Chester Men’s 5s 4 Whitchurch Men’s 1s 4
Whitchurch had a difficult away game this week against Chester, and struggled to replicate their performance against Bowdon last week. Like last year’s fixture against this team, they found a number of umpiring decisions frustrating, and this raised tempers and a loss of composure duly followed. This set the tempo for the match, where the Reds could never quite find their rhythm, and certainly not the wide, expansive, flowing hockey from last week. It was a shame, because for several periods in the game, they had control of the play, and put together some good passages of passing hockey on a wet day where the pitch was slippery and control was harder than expected. Chester had a very good central midfielder who was the standout player in their team and was able to take the ball through the middle and around several players, and it took some time for the Reds to find ways to neutralise him – and not always completely, as the score line shows.
It was Whitchurch who went ahead first, with Nick Cooper getting a shot away after what became the pattern for the goals for the afternoon – a surfeit of players in the Chester dee, and the ball moving around until persistence paid off. The Chester goalkeeper made a number of decent saves over the afternoon and the Reds could have scored more, but it was Chester who then applied pressure. They were able to drive down the wings effectively and left a man high, and were able to chip away at the defence until eventually it paid off: a hit from outside the dee only came off Sam Conway’s stick before going in, but had apparently also touched a Chester player so was given as a goal, shifting the momentum back towards Chester.
This marked the start of frustrations for the Reds, and their composure began to wane. As decisions didn’t go their way, they were continually on the back foot. Some cards were shown, which increased the pressure, and Chester were able to grab more goals. Whitchurch responded and, as with last week’s game, success came from width; Tom Forster drove well down the left wing, and Fred Egerton had another good game in attack. Jack Barnes, Joel Leese and Rob Chappell controlled the middle of the pitch, with Ben Kimberley offering pace and control up the right. Conway, Pip Jones and James Partington flanked Danny Foulkes at the back, and again were able to build attacks from either side of the pitch. Dale Seymour showed great skill driving through the Chester defence to lay off passes to Cooper who continued his good season in the opposition dees.
In parts, Whitchurch showed the same skills as against Bowdon, but it was their composure that let them down more this week rather than any specific lack of skill. Passes didn’t always find their targets; driving through players wasn’t always successful, and the runs didn’t quite come off. Paul “Sturge” Leigh was instrumental in goal, getting player-of-the-match along the way, making a number of critical saves as Chester burst through, and the score line would have been significantly worse without his solid efforts. With the game as finely balanced as it was, having that strength and safety net at the back gave Whitchurch the chance to build up from the back, but as the two umpires gave conflicting decisions for a free hit, Chester took advantage and were able to score another quick goal, while the Reds were trying to set the other way.
The game ended four-all, with Nick Cooper scoring all four for the Reds as a result of the good teamwork and passing play that Whitchurch have shown they are good at this season. What they need to work on is the composure and control when things aren’t going quite to plan. It still leaves them top of the league and undefeated, and they are at home to Sale 2s next weekend.
Whitchurch Men’s 2s 2 – 8 Birkenhead 2s
After last week’s Whitchurch wash-out, the Men’s 2s welcomed Birkenhead 2s to SJT on a bright, sunny Sunday morning for the rearranged fixture. The Wirral side have been impressive since the start of the season and are likely to be battling for the two promotion places at the end of the season, so this was always going to be a tough match for the young Whitchurch side.
Despite only fielding 10 players, the away side took control of the early stages of the game. Whitchurch were being forced back towards the edge of their own dee, but Brendan Coburn and Wyn Morris defended resiliently and with support from the midfield, Birkenhead were finding it difficult to properly threaten the Whitchurch goal.
Chances started to come as the first half progressed. Keeper Gareth Teggin made a couple of good saves and several short corners came and went for the Wirral side. Whitchurch were finding it difficult to make any progress into the Birkenhead half. The 2s were creating their own problems with a tendency to dribble or delay passes, and the away side were quick to return the ball back into dangerous areas. Eventually Birkenhead took the lead with a well worked goal.
The goal seemed to wake up Whitchurch and they began to get to grips with the game and make some progress up the pitch. The ball was being moved much quicker through midfield and Joe Coburn, Luke Beddow, Richard Leigh and Ethan Gresty were getting on the ball in the opposition half and finding width from Will Gilbert and Joe Faithfull.
Birkenhead were still dangerous, but as one of their attacks broke down, Whitchurch were swift to counterattack. Jacob Buckeridge played an incisive diagonal pass to Euan Morris, who squared the ball, taking two defenders out of the game. As the keeper rushed towards Fred Delf-Rowlandson, he slipped the ball to Ethan Gresty, who fired into the unguarded goal to level the scores.
Whitchurch, buoyed by the goal, continued to attack, playing some good hockey in the process. The home team were unlucky not to take the lead. Birkenhead did well to hack the ball away from their goal line and the keeper made an excellent save to tip the ball just over the bar from Euan Morris’ flick at a short corner.
Alas the gulf in experience between the two sides was exposed right at the end of the first half, when Birkenhead once again took the lead, from a short corner. Gareth Teggin made an excellent save from the first strike, but the in-rushing Birkenhead player steered the rebound into the net from waist height.
Despite this set-back Whitchurch came out at the start of the second half and played some excellent hockey. The passing was swift and accurate. The ball was being protected and recycled where necessary and the visitors were struggling to get a stick on the ball or escape their own half. The good play was rewarded when Luke Beddow swept home an equaliser to make the scores 2-2.
Birkenhead looked to strike back immediately. Despite Whitchurch working hard to restrict space around their own dee, their opponents were very clever to find feet in and around the dee for free hits and short corners. After a little bit of sustained pressure around the Whitchurch goal the away side duly took the lead for the third time.
Again, Whitchurch were undeterred and continued their own good play. Doug Buckeridge and Alex Leigh were stepping out of defence to provide width in the attacking areas of the pitch and Birkenhead were once more pinned in their own half. A nice exchange of passes saw Joe Faithfull drift in from the right and find Euan Morris in the dee, his shot across the keeper unfortunately hit the post and rebounded to safety. After another neat passing move, the same player was then unlucky to see his close range shot deflected wide of the Birkenhead goal.
With Birkenhead playing on the break, there was always a risk that Whitchurch might get caught out, and once again the away side’s ability to win free hits round the 2s’ dee lead to their fourth goal.
This time Whitchurch couldn’t find a way to respond. Their play became desperate and ragged. The things that they’d done right for most of the second half, up to that goal, were less evident and the self-inflicted problems of the early stages of the first half reappeared. Birkenhead were quick to exploit this and, as legs tired, they scored four more quick goals to run out 8-2 winners.
The score line was harsh on Whitchurch who were still in the game, against a very good side, until the fourth goal went in with 10 minutes to go. They were a little unfortunate to go into half-time a goal behind and they were very unlucky not to make the score 3-3 midway through the second half. But the collapse at the end of the game was disappointing. The team will learn from this experience and Birkenhead’s captain very graciously had a little team talk with the side to praise their hockey and explain what was good and bad about the passages of play.
There were a lot of good individual performances for the 2s. The midfield played very well for most of the second half especially. The defending was resolute, and Gareth Teggin made several good saves at important moments in the game. But it was nice to see Ethan get his long-awaited first goal in senior hockey. He’s been close and he’s been desperate to score, so now he’s up and running the team will expect more goals from midfield. No pressure!
The 2s will pick themselves up from this defeat and look to put together a full 70 minutes of good hockey when they travel to Runcorn on November 9th.