about whether you chose uphill or downhill if you won the toss. It was one to take on the chin, given a) it was the same for both teams and b) we hosted Oxted earlier in the season on a home pitch that you could actually get lost in, such was the length of the grass.

The defeat we took back down the M25 had been coming and was fully deserved today. 7 wins in a row is about as good as I've seen in terms of results from any of the iterations of this team over the last 10 years, but over the last few games there have been some warning signs... and against a team as good as Oxted & District, we knew it would be tough to maintain that record - and so it proved. No complaints with the result at all, which was a completely fair reflection of a game in which we struggled hugely to impose ourselves (or even string more than 2 passes together in the second half).

The first 30 minutes was very even. Kicking up the slope, we felt the first half was about staying in the game and hopefully benefitting from playing downhill in the second half. We started well, Finn P muscling his way through only for his shot to ripple the side netting, Warwick and Max both looking lively in getting behind the defence. At the other end Ben made an excellent save and although we were struggling to keep Oxted's left winger under control as he used his considerable skill to jink and weave his way through a couple of times, I felt we were looking the more likely to score at this stage.

Frustratingly, we were then undone by the most basic of goals to concede. A goal kick, one of our lads trying to win a header that was never there to be won, finding themselves out of position and out of the next phase of the game in doing so, a mix up at the back and the Oxted striker must have thought he was starring in a remake of the Old Testament, as the Red Sea parted for him waltz straight through the middle and score. It was a well taken finish, but the way it came about was basic defending and you don't usually see that sort of thing outside of U10s football or when watching Man United on occasion this season. Not what you expect from a side who started the day with the best defensive record of any team in the division.

Even so, mistakes happen, and we got back into our stride and very nearly equalised moments later, Warwick and Finn P combining brilliantly to set Max free, whose pace took him clear and to the ball just ahead of the goalkeeper. He dinked the ball over the top of the diving keeper, only to see it bounce agonisingly back off the post, just evading Warwick, bobbling off a couple of defenders and going out off a Langton leg for a goal kick. 9 times out of 10 that ends up in the back of the net, but alas, not today. And of course, a few moments later, having nearly been 1-1, we were 0-2 down. The goal was an almost exact replica of the first one (header that was never there to be won, player out of position, leave lots of space, goal)... the frustration was obvious. It would be churlish not to say well done to Oxted though, the chance still had to be created and taken, which on the bobbly surface wasn't easy.

Sucker punch number 3 was then that Finn P, our top scorer and focal point of many of our attacks, limped off with a hamstring problem, that meant he could play no further part in the game. A tough blow, especially as we had other key creative players missing or struggling to impose themselves on the game. But... these lads have, many times, come back from adversity and so finding ourselves 2-0 down at half time against a team we had already shown we can come back from that scoreline to win against this season wasn't the end of the world - and we went out in the second half determined to use the slope to our advantage and play better than we had first half.

Unfortunately, it just didn't happen. The tone was set pretty much from the kick off when we gave the ball away and nearly conceded a third and continued for most of the half. We were poor in possession, our midfield struggling to keep the ball, basic passes all over the pitch not reaching their targets, aimless long balls forward from the back with seemingly no intended target gifting possession back to the opposition over and over again, players caught in possession, defenders not making basic clearances. It was keystone cops stuff at times (perhaps they were trying to replicate my toe slicing injury moment from last week).

The killer third goal was a very good one - an excellent, clean strike into the top corner - but again, poor defending to leave so much space and that was it, game over realistically and just pride to play for at that point.

We tried some things... Frankie, who had been the most confident player driving forward with the ball in the first half was moved (to his surprise as a lifelong left back) into the middle in an attempt to try and do something, anything, that might unsettle the opposition, we switched to a 3-5-2 to bolster the midfield and got Warwick more central to attempt to get his long range shooting into play more. He scored, but was flagged a tight offside. A very well taken goal from Joe, playing as the right wing back, was the one proper highlight of the second half, coming after our best spell of play, Finn K and Max combining well in the build up and Louis dragging his marker away with a clever run.

A glimmer of hope perhaps, with 10 minutes to go, but Oxted squashed that glimmer with another excellent goal, pouncing on a poor touch in the middle of the pitch and counter attacking ruthlessly to make it 4-1.

Absolutely no complaints with the result. Oxted were the better team in every area of the pitch today and we looked a shadow of the team who had such a good run until this point. That's football - and a huge part of what the game teaches us is that whenever there is a disappointment, it is an opportunity to overcome adversity, to solve a problem, to get up, dust yourself off and use it as motivation to do better next time.

And we have a great opportunity to do that, given we are heading back to play Oxted again next Sunday in the cup quarter finals. We know how good they are and we know what we're up against. How we respond to today will go a long way to setting the tone for the rest of the season and win or lose, I'm expecting a much better performance.

Final word is for Oxted though, who are an excellent football team, well coached and well organised with some very talented individuals (number 8 in particular was superb today) but they are also a thoroughly decent bunch of people. It's not that often you see both those things combined to such a degree in youth football, so huge credit to Matt and the other coaches there for instilling such a positive ethos in the team. Well done to them - and we look forward to remaking their acquaintance next week. Given we've both won one each so far, we should probably start practising penalties, but we're going to have to put in a much better performance than we did today to get it to that point.

Looking forward to it!

Onwards.

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Langton Green Phoenix 5 - 3 Langton Green Spitfires
(Finn P x 4, Warwick)

The weekend did not start well. Whilst attempting to carry a large box of cardboard recycling through my back door, I stood on the hammer I had forgotten I'd left on the patio, tripped, stood on a plant pot, smashing it and slicing the front of my toe off because I was foolishly not wearing any shoes. It was proper Laurel and Hardy stuff, to the point where someone asked if I was trying to push a piano up the stairs at the same time, whilst some dodgy double-speed comedy music played in the background. When Tony messaged me on Sunday morning to say he'd put his back out (not sure how, but it definitely wasn't whilst trying to lift the Spurs trophy cabinet up) I began to think the Phoenix coaches were being targeted in an attempt to put us out of contention for the vacant Man United job.

On to the football and it's fair to say that we definitely weren't at our best, although a large part of that was because of how well the excellent Spitfires played, especially given they found themselves 2-0 down after we were given two penalties in the opening 8 minutes, both won by Max after some superb skill and midfield play in the build up and both expertly despatched by Finn P from the spot with calm assuredness. When you consider we won the previous version of this fixture last month 7-0, it would have been easy for the Spitfires to let their heads drop and expect the worst. Far from it, as we were treated to being firmly on the back foot for the majority of the rest of the half. The Spitfires scored an excellent team goal to get back to 2-1, we were indebted to Ben for a super save to keep us ahead, before Finn P completed his first half hat trick with a fine strike from range to make it 3-1 and put us in the driving seat again.

With 2 minutes to go to the break, we showed really poor game management to give the ball away needlessly, then concede a corner and then a headed goal from that corner, when the focus should have been on not giving the Spitfires a sniff of being back in the game. As it was, they got exactly that - and went into the break brimming with confidence whilst our lads cut frustrated figures. Some motivational words from Louis, Tom and Warwick and out they went for the second half, determined to improve and still in possession of a 3-2 lead.

Unfortunately the improvement we hoped for (and expected) didn't really happen, at least not initially, with some tidy play in midfield from Finn K, Sam and Ollie not really leading to much and some excellent switches of play from Warwick and Max looking impressive but not really creating any openings. Ollie had a couple of decent runs, Albie had a shot that was blocked after he showed great feet to create a chance for himself, but it was all a bit scrappy and we weren't playing our usual passing game or being proactive enough, especially in forward areas.

We scored an offside goal, the Spitfires scored an offside goal, we scored another offside goal, Warwick stroking home after confusion between him and an onside team mate and whilst we probably created the more clear cut chances, the Spitfires certainly had the neater spells of possession and looked like the team in control. An Owen header was superbly saved by the Spitfires keeper and Louis' had a close range effort bundled wide.

The Spitfires then deservedly equalised, with a penalty of their own (the 3rd game in a row we've conceded a penalty, which is disappointing) and suddenly it was 3-3 and we were in a real battle.

But - and this is the key thing - these lads have generally found a way to win this season even when not at their best and so it proved again, our best spell of the game by some distance being the last 10-15 minutes. Connor was seemingly everywhere, Simon and Frankie first to every 50/50 in the full back positions, Tom and Ben commanding the back line brilliantly and Owen showing great commitment to fight through some nasty blisters to win header after header. With, at different times, Dylan, Sam and Finn K all putting in huge shifts in front of them, we looked like a proper team again and as such were moving the ball more fluidly and defending with a lot more compactness and organisation.

The breakthrough came when we won a free kick in a good position, which Warwick stepped up to curl home with an absolute peach of a strike that bounced off the inside of the post, hit the other post and went in. 4-3 with 5 minutes to go and the highlight of the day was Warwick's rather dangerous knee slide celebration that might have worked on slippery grass, but looked like an absolute skin-shredder on 3G. Better than his trademark shhhhhh celebration vs Simon's old team mind you!!

The Spitfires had to go for it, which they did, which left them open at the back - and Finn P made sure of the points with his fourth goal of the day, played clean through on the counter attack, his initial effort well-saved, but the rebound falling to him to stroke home and open up a 2 goal lead with a couple of minutes left. We were fortunate he was on fire today with his finishing. 4 goals from 5 shots I think... not a bad conversion rate. The final whistle went to relief more than anything.

All in all a bit of a hectic game, which is expected when you're playing a team from your own club, with some small pockets of quality shining through, along with a stroke of fortune on a couple of occasions too. Different challenges every week and another one successfully navigated. It's completely unrealistic to think a whole season will pass with every match being 90 minutes of pure quality, so well done for getting the job done on a day that wasn't our finest in a footballing sense.

A huge well done to the Spitfires for showing such fantastic grit to pick themselves up from such a tough start to the game, and off the back of some tough results - and play the better football for the majority of the game. If they play like this for the rest of the season, they will pick up points, get results and make a few people sit up and take notice, because as well as playing football that was effective and created chances, they also played creative and positive football, that was a joy to watch, whilst defending with real resilience and tenacity too.

Thank you to both linesman, to Brian for another excellent job refereeing and to the players on both teams for playing the game in excellent spirit.

On to next week for us, with what is hopefully going to be another top quality game of football against the excellent Oxted, who played some superb stuff against us last time we faced them and recently threw down a marker with a very impressive win over the excellent Paddock Wood. It will be our biggest test of the season and we can't wait. It will also be nice to be back on grass.

Right - I'm off to sew the end of my big toe back on.

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Langton Green Phoenix 5 - 1 Wateringbury
(Ollie x 2, Max, Finn P, O.G)

Another Sunday, another away trip and another new ground to visit. This one had lots of very small horses welcoming us as we drove down a winding track into what looked like a farmer's field, only for a football pitch to magically appear in front of us. With 6 regulars missing, we welcomed Frankie for his debut for the team after a rushed transfer midweek following the unfortunate end to his previous team, who sadly folded a few days earlier.

The pitch itself was on the small side for an U18 game, but no matter, it was the same for both teams and Wateringbury started the better side, playing the conditions much better than we did and creating the early inroads. We were thankful to Ben for making a sharp stop early on. Owen nearly scored from a corner, a powerful header flashing just wide of the post, Max had a couple of half chances from the right, but it was all Wateringbury, as our new-look midfield, missing Finn K and Louis from last week's starting line up, were struggling to keep hold of the ball in the long grass. The best chance we had was a well-struck long range effort from Sam that took a deflection but was kept out by a fingertip save from the Wateringbury keeper. Good positive play from Sam though.

A bit of a reshuffle saw Frankie and Ellis come into the fold, but we continued on the back foot and Wateringbury deservedly took the lead from the penalty spot after some indecision at the back saw a late tackle go in and despite getting a hand to it, Ben couldn't keep the spot kick out. 1-0 down and hopefully a wake up call.

Thankfully, it was all uphill from there. Simon and Dylan were solid in midfield for the rest of the half, Tom and Owen clearing everything that came their way and Frankie looked assured and creative on his debut, playing a couple of excellent forward passes to Warwick down the left, one of which led to a corner that was swung in by Albie and turned home by a Wateringbury player at the near post to level things up at 1-1. It felt like a proper old fashioned "roll your sleeves up" grassroots game at this stage, the rain starting to fall, the pitch cutting up a bit, players slipping this way and that, the dark clouds overhead threatening a proper downpour.

Fortunate to be level at the break, we knew the second half *should* allow us to play a bit more on the front foot as we were shooting down the slope. A bright start saw Max played through on the right from Simon and Ollie combining well, Finn P holding the ball up superbly and playing a couple of sublime passes inside the opposition full backs to send both wingers through. Some lovely combination play from Sam and Dylan set Ollie up for a wonderful long range effort that nearly burst the net to make it 2-1 - cracking finish. The third goal was sublime, Max and Warwick combining brilliantly, having just switched wings, Finn P playing Warwick in, who whipped a brilliant cross in that Max arrived onto in the box from the left to make it 3-1. Excellent play, or manegerial genius. Perhaps a bit of both. But mostly manegerial genius.

The game was very much going our way at this stage, but Wateringbury were playing some good stuff and moving the ball nicely, so we knew we needed to be on our toes, Ben being called into action for some solid catching and Owen and Tom calmly dealing with whatever came their way.

At the other end we had to keep the pressure up and the lads were proactive and playing on the front foot (which couldn't be said of the first half), intercepting through balls, switching the play well and finding some magnificent forward passes into our wingers. The fourth goal was another cracker from Ollie, Warwick's corner falling to him to absolutely leather home from the right side of the box. 4-1 and it felt like the game was safe, but we thought that last week and very nearly came unstuck from that position. Warwick had a brilliant free kick expertly tipped onto the bar by the Wateringbury goalkeeper, Finn P saw a shot go just over from range and Frankie and Max, then Albie, combined well down the left, Albie coming closest to adding a fifth after some lovely play on the right saw the ball crossed to him, but it was an awkward height and whilst his first touch was good, the shot was smothered.

Having put in a superb shift up front, without the reward of a goal at this point, Finn P decided he wanted his name on the scoresheet and finished the afternoon off in style, collecting the ball on the right with two defenders marking him, shimmying between them and then absolutely blasting a top corner finish from a tight angle to make it 5-1. Superb goal - and thoroughly deserved from our top scorer. A good ball from Ellis nearly found Warwick for what would also have been a well deserved goal, but a last ditch toe on it from a blue shirt saw the ball out and the game was over. 5-1 the final score and an excellent second half performance.

Huge well done to Frankie on his debut and a thank you to James for running the line, To Finn K for coming along to support the team even though he wasn't well enough to play and to the referee, who was excellent all game, explaining his decisions and talking to the lads with authority and respect. Top ref.

A good game of football, played in a good spirit, against a very creative and talented Wateringbury team. We said our goodbyes, set off back past the little horses (avoiding the temptation to take one home with us, although that would be genuinely awesome to have one of those guys as part of the family) and arrived home in time for me to play in my over 40s 6 a side tournament, which saw a whole new level of skill and quality on display that the boys could only dream of.

Well done everyone for today - great battling, great quality and excellent game management. Onwards!!

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Langton Green Phoenix 4 - 3 Langton Green Chiefs (League Cup, 2nd Round)
(Finn P x 2, Louis, FInn K)

On a glorious, cold, sunny winter's morning, we returned to competitive action after 3 weeks, with a cup game against our very own Langton Green Chiefs, who are flying high this season in the C division. Back at Ashurst (where I had the pleasure of watching the local model aeroplane club flying their magnificent planes when I went down to check the pitch on Friday), we felt confident despite missing several key players with injury.

The usual grassroots routine of picking up 3 tonnes of fox poo was conducted, we debated if the minute's silence for Remembrance Day was this week or next (it was next), before starting the game with a bit more of a crowd than usual, given it was Langton Green vs Langton Green.

Early chances for each side saw both goalkeepers pull outstanding saves out of the bag, Finn P smashing an absolute rocket of a shot goalwards after a clever turn that was brilliantly pushed away by the Chiefs keeper and Ben coming out at the other end to smother a Chiefs chance in a 1v1. We were a bit nervy, understandably, but played our way into the game with some lovely one and two touch passing through the pitch, the pressure telling when Finn P squeezed a shot in from the edge of the box to make it 1-0 and settle any early nerves. He got his second 5 minutes later, the sheer power on the shot seeing it home to make it 2-0, but there were signs at the other end that we weren't completely at the races. Some poor clearances and being a little too reactive (as opposed to proactive) in 50/50 situations meant we were conceding more chances than I was comfortable with and had a combination of Ben in goal and our defensive line of Joe, Owen, Tom and the excellent Simon (man of the match today) to thank for keeping our lead intact.

Louis scored a third after Finn K played him in, just nipping in ahead of his defender to make it 3-0. A good poachers finish. Max was running riot on the right and created a wonderful opportunity for himself, only to see his shot go just wide, before hammering a long range effort that went inches wide of the top corner. An Owen free kick caused panic in the box and we gave a couple of silly free kicks away ourselves, that Ben did well to hold with the sun in his eyes, Tom and Joe also both popping up with crucial tackles.

3-0 at half time but we actually hadn't played that well, so the chat was about staying calm, getting the next goal and killing the game off.

And we did get the next goal. Albie nearly scored with his first touch, sneaking in only to see the Chiefs keeper make an excellent stop, before Finn K got the goal his hard work deserved, after his initial shot was saved, the rebound falling straight to him for a close range effort that went in via a deflection. 4-0 at 60 minutes and that should have been job done, especially as we were looking assured in possession at this stage, with Sam and Finn K moving the ball well in midfield and Warwick playing really well in the number 10 role just in front of them.

But then we had a mad 10 minutes, A penalty was given for what the lads will claim was a slightly harsh handball shout, but these things happen, with the initial shot being missed, only for it to have to be retaken (for encroachment I think). This time the net bulged and it was 4-1. Ben got clattered and his leg was in a lot of pain, we then had a sin bin after a bit of silly backchat to the referee which was extremely disappointing, regardless of the circumstances that led to it, down to 10 players for 10 minutes, and struggled to keep the ball. Ellis stepped in in goal to replace Ben and was magnificent saving a 1v1 before a Chiefs cross (very well hit by ex-Phoenix player Richard) found it's way over his head (nothing he could do about it) to make it 4-2 and suddenly it was looking like a much less appealing situation than we'd been in at 4-0. The panic that set in suddenly saw us unable to keep possession, playing forced passes that had no chance of coming off and generally just inviting more pressure. To say I was frustrated on the sidelines was an understatement.

Both teams had further chances, Simon starting off a lovely sweeping move that saw Warwick cross superbly for Finn K, whose shot flashed over the bar, Finn P then kicked a molehill when he looked certain to score his hat trick after he turned superbly in the box, Max had a good chance well saved, Albie created an opportunity that was smothered and that 5th goal just wouldn't come despite some wonderful approach play. As it was, the Chiefs got another one in the last minute following a complete inability of any Phoenix player to clear the ball, before the final whistle thankfiully saved us from what looked like it would have been an unlikely comeback at half time.

Fair to say we made a meal of it. At any level of football, a 4-0 lead should be more than enough, but credit to the Chiefs for keeping going and to continue fighting at 4-0 down. They showed why they're doing well in their division today.

But... credit also needs to go to our lads, who have faced different challenges this season and for the most part, found a way to win even when not at their best. Today was a good example of that. This was always going to be a tricky game to navigate, with both sets of players knowing each other and the friendly rivalry that comes from being part of the same club making the stakes seem a lot higher.

Into the quarter finals though and a tie against the excellent Oxted & District, who we shared a very entertaining league game with a few weeks back. Looking forward to it, but back to league action next week against Wateringbury, who we've never faced before, so another new challenge and another new ground to go to.

Onwards!

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Langton Green Phoenix 1 - 1 Sevenoaks Hurricanes
(Finn P)

On a rare week off from league / cup action, we found ourselves playing a team from the top division in a friendly in the picturesque surroundings of  Groombridge. A grass pitch of course meant some line marking and grass cutting, as well as dealing with the aftermath of a group of foxes having a party on the pitch the night before.

We wanted a tough challenge ahead of next week's league encounter against the only side to beat us this season, Paddock Wood, and Sevenoaks Hurricanes proved the perfect opposition. The game was lively, end to end, involved some wayward finishing and a goal line clearance from both sides, each of would have gone viral had it been caught on film.

We started well, despite conceding one early chance due to a lack of communication at the back, that Ben dealt with expertly in goal. The lads were keeping the ball well and whilst not creating much in the way of out and out opportunities, were tidy in possession and threatening down the wings. Simon continued his excellent form since joining the team at right back, getting forward to support the attack and recovering well with pace to make a couple of superb tackles. We were battling well in midfield too, Finn K and Ollie having some lovely moments in possession and Sam holding the fort in front of the rock solid pairing of Owen and Tom at centre back. With Dylan at left back we had a backline very capable of passing the ball out from defence and the lads did that very well in the opening half an hour or so.

Chances came at both ends - Finn K had a chance after a corner to bundle the ball into the net but a Sevenoaks defender just about got a toe to it and the ball was scrambled away. Ollie was causing havoc, running at the defence and having several shots flash wide or over the bar. Louis took a wonderful touch on a ball coming out of the sky to beat his marker to shoot from a tight angle but the goalkeeper had it covered and Warwick's opinion on the lack of a pass coming across the goal could be heard several continents away ;-)

Two decent opportunities for Finn P, who had one well saved and one flash just wide sandwiched an absolutely sublime strike from Max with the outside of his foot, curling just inside the far post, only for the Sevenoaks goalkeeper (who was actually an outfield player standing in for the regular goalie) pull off an absolutely superb one handed save. Wonderful football all round. Rami came on and caused the opposition defenders the usual Rami-style headaches of having very little time on the ball and had a shot well blocked.

Second half we opted to try something - a switch to a 3-5-2 formation, which didn't work at all and saw us have our worst spell of the game by some distance for the 15 minutes we stuck with it. Not enough width in attack and we ended up being forced back into more of a deep-lying 5-3-2 that gave all the momentum and possession to the opposition.

A switch back to what we're used to had an immediate impact, the chances coming again and the lads offering far more threat in the final third. Both teams had chances, both hitting the crossbar (Louis for us after a fantastic piece of football saw him played in by Finn P with a brilliant example of centre forward link up play - and the excellent Sevenoaks striker doing the same at the other end to turn his marker and graze the bar. We somehow repeated the Sevenoaks goalline clearance trick of the first half, Tom on hand to clear the first effort before Ben made a phenomenal save to keep the rebound out, before Finn P finally broke the deadlock with a clinical finish in the box, after good approach play from Louis, Finn K, Warwick (who was excelling at left back in the second half) and Owen, who had moved into midfield for the final 15 minutes.

Unfortunately we then did thing number 1 on the list of things you don't do when you've just scored, which is conceding almost immediately to give the other side the momentum. Sevenoaks won a corner, put it in the box, the initial header hit the post, Ben got a hand to it, but the clearance fell to a Sevenoaks player, who poked home in the box to make it 1-1. It was hard to begrudge Sevenoaks a goal in a game that had been incedibly even, but it was frustrating nonetheless because it felt like it was avoidable. Both teams went for it in the last 5 minutes, both could have won it and both saw good saves deny them a win, before the final whistle went on what was a thoroughly enjoyable morning of football in the sunshine.

A fair result between two sides who were very evenly matched on the day, in a game that could (and probably should) have ended 4-4 rather than 1-1. Thank you to James for running the line, to Michael for assisting me with the nets, to Alf for another excellent example of why the club's young referees are some of the best around and to Sevenoaks, who came across as a well-coached and thoroughly decent bunch of lads. We wish them luck for the rest of the season and hopefully we'll get the chance to play them again soon.

Finally, congratulations to our Langton Green Chiefs team, who won their cup tie in the afternoon - and as such, will play us in the next round.

On to next week and a game we all know will be a tough one against the excellent Paddock Wood. Looking forward to it.

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Langton Green Phoenix 7 - 0 Langton Green Spitfires
(Finn P x 2, Louis x 2, Max, Owen, Warwick)

Ah the joy of not having to cut grass, mark lines, pick up dog poo and end the morning with trenchfoot from walking round in wet shoes on a muddy football pitch. The huge 3G pitch we were on isn't our favourite place to play 11 a side football, simply due to the size of the thing - it's the Godzilla of football pitches - but it does mean I get to turn up a relaxed 40 minutes before kick off and don't have to do very much, which was quite nice after last week's escapades with the hand mower. Some litter and a friendly cat were all we had to contend with today, which was definitely an upgrade. With several once again missing with injury or illness, we welcomed Jack back into the fold to help out in the left back position.

The football itself saw us up against one of our sister teams, the year-younger Langton Green Spitfires. A good team, with a great approach to things and some skilful players, who we had shared a couple of friendlies / training games with earlier in the season. The lads knew they had to back last week's result up with a committed and intelligent performance this week - and so it proved.

The game started well for us, with lots of tidy possession and inventive passing leading to several chances, but the finishing was just a little off key. Finn K nearly added to his tally from last week, first meeting an excellent cross with a thumping header that just flashed over the bar after a lovely, sweeping move involving Warwick, Ollie and Jack and then seeing another header go just wide from Jack's corner. Finn P powered an effort over the top from the right channel and it felt like the goal was coming, which it did around the 20 minute mark, Finn P smashing an excellent finish home after clever footwork in the box.

The football was good, Ollie, Warwick and Jack dangerous running with the ball and intelligent with their passing, Max causing a lot of problems for the opposition on the right with his pace and skill and Sam playing wonderfully in the holding role in midfield, with Finn K alongside him spraying the ball around behind the focal point of Finn P in the 9 position. The Spitfires were playing their part in that too, a couple of opportunities on the break well snuffed out by Simon, who continued his impressive start to his Phoenix career at right back, both in and out of possession and then Tom, whose pace and strength saw him able to get back and win a clever through ball from our opposition and Owen, whose intelligent positioning saw him intercept a number of dangerous forward passes. Behind them, Ben was his usual composed self, catching everything that came his way, distributing the ball impeccably and communicating with his team mates constantly.

The second goal was a lovely one, Max making a brilliant late run to pick up on Jack's superb pass, arriving just ahead of the goalkeeper to pluck the ball out of the air, go round the keeper and slot home. Great pass, great movement, brilliantly finished.

On came Louis, Dylan and Ellis, all of whom slotted in brilliantly. Louis nearly had a first half hat trick, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes he was on the pitch, both excellent finishes, the first a good finish from Finn K's slide-rule pass and the second one well worked by Louis through some clever footwork in an almost exact replica of Finn P's opening goal, before what would have been the best of the bunch came back off the crossbar from a wonderful left footed strike from outside the box after excellent build up play. Dylan was solid and creative in midfield, some wonderful passes and crunching tackles, with Ellis coming back into the team after a lot of time out at right back to show fantastic desire and some excellent decision making out of possession, where he stopped 4 or 5 attacks in a row with very well-timed challenges.

The Spitfires had their moments - and probably their best spell of the game in the 10 minutes either side of half time. They fashioned a wonderful opportunity just before the break that they were very unfortunate not to see go in, with a lovely passing move leading to a shot that flashed just wide of the left hand post and then having plenty of possession after the break without managing to quite turn it into a goal that would not have been undeserved.

Simon nearly scored his first goal for the team, pushing forward from right back, but his shot went just over the top. Ollie was causing all sorts of problems with his dribbling and link up play around the edge of the box, also having a shot that had the power but was just bending away from the goal. Dylan had a good chance after a good passing move that might have been heading into the "over complicating things" territory, before Finn P made it five with a very similar goal to Max's in the first half, another good pass from Jack that Finn got to just ahead of the opposition goalkeeper (who incidentally was excellent today), to finish in style. A superb save from the Spitfires keeper low in the corner denied Louis his hat trick and Finn K absolutely leathered a shot goalwards that would have broken the net if it had gone in, but despite connecting very well with it, the ball went just wide.

Owen scored his first of the season with a powerful header from Jack's corner, before Warwick's hard work paid off with a headed effort late in the game that he deserved. He's starting to score quite a few headers now... and doing exactly what I'd asked at the start of the season in scoring more close range goals to add to his tally of spectacular ones.

Another game played in a friendly spirit was one of the most pleasing aspects of today and is starting to be a theme this season. That is a blessed relief  after a couple of years where we've faced a worrying number of teams who seemed to turn up wanting to kick people and have an argument rather than play a football match. It's nice to see that something has changed - whether this is a common theme or we just happen to be in a very pleasant division, I don't know, but it's so much nicer when it's like this. The Spitfires were unfortunate not to get themselves a goal today and will have some good results this season if they continue to work as hard as they did today and with such a positive approach, never letting their heads drop and playing some good football. Credit to our defensive unit, who were excellent for the majority of today's game and recorded their first clean sheet of the season and I'd also like to mention Sam, who made his first start of the league season this week and was outstanding in the holding midfield role, winning the 50/50 balls and showing great feet to keep possession in tight areas throughout the morning. The referee was excellent, both linesman were too (thank you to Ben's brother, James for running the line for us) and the dreaded overhead wires didn't even have a say in very much today.

Well done guys. No league game next week, so a friendly (possibly) before we face one of our toughest tests of the season against the only team to have beaten us so far, the excellent Paddock Wood, who are yet to drop points. It will be a big one...!

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Langton Green Phoenix 4 - 2 Oxted & District
(Finn K x 2, Warwick x 2)

I spoke to a friend recently, who also coaches a grassroots team. "I've had enough. I'm not enjoying it any more" were his words. And I knew exactly what he meant at 4pm on Saturday as I stood over a hand mower with a 40cm wide blade, sweating and hyperventilating like I'd just attempted the final push on Mount Everest, looking back on my 4 hours of "work" attempting to sort out the sorry state of the pitch we were meant to be playing on against Oxted on Sunday. 40cm fits into 90 metres 225 times. That's a lot of back and forth. I can categorically confirm that trying to cut an entire football pitch of 8 inch tall wet grass with a push mower is doomed to failure and the icing on the cake was when I mowed through a "present" a dog had left in the middle of the penalty box.

All that meant I turned up on Sunday morning to welcome the Oxted & District coach (and by that I mean their manager - they don't turn up to games on a coach, although that would be quite impressive), feeling somewhat embarrassed about the state of the surface and couldn't shake his hand because of the very large blisters I had on both palms from pushing that absurd hand mower around the day before. We fist bumped - as is appropriate these days anyway. The best I could offer by way of apology for the surface was "at least it's the same for both teams."

On to the football and I'm not sure I've ever witnessed more of a game of two halves. We weren't bad in the first 45 minutes, but Oxted were exceptional. The best 45 by an opposition team I've seen in a long time and we were hugely fortunate to only be 2-0 down at half time. A combination of Ben's saves and a number of goalline blocks and clearances from Owen, Finn K, Tom and Jack all kept the net from bulging more than twice in that first half. At the other end, we struggled massively to create opportunities for our forwards, Finn P cutting an isolated figure up front despite some really good hold up play from him. Ollie threatened with a few of his trademark dribbling runs, Owen had a long range free kick flash just over the bar, but the only real out and out chances we created were via Max on the right, crossing for Finn K to head goalwards but see his effort blocked and then dribbling through to create an opportunity for a left foot effort from the edge of the box that the goalkeeper snapped up. This was about the best we managed, despite some tidy build up play, especially down the flanks, where Simon in particular was excellent on his full debut for the team and Jack doing what we know he can from left back. Oxted's first goal was a superb team effort that gave Ben no chance and the second a clever finish just before half time after we lost the ball playing out from the back, not helped by the long grass.

So 2-0 down at half time in the knowledge that despite it being early in the season, defeat to this particular team probably left us too much to do to be in with a realistic shout of winning the division (something that will be incredibly tough anyway due to the excellent form of Paddock Wood and given the quality we witnessed today from Oxted). But we were still in it at 0-2 - and despite not really deserving to be, that meant something.

The second half was a complete turnaround - after starting shakily and conceding a chance in the first minute, we looked assured, creative and dangerous in the final third almost every time we pushed forwards. It was a similar story to the first half, but just reversed. Oxted didn't play badly - we just played as well as I've seen us play and with as much desire as I've seen from this team. Finn P fashioned a really good chance for himself after a lovely ball from Joe, but his shot just flashed wide. It felt like it was coming and it did, in relatively familiar fashion, Albie's superb corner being met by Finn K, leaping like a salmon to power a header into the back of the net. "I shut my eyes and hoped" he said afterwards. Well it worked.

2-1 and all the momentum - we've been on the other side of that before and it's a tough score to defend. I felt for Oxted when the second goal went in because it was a proper stroke of luck - Warwick's cross looping over the goalkeeper and finding the far corner. "It was a cross" he said straight away... and I'm certain he was pleased the referee played the advantage from a foul he felt he deserved moments earlier. Well done ref - a good decision - and well done Warwick for putting the ball in there. You can't win it if you're not in it (or something along those lines!) - one of Warwick's great strengths is his positive approach to play and he's someone very capable of striking a ball with the power and swerve that means even if it is slightly mis-hit, it can still cause problems for defenders and goalkeepers. 2-2 and game on.

The lads went for it in admirable fashion, Louis and Finn P combining really well to create some further opportunities, Simon pushing forwards from right back to threaten and Jack and Joe combining well on the left. At the other end, Tom was his usual superb self, alongside Owen, whose drive and energy was an example to everyone today, Dylan and Sam both putting in hard working shifts in the CDM position in front of them, closing space, playing with their heads up and working their socks off in and out of possession. Ben continued his superb distribution and impeccable handling, not one catch, cross or shot spilled and the only slightly hairy moment coming when he bravely came out to save at the feet of the opposition striker and had his hand stood on which left us slightly concerned he may not be able to continue. That lad is made of iron girders though and a few tentative rotations of his thumb saw him declare he was fine and the gloves went back on.

The third goal was another corner, Jack delivering a tricky ball that was spilled and Finn K on hand to poke home from close range. 3-2 and what seemed like an unlikely comeback at half time was completed. A couple of lovely moves followed, Louis having a powerful shot well-saved and Finn K having a headed chance for his hat trick go wide. The fourth goal came from a brilliant back post header from Warwick, Joe delivering a sweet cross that Warwick directed expertly into the bottom corner from a few yards out.

We then nearly had a fifth after a sublime passage of play from the back, Joe playing Jack through, who skipped past two challenges and delivered for Finn P, who turned inside and laid the ball off for Louis, only for a defender to nick in at the last moment and make a fine tackle. Would have been goal of the day if it had gone in.

What pleased me most though, was the game management in the last 15 minutes. From the moment we scored the third goal, the mindset shifted, the players organised themselves, communicated brilliantly and every single one of them, from the guys who had been subbed off to Ellis who was there watching, still making his recovery from "the dreaded bug", to the 11 on the pitch, had the same energy and drive to see the game out. They didn't need me or any other coach at this point. And it felt like a moment we'd been aiming for and striving towards for a long while - as a group, as a team, they took full ownership of the situation. Great energy, great desire and you could see what it meant to them. Absolutely 100% from every player and at the final whistle I was massively proud of them and how they played the second half. Well done lads.

Huge thanks to James for running the line on his return to the coaching team. Credit to the referee, who I thought was excellent and a massive thumbs up to Oxted & District who not only a really well-coached and well organised team, with a clear plan of how they wanted to play, but a joy to watch and a superb attitude. We came out on top today, but we know it easily could have gone the other way and we're very aware of how tough the return fixture will be. Oxted are one of the best sides we've played in a long while and we're looking forward to facing them again hugely. With the exception of the state of the pitch, today was exactly what grassroots football should be about - 2 teams who try to be positive and play football, all the adults watching from the sides being encouraging and positive and a good referee who let the game flow and explained his decisions. Wish it could be like this every week... and by the end of the match was I thinking I'd had enough? Not even slightly... what an enjoyable morning and what a brilliant group of lads to work with. And with a date with our sister team, the Spitfires, next week being on 3G, I won't even have to revisit the hand mower for a while ;-)

Well done all. Onwards.

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Langton Green Phoenix 2 - 2 King's Hill
(Finn P, Warwick)

With a bye in the first round of the cup, we had a free weekend, which gave us the chance to play a friendly against a thoroughly decent bunch of folks from King's Hill, who were not only an excellent footballing side, but who also played in the right spirit.

After negotiating the thoroughly confusing set of roundabouts that lead to the King's Hill Sports Park (great facility by the way), we arrived at the 3G pitch on a windy, sunny and rainy (classic British weather combination) afternoon feeling slightly concerned that we should have left a trail of breadcrumbs to allow us to find our way back out again.

The game was a good one. A draw was a fair result, in a game where the balance of play shifted back and forth continuously and whilst we weren't at our best, there were some really pleasing moments. Simon did well on his debut, looking assured in possession and working hard at the back. We also debuted a back 3 for the first time this season, which looked very promising. Finn P and Warwick both scored excellent goals - Finn's a poacher's strike after excellent work to pressure the defender to keep up his goalscoring exploits of recent weeks and Warwick's a goal of individual quality and class from outside the box after some lovely build up play. Both worked hard up front on a day where they didn't get a lot of service to feet. Owen played central midfield in the first half and did very well in the early stages, breaking up play and driving forward with real momentum to break the opposition's press and create overloads down the middle.

Finn K and Ollie shone for spells in midfield, their relationship on the pitch going from strength to strength and Euan put in a handy shift as the left sided wing back in the second half. Ben was his usual reliable self between the sticks and his distribution was once again superb. Everyone chipped in with some good moments, but there was a bit of a lack of communication, desire and intelligence in possession at times - some basic poor decision making and "forcing" longer passes that were never on being a particular frustration given the work we've done on that... and both the goals we conceded were disappointing in terms of what came before.

King's Hill were a good team though - and they played some lovely football, with a clear plan. Second half got a bit disjointed for a while after our opposition suffered from a couple of injuries and went down to 10 players, but Connor very kindly stepped in and offered to play for them for the last 20 minutes, which he did very well.

All in all, a useful exercise, a chance to try a few things, some that worked and others that didn't and an enjoyable game of football against a team with a great attitude who challenged us with their positive forward play, particularly in wide areas.

Thanks for King's Hill - and to the referee, who was excellent. And we did manage to get back out again. The roundabouts were defeated!!

On to next week and a very tough league game against the team who sit top of the division after a very good start. We'll need to be at our absolute best.

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Langton Green Phoenix 8 - 3 Chipstead Falcons
(
Finn P x 6, Warwick, Albie)

A strange quirk of the league scheduling meant that despite being only on our fourth league game, we were facing Chipstead for the second week running.

After winning last week, we knew this would be tricky, with Chipstead keen to start as quickly as they had the week before (a penalty after 15 seconds) and for us, the danger being complacency, that would have been completely misplaced given Chipstead had pushed us all the way the week before and suffered slightly with a lack of subs on a warm day and a rather harsh look to the final score. With the added interest of the referee forgetting his whistle, we started with both coaches telling their teams to play to the referee's shout.

As it turned out, any worries about starting on the back foot were unfounded, the fast start this week belonging to us, with some lovely play through midfield seeing Finn P played in for a close range finish that gave the keeper no chance. That settled the nerves and with the referee being found a whistle, for the next 40 minutes, the lads played some lovely stuff, Ollie looking dangerous running with the ball, Joe and Connor offering an attacking threat and solid defensive work as our two starting full backs and Finn P in emperious form up front, scoring twice more to complete a first half hat-trick to put the team 3-0 up, the third being the pick of the bunch, Euan, Finn K, Max and Ollie combining well to set Finn P up with an excellent through ball from Finn K and Finn P made no mistake with the finish. Wonderful team goal.

At the other end Ben was solid and relatively untroubled in goal, partly due to the always reliable defensive work of Tom and Owen in front of him and partly because we had the ball a lot of the time. Our midfield worked hard, Dylan keeping the ball well, Sam doing the same when he came on and the width and skill offered by Max and Louis in the wide forward positions causing Chipstead problems, although it has to be said that their central defender was outstanding and denied us plenty of good opportunities. The best centre back we've faced so far. Euan nearly popped up with his second goal in 2 weeks after making a brilliant overlapping run into the box, clearly with a taste for the attacking side of the game, but the through ball didn't quite make it through to him. A boot to the head for Finn K and a superb Louis bit of skill to get a shot away the other notable moments of the half.

The half didn't end in brilliant fashion, Ben having his knee accidentally stood on when diving at the Chipstead forward's feet and the team then giving the ball away needlessly and conceding a silly corner that was bundled home to make it 3-1 on the stroke of half time to give Chipstead some hope. Game management is one of the things we've discussed a lot recently and this was an example of us not doing it brilliantly.

The next goal would be crucial and after Chipstead started the half in lively fashion, Finn P decided he wasn't having any of that and after picking the ball up wide left, drove down the line, cut inside, past 2 defenders and smashed home his fourth to (hopefully) make the game safe. In our best attempt at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, we gave away a bit of a soft penalty for a handball that VAR would have enjoyed dissecting, Thankfully for us, Ben on one leg is still a hell of a goalkeeper and he picked the right way and kept the shot out, the follow up flashing narrowly wide and a tricky potential 4-2 stayed at 4-1, which became 5-1 and then 6-1 as Finn P completed a ridiculous morning of goal scoring to have all 6 goals in our 6-1 lead. Having been doubtful for the game with a cold the day before, we ended rather glad he turned up and the round of applause he got when he was subbed off was thoroughly deserved. One of the best centre forward displays I've witnessed in 10 years of youth coaching. In between all that Finn K nearly scored a beauty of a long range effort that flashed over the bar, Louis and Warwick both had good efforts go just wide, Owen drove forwards with the ball and picked out Max with a brilliant pass that he did well to control and set Albie up for a well-saved shot. Some of the football was sublime at times, with everyone involved.

Warwick was rewarded for a lively display and some great running off the ball with a goal a few minutes later, the first shot saved and looping up for him to follow in and strike home from close range, Albie then getting in on the action with a close range shot of his own after great footwork from Ollie on the left and Louis was denied what would have been a thoroughly deserved goal by a simply outstanding close range save from the Chipstead goalkeeper.

One of the most pleasing parts of the morning was getting Ellis back into the action for the final 5 minutes of the game. Covid can be a nasty illness - I know from experience - so seeing Ellis on the road to recovery and back on the pitch was a good moment for the team.

A rather disappointing end to the match from our perspective saw us concede 2 late goals (the second time this season we've conceded 2 in the last few minutes of a match, only this time it didn't affect the outcome of the game) but nonetheless fruatrating. Again... that phrase game management springs to mind, although it was hard to begrudge Chipstead something to cheer as they'd stuck with it and stayed positive when things weren't going their way. Testament to their positive approach and I suspect they'll have a very successful season next year when they're one of the older U18 sides.

Well done all - some excellent displays all over the pitch and some great team football. I'm not a huge fan of singling individuals out for special praise, and every centre forward needs a good team performance around them if they are to have a good game, which was certainly the case today, but when someone scores 6 goals in a game you have to say it was a special performance. Well done Finn P - it's great to have you back.

A friendly against King's Hill next week as we have a bye in the cup, hopefully with a recovered Ben in goal and then on to face Oxted in the league, who have started very well indeed. It will be a tough one For sure, but we look forward to the challenge.

Onwards!

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Langton Green Phoenix 5 - 1 Chipstead Falcons
(Finn P x 3, Finn K, Euan)

After last week's hugely disappointing ending, the lads were keen to get the chance to make amends, on a trip to Chipstead, to play a side we'd never faced before, at a ground we'd never played at. And what a nice ground it was - with a good quality grass pitch that promised to allow for some good football if we could get the ball down and play.

Unfortunately, the 3 minutes at the end of last week's match seemed to have extended by 30 seconds into this week, as we conceded the quickest goal we've ever conceded, a penalty given after just 20 seconds of the game, that was smashed home to leave us 1-0 down inside the first minute! All good opportunities for the lads to learn and so it was, with them presented with another new challenge to face.

The important thing was to stay calm and not let the early goal affect the way they were playing. Patience and sticking to your principles are things we have preached over and over again, but the emotion of the situation is tough to ignore and unsurprisingly, with Chipstead's momentum and a bit of panic from us, we saw 10 minutes of fairly poor quality football from our side, where Chipstead created a couple of other good opportunities that we were fortunate to see go just wide or over the bar and we were relying far too much on Tom and Owen in the opening stages for my liking.

Things calmed down, and as we started to play, so the opportunities arose. Louis and Warwick both created chances from the left, Ben's distribution at the back setting the tone for how we wanted to play - accurate, intelligent and varied - and some lovely combinations in midfield involving Finn K, Dylan and the two full backs, Connor and Joe, allowed us to move the ball forwards through the thirds and create some good chances. Louis broke through to smash a shot/cross through the 6 yard box, Max coming in at the far post and just seeing his effort go wide. Warwick had a chance on the left, his toe-poked effort hit the side netting. Finn P had a shot smothered and several long range efforts were either blocked or went just wide. At the other end, Chipstead were threatening on the counter attack still and Euan came on at right back and made a couple of well timed tackles to stem the flow down that side. A couple of loose balls when playing out from the back gave us some unnecessary extra defensive work to do, Tom having to slide in for a couple of last ditch tackles. Well timed, and well executed - but he shouldn't have been having to make them in the first place if we'd been more intelligent and decisive with our play from the back.

Sam, Ollie and Albie all entered the fray and slotted in seamlessly, Sam playing the holding midfield role really well and covering the space in front of the back four where Chipstead's attacking midfielder had caused us some problems early in the game. Albie had a chance at the other end, powering through but having a defender nick the ball off his foot just as he was about to shoot and Ollie was his usual self with the ball at his feet, driving forwards, taking players on and creating chances.

It felt like a goal was coming, and indeed it did, some lovely approach play and patient possession football around the edge of the box seeing the ball fall to Finn K just outside the penalty area, his well executed volley with the outside of his boot powering into the corner of the goal to make it 1-1. Great finish to a really good team move. The game ebbed and flowed and with half time looming, the breakthrough came, Finn P smashing in a close-range effort after good play from Louis and Sam in the build up. 2-1 at half time and the message was clear. Stay patient, keep moving the ball, use the width, and the chances will come.

Second half felt like we played with a lot more composure, and it felt like we had more control of the tempo of the game than we had done earlier in the game. I nearly tripped over a water bottle (twice, and for some reason didn't move it from where it was lying - don't they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?)

Back on the pitch, Owen brought the ball out from the back and played a lovely forward pass in to Albie, who was unlucky to see his shot blocked. Dylan had shifted to right back and was making some really good combinations with the midfield and forward balls in to Finn P up front. Ollie was driving through the middle of the pitch, committing players and creating space, time and time again, but sometimes the lack of width and the delaying of the pass because of that gave the opposition defence an easier job than they might have had if we'd kept our wingers wider and created that space. A couple of changes and we remedied that, Ollie finding Finn P with a forward ball after some good midfield play, Finn taking a touch out of his feet and absolutely leathering a long range effort into the top corner. It was the crucial goal - and a very very good one. A couple more changes to shore up the defensive side of our game and with 20 minutes to go we felt like as long as we showed better game management than last week, we could see the game out.

Two more goals followed quickly, Finn P completing his hat trick after Finn K had split the defence with a sublime pass inside the opposition full back, for Max to run on to, putting a first time cross in that Finn P connected with, the goalkeeper saving it and Owen of all people, up from the back nicking in to knock the ball back across to Finn P to hammer home his third. He then very nearly had a fourth, but was well tackled in the box, coming off shortly afterwards, his morning's work done. Euan then got in on the act, his first "proper" goal for the team in an 11 a side game, a lovely looped finish after a clearance fell to him in the box to make it 5-1.

A couple of shaky moments at the other end meant Ben was called into action with some solid catches and we could have had another goal on two occasions, Warwick's excellent movement and tenacity setting up Albie, who was clattered in the box in a challenge that may or may not have been a penalty. The referee said no, and with his the only opinion that mattered, it was case closed. Warwick then hit a shot just over the bar after some good indvidual play from him and Louis had a shot well saved and Ollie hit a couple of long range efforts just wide.

In the end, a good performance and result, with some pleasing individual performances. It should be said that Chipstead suffered from a lack of substitutes on a warm morning meaning it was tough for them when we could make changes and freshen things up. We know what that feels like (last week being a point in case) and had they had the players on the bench to bring on, the game may well have been a lot closer. I was massively impressed with their attitude and approach, they came across as a great bunch of lads with a good team spirit, with positive parents and coaches and a team who play some nice football. Once their missing players are back, they will, I'm sure, continue to build and develop throughout the season. We play them again next week in a weird quirk of the fixtures, so we look forward to that and hopefully it will be another good game of football.

Well done all.

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Langton Green Phoenix 2 - 3 Paddock Wood Addicks
(Ollie, Louis (pen))

On another hot afternoon we had possibly one of the most frustrating afternoons of youth football this team have ever experienced.

Paddock Wood are a good side, with pace, skill and quality all over the pitch. This contributed to a good game of football, with both sides trying to play in the first half and our lads showing plenty of quality themselves to go 1-0 up through Ollie's deflected long range effort. He was on fire in the first half, picking the ball up in the middle of the pitch and driving forward, creating chance after chance. A handball saw us go 2-0 up through Louis' well struck penalty and we had other chances to make it 3-0.

2-0 is always a dangerous score though - and so it proved, PW getting one back just before half time after we lost the ball in midfield and didn't defend the resulting counter attack well enough - and setting the tone for a second half where we looked nervy and on the back foot. If you keep inviting pressure by giving the ball back over and over again it will eventually tell and with 3 minutes to go, after we spurned a brilliant chance to make it 3-1, PW went down the other end and equalised. 2-2 with moments left in the game and I would have hoped game management from the lads would have seen us shut things up and come away with a point, that was deserved on balance. As it was, we pushed forward for a winner and got hit on the break, conceding with almost the last kick of the game to go away with nothing from a game we were winning only a few minutes before. The fact we finished the game with 2 lads limping around and others absolutely out on their feet didn't help, but in the end we can only say well done to Paddock Wood for keeping going to the end and that we only have ourselves to blame for the manner of the defeat.

There were some bright sparks - Ollie was brilliant until he had to come off injured, which made a big difference to how we could play. Finn P was a handful up front and in the second half Finn K battled valiantly in midfield, with Ben H in goal making another ridiculously good point blank save to keep us 2-1 ahead. It was a tough day though - and some tired legs and minds at the end.

So 1 point from a possible 6 isn't the start we'd hoped for or expected, given the excellent work the lads did over the summer and pre-season. Plenty of games left - and we know this group are capable of much better than we saw today - but they're going to have to up their game if they want to be in with a chance of a successful season results-wise.

Another game next week against another new opponent - Chipstead - and hopefully we bounce back and get our season up and running.

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Langton Green Phoenix 3 - 3 Tonbridge Junior Samurai
(Warwick, Joe, Albie)

The opening game of our final league season in youth football saw the return of one of our favourite fixtures, against our friends from Tonbridge and their ever-positive coaches, Dominic and Hervé.

Always very even matches in the past, this was no different. Tonbridge started the stronger and more "up for it" and we were all over the place defensively in the first 10 minutes, huge spaces opening up on the big Bennett 3G pitch for Tonbridge to play their quick striker through on several occasions. We were grateful to Ben's sharpness and quick thinking to keep the ball out of the net.

The lads realised they needed to improve, which they did, a really good 20 minute spell seeing us create several chances, based on the communication and organisational improvements inspired by Tom, who was a proper leader all game. First Ollie dancing through several tackles to play Finn K in, who just failed to connect cleanly in the area, then the roles being reversed, an excellent through ball from Finn finding Ollie, who was just beaten to the ball by the Tonbridge goalkeeper. Connor and Max then combined well to create a chance from the right, Max's cross being struck well by Warwick from the other side of the goal, but well saved.

It felt like it was coming, and so it did, a superb free kick whipped in from the left by Joe, Louis getting a glancing header on the ball, which was very well saved by the goalie, only for Warwick to follow up and smash home the rebound. 1-0 and it felt deserved at this point.

But then we took our foot off the gas. A couple of enforced changes maybe changed the shape of the team a bit, with a lot of attacking players on the pitch at once, but that's probably an easy excuse for a spell of the game that just looked like we weren't playing with much intelligence, launching passes forwards with no real aim and dwelling too long on the ball. Again, it "felt" like a goal was coming, but this time at the other end, and it was another set piece that made the difference, a cheap corner to concede being headed home to make it 1-1.

We then had the ball in the back of the net through a superb strike from Finn P after a lovely bit of build up play involving Albie, Sam and Dylan, but the dreaded offside flag went up for what was an incredibly tight call. And then what the lads felt was a stone wall penalty claim from the lively Ollie turned down due to the sheer number of bodies in the box making it impossible for the referee to see, which is absolutely fair enough. No complaints there.

Second half both sides went out full of energy and commitment, but the game was scrappy and we didn't really hit our stride to start with, some poor defending leading to another goal for Tonbridge, who pounced after three failed clearances to go 2-1 up.

This seemed to fire the lads into life, Louis having some really good moments as an out and out number 9, holding the ball up well and playing Warwick and the lively Max in, but we didn't have enough width, we weren't using the ample amount of space on the pitch well enough and as our wide players came narrower in search of the ball, we became predictable and easy to defend against. Despite some tody play in possession, it was looking increasingly like we'd need a moment of magic, or a mistake from our opponents. In the end it was a slightly bizarre free kick, again from the left from Joe, whipped in brilliantly, but evading everyone and nestling in the back of the net for 2-2. Game on again - and the momentum back with the lads in green, for about a minute anyway, which was all the time it took for Tonbridge to score their third, a tidy finish from their nippy forward. Another close offside call, but very well worked and well taken goal either way and these things have a habit of evening out over the course of the season.

So it was that we had 15 minutes or so to try and snatch something from a game where we had been a long way from our best, but on balance of chances created definitely didn't deserve to be behind and felt slightly unfortunate given the three close calls of the game had all gone against us. The lads used that frustration well and I was really impressed with how they played the final stages of this game. They remained patient, recognised that a change of approach was needed with Tonbridge sitting deep and created a hatful of opportunities to score. We went to a 3-5-2 with Louis and Finn P up front and played more direct in the final stages with good effect. Pleasing to have a plan B, but even more pleasing that the lads recognised this themselves.

Max dribbled superbly through from the left, hitting the byline and cutting the ball back for Albie to see his shot saved. Owen had a free kick that threatened the keeper. Finn K got wiped out on the edge of the box and Warwick's subsequent free kick went just wide. Finn P had a brilliant chance from Joe's excellent sweeping pass that Finn controlled well and smashed goalwards only for the goalie to produce another superb save. The rebound from Louis was blocked by a flying leg and Finn K saw his follow up header go just wide. Headers for Owen, Finn K and Louis then just missed the target, and just as I heard the lads on the bench saying it just wasn't our day and pondering the forcefield that Tonbridge seemed to have erected around their goal, a superb ball into the box was brilliantly dinked over the goalkeeper by Albie for his debut goal for the team - and what a time to get it. Poacher's finish - and thoroughly deserved for his hard work in the closing stages.

3-3 and a couple of minutes left saw the lads decide to change formation again to shore up defensively after the experience of conceding so soon after scoring their second goal, but we still went for it and another brilliant forward pass from Joe set Sam free, but he was slightly off balance for his shot and it skewed just wide in the final action of the game.

So a draw probably a fair result, but we were disappointed with how we played for the most part today. We didn't keep the ball well enough or use the space intelligently enough in possession and without the ball we weren't compact enough. Hot day, huge pitch and first competitive game of the season all factors, but not excuses and we know we can do much better. Great to see 2 lads get their debut competitive goals and good to have Finn P back post-Covid. The minutes today will have done him good and he looked sharp in the latter part of the second half particularly.

Well done lads. On to next week and a tough match against Paddock Wood, who seem to have outdone us for excitement on the first day of the season by winning their opener 8-7. Yes 8-7!!!!!!!

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Langton Green Phoenix 7 - 1 Forest Row (friendly @ Ashurst)
(Warwick x 3, Max x 2, Jack, Dylan)

Our final pre-season friendly saw us play a side who we've not faced for many years after they moved to a Saturday league and then took some time out before reforming for the U18 season. With no idea what to expect, the lads took to the Ashurst pitch full of energy and determination, despite a long bank holiday weekend for several of them at the Reading festival where I'm sure they went to bed early and ate healthily...

On to the match and it started at a frenetic pace, neither team keeping the ball particularly well but Forest Row looking slightly livelier and winning plenty of the 50-50 balls. It was a disappointing start and we were reliant on Ben's saves and a couple of last-ditch Tom challenges to keep ourselves level. Scrappy defending, very little composure throughout the team at times and it was all a bit shaky. But, as the half continued our lads grew into the game and started moving the ball around like we know they can. Ollie was carrying the ball well from midfield and committing defenders to create space for others, whilst Max looked dangerous on the right and it took a couple of excellent saves from the goalkeeper to deny Warwick and Louis from close range after Max's excellent work out wide.

The opening goal was a strange one when it came - a free kick by the left touchline whipped in by Warwick avoided everyone and found its way into the top corner on the bounce. 1-0 and a goal that bought us a bit of confidence and it showed, the lads playing some wonderful attacking football over the next 10 minutes or so. Two almost identical moves saw crosses whipped in from the right hand side that Warwick connected with brilliantly at the back post. The first one drew an unbelievably good save from the Forest Row keeper, but the second saw the net bulge to make it 2-0.

Forest Row stuck with it though and scored a deserved goal after we lost our defensive shape, players were sucked towards the ball and Owen was left with the impossible task of marking two players in the box with no cover from his fellow defenders. A good finish and it was 2-1, but disappointed with our defending as a unit.

From the kick off, we nearly saw the perfect goal in my view, Finn K playing a cracking forward ball in to Louis, who held it up superbly, turned and played a delightful ball inside the full back to the onrishing Warwick, who very nearly completed a hat trick, only to be denied by some more excellent goalkeeping. Louis nearly scored from the follow up, but the keeper once again saved well before making a third save from Finn K from the edge of the box. Great quality football all round.

Second half and the lads saw out a shaky few minutes to dominate for the rest of the game. A third goal early in the half from Max, a really good finish after some more excellent possesion play from the lads, followed quickly by Jack, scoring in his final game for the team, getting the goal his performance deserved, his 141st for the team in 10 years, making it 4-1.

Further goals followed, first from Max, again, arriving with perfect timing at the far post to smash in his second with style after great build up play from Sam, Dylan and Louis. Next Dylan got in on the act himself, scoring from close range after a good strike from Louis was well saved following some lovely interplay between Sam, Finn and Jack, before Warwick completed his hat trick with a well taken goal after springing the offside trap and racing away to finish off a 1v1 with the goalkeeper in style.

In between all that we almost saw another perfect goal, Max playing a sublime through ball after Ben, Tom, Euan and Owen played superbly from the back, for Jack to run onto and hit an early cross that Louis connected with brilliantly only to see the ball skim the bar. Finn K found himself in a great position after clever movement off the ball and at the back Connor had another wonderful game at right back, both in and out of possesion. Some great tackles and excellent forward play made him the pick of the full backs today, Euan looked lively getting forward from left back and Joe played well in a cameo performance on his return from Covid where he got some minutes under his belt as he makes his way back to fitness.

All in all a very pleasing performance on plenty of fronts. Thanks to Forest Row for the game - they'll have a good season once they hit their stride. This was their first game in over a year and some of their players met each other for the first time tonight. First half they did really well.

Thank you to Brian once again for refereeing and to the guys who ran the line.

Which just leaves me to say farewell to Jack, who has been with us since the start. He's a superb football player and deserves his opportunity at Sutton United. We wish him all the best and will miss him enormously. And of course, we will miss James just as much. He's made my life so much easier over the last 10 years, helping out in all weathers, always offering up sage advice, listening to me ramble on and being there to set up, pack away and as a great support for the lads through thick and thin.

First league game of the season on Sunday vs Tonbridge Samurai. Onwards!!

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Langton Green Phoenix 1 - 3 TW Foresters 2010 (friendly @ Bennett 3G)
(Daniele)

Our second pre-season game saw us up against a side we've had two very tough games against previously and who we knew woule provide a real challenge. With several regular starters already on holiday, that challenge was made even greater when we had four players who would usually start drop out for the dreaded Covid-related reasons. First jab side effects, self isolating, track and trace... suspect we're going to have a year of this.

Thankfully, we were able to call on the ever-reliable Richard who stepped in from our Chiefs team to play at centre back and had a really good game alongside Tom, and three of our U16s, Will, Daniele and Sam, who stepped in and all did brilliantly. Thank you all hugely - we'd have had to call the game off without you guys.

A good start saw us on top for much of the first 20 minutes and both teams playing some really excellent football, keeping the ball well. Louis found himself played in twice early on but Foresters' defenders were sharp and physical and made it impossible for him to get a clean strike away. Will P was excellent in midfield, dominating the middle of the pitch brilliantly and his U16 team mate Sam was outstanding at left back, winning tackles and playing out from the back superbly.

Foresters opened the scoring with an absolute worldie of a goal that you had to applaud such was its quality (we seem to have a habit of conceding superb Foresters goals) but we stayed positive and equalised quickly when Ollie played a cracking forward pass to our third U16, Daniele, who showed great strength and tenacity to hold off two defenders and dink a peach of a finish past the excellent Foresters goalkeeper and into the back of the net to make it 1-1.

Unfortunately it all got a bit tougher when injuries / illness robbed us of Sam and Ollie, who had been two of our best players in the opening half hour and then Albie, who had looked lively to that point, who had to come off too.

That left us with 10 players, against a very good Foresters 11 and although we stayed firm and didn't concede during this spell (partly through some very good luck it has to be said), it changed the tone of the game and meant we were chasing possession against a side who were already keeping the ball very well. Defensively, Tom and Richard were working hard to repel everything that came their way, Ellis and Max both putting in hard-working shifts in the full back positions and Finn K and Will P both covering a huge amount of ground to help us stay compact. It was real backs to the wall stuff but it took its toll - and we had some very tired legs at the end and as the game wore on our shape and compactness suffered because of it.

It was during this period that Ben played one of the best half hour's of football I've ever seen from him in goal. One save was quite simply absolutely world class. If it had happened in a Premier League game they'd have been talking about it on Match of the Day for weeks, a point blank stop to push the ball over the bar from a powerful volley that defied science and logic. That was the best, but there were plenty of others. Man of the match by a mile and the reason we stayed in the game as long as we did.

Albie was able to come back on and we improved significantly after that for a 15 minute spell where the game ebbed and flowed and both teams could have scored, a couple of good moments involving Daniele, Warwick and Louis that nearly led to us scoring, Finn and Will playing some useful combinations in midfield to create a couple of half chances, but in the end, we just gave the ball away far too much to deserve to get anything from the game. For a team who say they want to play possession-based football, we didn't look after the ball well and a lot of our passes were lazy, or rushed. A lot of poor decision making with the ball from the Phoenix lads across the pitch today.

The fact we couldn't make changes and had played so long with 10 players, as well as Foresters playing very well, meant that the last 15 minutes of the game saw us out on our feet and Foresters deservedly scored a couple of late goals, the second of which was particularly disappointing to concede despite how tired we looked.

So two games in 5 days and both useful in different ways. Results in both are irrelevant, but performances not so and whilst we can make excuses about numbers of players, players playing out of position and tiredness etc, the fact is that we didn't play well today as a group or individually in our 1v1 situations and we didn't handle the challenges we faced on the pitch as well as we could, on and off the ball.

All in all a useful exercise against a very good team who will be there or thereabouts in the A division this season, no doubt. They're a team with a clear philosophy and way of playing that are obviously well coached. We wish them the best of luck this year and hopefully we'll get the chance to test ourselves against them again.

Huge thanks to the 4 guys who filled in for us. All did superbly, but a particular well done to the U16 lads, who were playing 2 years up. Great bunch of lads - attitude was outstanding throughout. They're a real credit to themselves, their regular coach, Gav, and the club.

And thanks to Brian, for refereeing free of charge and to Richard P, who despite being a parent of one of the U16 lads, stepped in to offer to run the line when we had nobody else. Thanks Richard.

Onwards... but that save from Ben I will remember for a long time. Outstanding.

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Langton Green Phoenix 7 - 0 Tonbridge Junior Tornados (friendly @ Ashurst)
(Louis x 3, Finn P x 2, Warwick, Jack)

Our first pre-season game of our last season of youth football (there will be tears at the end... what will I do with my time with no 50 page match reports to write) was a bit of a cobbled together affair given that we had 8 regular players missing, either away or unwell / injured. Jack returned to the side (and a huge well done to him on his exciting move ahead of next season) to fill in at left back, whilst Connor's friend Jude filled in for us at right back, having answered the call at the 11th hour (and we are eternally grateful to him for doing so, as it meant we had at least one sub, which was crucial with a couple of lads returning from illness / injury).

Tonbridge were also without a good number of regulars, but it didn't show for either side in the opening 20 minutes, where a very even contest saw us shade possession, whilst Tonbridge looked threatening on the counter attack, as they did during our 2-2 draw back in May. Some tidy build up play involving Ollie, Finn K and Dylan saw us hit the bar through Finn P's long range effort, and also saw Louis, Ollie  and Warwick go close with strikes from range. Connor was superb at right back in the opening 20 minutes, pushing forward and playing some lovely one-twos with Finn K in midfield, ably supported by the ever-brilliant Tom, who let nothing past him all evening and Dylan, who was filling in at centre back and played really well in that role, especially in possession with some great forward balls.

The opening goal came in the 20th minute, a corner routine we'd worked on at training (well done coach!) executed to perfection to see Warwick steal in at the far post to head home Louis' pinpoint cross with aplomb. He doesn't get too many headers, so it was a rare treat for our spectators to see him show such great technique to guide home the perfect far post finish.

At the other end of the pitch, Ben was out smartly to gather a number of dangerous through balls and his communication and distribution were, as has been the case over the last year, second to none. And of course Jack was outstanding at left back, creating overloads time and time again. I don't think I saw him lose the ball all evening. We will certainly miss him next season.

The second goal came after excellent work from Finn K to play a forward ball into the box, latched onto by Louis, who nearly scored himself, only denied by an outrageously good save from the opposition goalkeeper (who was excellent throughout). As all good strikers should, Finn P was followng in and was on hand to smash home the rebound and make it 2-0.

Our pressing was good for this stage of the pre-season, some real energy shown by the front three. Albie was causing problems and linking play up down the right hand side and did brilliantly to create a chance after turning his marker and cutting inside, his cutback just evading the touch of a team mate.

Jude came on and did really well at right back, playing the majority of the rest of the match and not putting a foot wrong. Having not played organised football for 2 years he really impressed me with his effort levels, ability to keep it simple and not overplay - and his attitude was first class. He played a good forward pass to set Albie away shortly after coming on and continued in that vein all evening. He told me he thought he might struggle for fitness after not playing for so long, but it certainly didn't show.

3-0 came from a VERY cheeky backheel from Louis, after Finn P had caused havoc in the box. Love the creativity to try that - great finish. Finn K had an outrageous long range strike very well saved by the Tonbridge keeper and a header from a corner flash just wide. Ollie (who played brilliantly this evening) was getting plenty of the ball, linking up well with Jack on the left and was also unfortunate to see a good long range effort just shave the post.

Half time and we asked for more of the same, which we got in spades in the second half. Tonbridge came back into it with real energy and we weathered a tough first 10 minutes of the second half, very fortunate not to concede after a loose ball bobbling round in the box just evaded several Tonbridge players and we escaped more through luck than judegement. We then lost a bit of concentration and Tonbridge got in down our right hand side but Ben saved well.

At 3-0 it was always going to be tricky if we conceded, especially being on the back foot at that stage. We scored at the right time though, Finn P slotting home an absolute belter after driving through 2 tackles, linking up well with Louis and hammering a shot into the back of the net, closely followed by Louis doing the same to make it five, Finn P this time dragging defenders away to create space for Louis to get his second of the evening after cutting in from the right.

Louis completed his hat trick a moment later, probably the goal of the evening in my view, Finn P being played in by Ollie, Finn laying it back to Warwick when he realised he was forced away from goal, Warwick whipping in a peach of a cross first time for Louis to head home from close range. Really good team play and superb communication and intelligence throughout. The game then went through a strange 3 minutes where the main thing that happened was that Warwick got flagged offside over and over again. It was the only time he was offside all game, but it happened so many times in such a short spell of time it almost felt like we were stuck in some kind of weird Groundhog Day scenario... I then got very badly stung trying to get a ball out of the nettles.

With the side still being expertly marshalled by Tom and Ben, Jack and Ollie creating plenty by committing defenders with Jack Grealish style solo runs, the boys were playing with real confidence. Ollie had to come off with cramp, but the lads continued to push hard into the last 10 minutes, Finn K having a half chance in the box well blocked, before Jack capped a brilliant performance with a wonderful solo goal, dribbling through 3 tackles before curling an absolute beauty into the bottom corner. He apologised afterwards, saying he was sorry he couldn't have scored a goal like that when he was playing for us, but I've seen him do that before, many times. He really is a special player and we wish him all the success in the world with his new club. We will miss him hugely and I would like to take this moment to say it's been an absolute pleasure coaching him over the last 9 and a bit years. We're a team, and everyone has played their own part in the journey we've had, but Jack is a player who has been there since the start and showed talent, resilience and commitment consistently season after season. A lot of the successes the team have had were made much easier by having him on the pitch, causing countless opposition players nightmares with his close dribbling skills and tenacity on and off the ball. #LangtonLegend

All in all a very pleasing performance. The team played really well and the lads executed their game plan brilliantly, even with a couple of players in positions they aren't used to and a bit of a makeshift look to the team. Great energy, great attitude and some excellent passages of play.

Having said that, we are under no illusions that when we meet Tonbridge in the league cup it will be a much closer game. They had a number of key players missing and like us, were coming back into pre-season after holidays, illnesses and injuries. So a great start, but not a scoreline we'll read too much into, just nice for the boys to get some minutes on the pitch under their belts and play some good football. Tonbridge are a very good side, we know that from the last game we played against them and from some good moments this evening. More importantly though, they are a thoroughly decent bunch of people - coaches, players and parents - which isn't something you can always say in youth football! Thanks for the game guys - and good luck in the league this year.

Thanks to Brian for refereeing and to James for helping me out today and running the line. Much appreciated. And thank you also to Tom's parents, who very kindly bought me a rather nice looking selection of beers to say thanks for last season. I shall enjoy those very much!

Even by my standards, a long match report. If you made it this far, well done...!