Whitchurch Mens 1s 3 – Keele University Mens 1s 3
Whitchurch travelled away to Keele this week trying to continue their good run of form and maintain their position at the upper end of the league, and they faced a strong, young and fit University team with plentiful number of substitutes, so knew from the off that the pace was likely to be high. This was indeed the case as Keele immediately laid on the pressure in the Whitchurch half with excellent movement and passing, with the defence of Danny Foulkes, Steve Kay, Airan Jones and James Partington under constant attack. There were a number of last minute clearances, and Paul “Sturge” Leigh in goal was instrumental in keeping the scoresheet clean with a number of critical blocks and dives.
The midfield dug in and spread the ball well, with Tom Forster, Alex Fry and Jack Barnes having to put in double shifts both driving the ball forward and chasing back as Keele counter-attacked quickly from any breakdown in play. It was a game with relatively few tackles as most of the Keele attacks were based on shifting the ball out wide with early passes rather than trying to go through or around players, and this meant that they managed the game well, used the ball to do the running and caught the Reds’ defence out on several occasions with smart passes through to their high men.
When they did break, Whitchurch made great use of the ball, with Sam Conway and Ben Kimberley working well on the wings along with rolling substitutes Euan Morris and Fred Egerton to ensure that the space out wide was used effectively, and this gave the Reds the first goal of the game; having got possession in the middle of the field, Whitchurch moved it up the wing quickly, got in behind the Keele defence, and the cross to a relatively empty dee was picked up by Nick Cooper who put it past the keeper for the first goal of the game. From the restart, Keele immediately attacked again, and continued to have the majority of possession, but a few minutes later in an almost carbon-copy play, Whitchurch moved the ball up the wing, round the back of the defence and a cross to Cooper was put away to take the game to 2-0 at half time.
The second half was more of the same, with Keele continuing to attack strongly but being repelled by the Reds’ defence, with Sturge continuing to make critical goalline clearances, and the defence doing enough to stop the many attacks, and then Whitchurch broken again to let Cooper pick up his third of the game in similar fashion. It was at this point that the difference in fitness between the teams started to come in to play: the youth of the Keele team allowed them to keep attacking, whilst the Whitchurch defence tired and started letting their markers go, giving Keele a chance to break through and get one past a diving Sturge. This gave them more confidence while Whitchurch heads dropped, and they followed it up with another strong pass through to an forward in the dee who was able to get his shot away. The short-corners kept coming, putting the Reds under ever more pressure, and a clearance from the last one fell to a Keele player who put through a pass that seemed high but was allowed, and that was enough for them to get the equaliser in the last minute of the game.
A frustrating end to the game for Whitchurch was balanced by the fact that the opposition had been very strong and the Reds’ goals had often come against the run of play, so the strong first half and persistent defending had meant that the draw was a good result from a tough game. The result keeps Whitchurch third in the league, and they play Oxton 4s next week at home.