Phoenix 2021 - 2022

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...!