Balmain Rovers 4A Reserves v Concord
Easton Park, Rozelle
Sat 15 June 2002
Report by Fergal Murphy
For those wondering how the French or Argentinian teams are feeling right now, just ask any member of the Thirds squad. This was a totally one-sided game with surreal twists and turns that left the far superior Thirds team scratching their heads and a disbelieving Concord with three points and a victory to savour.
On arrival, the pitch at Rozelle was looking the worse for wear. The grass cover was gone from most of the pitch leaving a clay surface that wasn't going to suit Thirds' on-the-ground passing game.
Our troubles started early with no ref turning up. This is the second time Thirds were without a ref for their home game, which is unfair to both teams. Concord kindly offered to ref the first half with Thirds to cover the second half.
Thirds could only field 11 players, but had a strong team on paper with Mike A in goals, a back line of Rich, Kelly, Adam F and Neil, Jared and Mike W on the wings, Phil and Adam B in the middle, and Darren L and Fergal up front. From the off Balmain took the game to Concord, with some excellent movement around the midfield and wings creating problems for Concord. Concord chose to defend deep and in numbers. Despite being heavily marked Darren was getting good touches to set up the advancing midfielders and his partner in attack. A couple of excellent build-ups involving both wingers and midfielders resulted in good crosses to Darren whose great nod-downs were volleyed by Fergal but on both occasions flashed just wide of the post.
The Concord keeper (doing a good impression of Oliver Kahn) was proving to be in fine form, plucking dangerous crosses from the air and cleaning up after some sloppy defensive work. Jared was making his usual quality sorties on the left. Mike W had some similar success on the right and, with all the possession, Thirds were confident of a breakthrough.
Inevitably, the sustained pressure yielded a free just outside the box which Darren lined up to take. A sweetly struck left-footed shot curled over the wall but unluckily landed on the crossbar, with the goalie stranded. Just after this Adam B split the defence with a perfect through ball which Fergal chased onto and fired off a powerful shot that the keeper managed to touch over the crossbar.
And then things took a surreal turn. Concord hardly got the ball out of their own third in the first 20 minutes, and if they did our backline dealt with it easily. Another desperate clearance from Concord saw an equally desperate midfielder belt it high on down the field in the hope of relieving the pressure, even though there wasn't a Concord player in Balmain's half. Mike A in nets, who hadn't been within 40 metres of the ball for the whole game, came to collect the high dropping ball. The hard clay surface saw the ball bounce high over his head, and despite his best efforts to chase back, Mike found himself picking the ball out of the net, with all of Thirds scratching their heads in disbelief.
Phil and Mike W picked up injuries shortly after this, and struggled on as Thirds did not have replacements. Despite this Thirds continued their pressure, but Concord's packed defence was not keen to let the advantage slip, and made it very difficult to get a clear shot on goal. Concord also rallied around the middle of the field, taking advantage of Thirds' injuries to pressure our defence, but the back line held firm, using the offside trap very well and conceding very little. Kelly and Rich were in splendid form, dealing with anything Concord could throw at them. Neil supported well on the left, overlapping with Jared to good effect.
So ended the first half. Luckily Adam F's dad turned up so Balmain could ref the second half, and he did as good a job as Concord's ref. The second half started pretty much as the first had finished, with Balmain piling on the pressure and doing their best to break down Concord's six-man backline. Balmain was mixing the play effectively - but still no joy. Adam B was unlucky on a couple of occasions that his long range strikes were just off target. Kelly helped out the injured Mike W on the right wing with long runs out of defence and it was such a run that saw him get inside the Concord box and get off a great shot that grazed the outside of the post. Not our day.
And then, another surreal moment. A rare break by Concord saw a midlfielder put a through ball past our backline, which was almost on the halfway line. Despite well-founded suspicions of offside, Neil pushed the attacker wide to a very tight angle, but somehow a shot was struck that looped over Mike A who had come to close the angle. The goal was initially disallowed as it surely must have hit the side netting but protests from Concord, and honesty from Balmain, saw the goal stand. AAAGHH! Despite having 95% of the possession, Balmain was two down.
Thirds stuck at it. Fergal had a good chance dribbling through the box, but couldn't get the final shot past the keeper. Jared also ended some useful runs with good shots but found the last line of defence equally solid. It was a similar story for Mike W. Adam B, Phil and Kelly were providing quality through balls but there was always a small army of defenders to get in the way.
Concord did have more breaks this half, especially up the left, but Adam F made sure insult would not be added to injury. Darren was put through the middle by a perfect pass from Adam B, with only the advancing keeper to beat, but his lob was inches wide again. There were plenty of corners for Thirds but despite our best efforts, and many goalmouth scrambles, we just couldn't get the ball in the back of the net.
With the clock ticking down, Thirds got a break when Jared was felled in the box. Given Thirds' luck on the day, and the fact that the keeper had saved a penalty in his previous game, it wouldn't have surprised anyone at the ground if the penalty wasn't converted, but Fergal slotted it home. It was to be the last kick of the game and little consolation for Thirds, who played well, controlled the game, but still managed to lose to two very lucky breaks for the opposition, who celebrated as if it were a cup final. That's football.
The Pele points go to:
2 - Jared - worked hard to the end as always and eventually earned the penalty
1 - Kelly - solid throughout, with some strong forward runs, and unlucky not to score
1 - Rich - solid also, killing off Concord's attacks with some timely interceptions
1 - Neil - equally solid closing down the left side and for supporting Jared
1 - Adam B - constantly mixing the game in the search for opposition weakness, and provided some excellent through balls to the attackers, who for once could not find the net