Balmain Rovers 4A Reserves v Sydney University Reserves
Mahoney Park, Marrickville
Sat 16 June 2001
Report by Adam Freeman
Following last week's narrow and rather bizarre loss, this clash was billed as a "must win" game for the Rovers. Three points would keep us on track for the finals, moving us above Sydney Uni into third place, perhaps second depending on other results. As additional motivation, the Rovers were keen to avenge their disappointing first round loss earlier in the season. Our "home turf" would be the ideal place for this. Unfortunately, Marrickville's Jeff Fenech Sports Centre can hardly be considered home - and there wasn't a great deal of turf to speak of either.
Rovers' depth was to be tested with a number of key players unavailable due to injury and wedding commitments.
The team lined up as Johnny Barker in goal with a four man back-line of David Birds at right back, Donny Nicholas and Craig Brown in the centre of defence and Paul Smith playing in the unfamiliar role of left back. The three in the middle of the park were Paul Millard, Sam Tekin and Millard's mate Ian, last seen in the State Cup squad. The wingers were Emrys Hughes on the left and Adam Freeman on the right, with Nick Hopkins spearheading the attack up front. Despite failing a fitness test, Ricky Onsman was the lone substitute on the bench.
The game plan was to keep it tight at the back, have the three midfielders dominate play and feed the wingers and Nick up front.
After a period of players adjusting to the unfamiliar lineup, the Rovers started to settle with the midfield moving the ball around well. It was pleasing to see the back-line playing the ball out from the back to the midfield with Browny and David in particular looking assured on the ball.
Nick's strength and running was causing the Sydney Uni defence plenty of trouble in the early stages, while Emrys wide on the left was making strong runs, regularly beating his man and crossing the ball well. For his efforts, Emrys was rewarded just on 10 minutes in with what must be a candidate for goal of the season, unleashing a cracking first time left foot shot from way outside of the box that thundered into the net.
Rovers 1-Sydney Uni 0. As Big Ron might say, "Blimey, Spotters Badge for Hughes - he's given that the full gun, Rovers 1 up, early doors" (sorry, I have been taking a course in Ronglish to improve my match reports, more gratuitous quotes to follow).
Although Rovers continued to play some good passing football, Sydney Uni did look threatening on the break. Unfortunately, this was illustrated when with Rovers pushing forward, Sydney Uni's pacy striker latched onto a long ball in plenty of space to score.
Balmain 1-Sydney Uni 1, which despite plenty of chances falling to both sides, notably some good long-range efforts from Sam Tekin, was the half time score.
The feeling at half-time seemed to be that the game was there for the winning. If we could keep the Uni striker well marked and tighten up a little in the midfield, the sexy football for which Rovers are becoming known for would win out. Rovers made a single substitution at half-time with Nick Hopkins coming off to take a well-earned break before the Firsts match and Ricky going on. This resulted in a reshuffle with Ricky taking his usual place at the heart of the Rovers defence, Browny pushing forward into the midfield and Paul Millard replacing Nick at centre forward.
Early in the second half, Rovers earned a corner to be taken by a very-much-in-form Emrys. The corner was met strongly by the head of Craig Brown, scoring the sort of goal that Tony Adams would be extremely proud of. Rovers 2-Uni 1. Full of the confidence gained by regaining the lead, Rovers went onto what was probably their best period of the game. Ian caught the eye with some great passing and the pace of Paul Millard stretched the Uni defence.
"Millard thought that the full-back was gonna come up behind and give him one really hard"
When Paul was brought down from behind in the box, the referee pointed to the spot. Up steps Browny to take, unfortunately the keeper made a great save. Again, Paul Millard outsprinted his marker to latch onto a great long ball. This time the defender could not get close enough to bring him down. Making no mistake with his shot, Millard extended the Rovers lead. Rovers 3-Uni 1. However, just when our heroes looked like running away with the game injuries struck to make things very difficult. First, Ricky took a bad knock on his calf, temporarily forcing him from the field for urgent attention. Since we had no reserves, Rovers where forced to play briefly with 10 men.
"They must go for it now as they have nothing to lose but the match."
Uni seemed to sense an opportunity to get back into the game. Their players streamed forward. Only an outstanding full stretch save from Johnny Barker prevented a goal.
"Ricky Onsman - he's the rock that the team has grown from."
Ricky returned to the field to soldier on. Although clearly in pain, his battling presence was key in repelling the Uni attacks.
Next Emrys, who was playing a blinder, was injured during another of his surging runs down the left flank, forcing him from the field. For the remaining 25 mins of the match, Rovers were again to play one man short. During this period, Rovers lost their shape and Uni pulled one back to make the score 3-2.
It was now that the fighting spirit in the Rovers side was required and although it wasn't pretty, Rovers dug in to repel the Uni pressure. David made some critical tackles and organised the right hand side of defence. Donny held strong, as he had done all game. Ricky battled bravely away. Paul Smith adapted well to the left back role, covering plenty of ground, winning the ball and using it well. The rest of the team scrambled back to help out. Spirited stuff. Rovers hung on until the referee finally blew the final whistle - much to the relief of a tired Rovers side.
"They've done the old-fashioned things well; they've kicked the ball, they've headed it..."
Special thanks to James Mackie for refereeing, Nick Hopkins for helping us out and Ian for being this week's Conrad. With some key players to return we can go into next week's clash against top-of-the-table Abbotsford with plenty of confidence.
A hard decision for Pele medal points after the team pulled together well in trying circumstances.
3 Points - Emrys, for a fine all round performance featuring a great strike, a well-taken corner and plenty of running.
2 Points - Paul Millard, for a great goal, countless good runs, and lots of effort in tracking back during those last desperate moments.
1 Point - Donny "Mr Consistency" at the back keeping us in the game with some strong tackles and holding his ground under pressure.