Balmain Rovers v Hurlstone Park: Ewen Park, Hurlstone Park: Sat 29 April 2006
Match report by Jason Ives
While not entirely fruitless, last weekend's match against Hurlstone Park saw the Rovers just miss out on collecting some points from a hard fought game.
Unlike the previous week, Balmain had a full complement of reserves to draw from, and the appearance of not just a ref, but a linesman (er sorry, "Referee's Assistant"), gave us all a bit of confidence about the match ahead. OK, so the linesman was more of a lines-boy, being all of 14 years old, but surely that was better than having, for example, the home side's dog with a flag stuck in his collar. Quite rightly, Allan warned us in no uncertain terms not to get stuck in to the little tacker for any missed calls.
The game opened a bit shakily, as Hurlstone took advantage of a Balmain kick-off error. Almost immediately the backs and midfielders were scrambling to contain an aggressive attack. The next few minutes were a bit tense with one shot heading over the bar, and another well-stopped by Amir. After a while, Balmain managed to settle and then went on the defensive, with some good distributive play by Barry and Paul from the middle of the park and encouraging use of the wingers. Paul, who had been watched by the opposition in the previous week, was tightly marked, but often managed to create a bit of time on the ball, and it wasn't long before one of his crosses over from the left sailed into the box. The clearance was non-existent, and a nod in from Akin saw the first points on the board go to Balmain.
Unfortunately the lead was not to last, as a play down their right flank saw Hurlstone's gigantic Scottish forward (appropriately named "Jock") free past our back line, before slotting one calmly past Amir, who would have had more luck trying to stop an exocet missile. Probably the best way to describe the goal was "offside", and you could see Allan struggling to follow his own advice and contain himself as he looked with disbelief at the ref's assistant who, if he saw anything, wasn't telling.
For me, the rest of the half went by in a bit of a blur. We'd learnt our lesson from the big Scottish guy, and dispatched Ricky to man-mark him out of the game. One of the few times Ricky left the Scot's side was to take part in a bit of short passing in midfield with Gavin and Paul. Gavin slid the ball to the edge of the opposition penalty box, where Paul took the ball again, had a think about what Dennis Bergkamp would do and placed the ball coolly past the stationary keeper and inside the far post to see us 2-1 up,
In no time flat, Hurlstone Park again equalised, this time from a corner. Escaping his marker, Jock rose high to nod the ball back to the near post, where Justan tried in vain to block the goal scorer - about three times his height. Despite Amir making a bunch of excellent saves, we were punished once more as the big Scot played another team-mate in to see us 3-2 down at the half time whistle.
While the first half was a goal feast, the second half finished nil-nil. Overall, this was due to much improved play from the entire Balmain side with some good passing and committed defending which saw us both dominate possession and spend the majority of the play in Hurlstone Park's half of the pitch. Part of this was due to the inspired decision to place Serdar in at striker - his aggression and muscle really disquieted the Hurlstone defence - and also due to the fact that our players in the central midfield - Paul, Barry, Gav and Brendan - never stopped running back to defend and moving forward to create chances.
There were a few scary moments, including a Hurlstone Park goal disallowed for offside and a miss from two metres out by a Hurlstone Park forward too amazed that the ref hadn't seen a Balmain handball to shoot straight, but by and large the defence was able to stop most of what the opposing forwards could create (Ricky and Justan in particular never seemed far from the play), and a few great saves from Amir kept our deficit constant - especially that great dive at the end of the match to latch onto a header into the top right hand corner of the goal.
Unfortunately, we just couldn't seem to break through at the other end, leaving us with nothing to show for it after 90 minutes. However, while it's clear that none of the Rovers were satisfied with the end result, the atmosphere from the team was 100% different at the end of the game compared to half time. This week we're up against Strathfield, who are just ahead of us on the table, so let's forget about that first half, play like we did in the second and I guarantee we will smash them.
Full time score Rovers 2 - Hurlstone Park 3
Goals: Akin, Paul
Pele Points: 2 to Amir (sure we conceded three goals, but none of them were his fault, and we would have conceded three more at least were it not for his exceptional saves) and 1 each to Ricky (man-marked "Jock" off the park in the second half), Paul, Barry and Akin (not just for the goals, but for the constant graft and talking all over the park).