The Ladies 1s travelled to Harpenden this week, and despite it being a grey and damp day, the team were focused after a productive training session in the week led by Coach, Dina.
Harpenden had only won 1 out of their 3 games to date, so we were keen to bring our game to them. Skipper, Faye, ensured our pitch warm up was thorough with her usual flair for encouragement as we got our heads on the game with a variety of stick and ball exercises.
The game started with Harpenden taking the push back and unusually hitting the ball straight into our half and off the back line. Their plan however to quickly unsettle us and put us under pressure in an early defensive hit out did not phase us as we moved the ball smoothly out of defence.
As we progressed into the first half, we settled well into our positional set up and even though Maria had not played the top diamond role in prior games, she commanded it well and worked hard to support and distribute the ball without compromising her positioning.
Helen maintained composure on the right when under pressure to get the ball through to the midfield where Abi frequently put her vision and skills to great use by relentlessly penetrating the Harpenden defence and executing some well placed balls.
Harpenden tried in vain to use their preferred right side attack, but having a little inside knowledge of this tactic (as it was Jo’s old team!), we were able to prevent any real effective build up of play. Emma W held her position well to successfully cut off or intercept some of their desired passes right, whilst Megan had her work cut out with a skilful ex Badminton Olympian who couldn’t make much progress with the ball whilst Megan was on her case!
Jo, in left defence, made sure that she stepped in front her player to cut off the attempted line balls.
Our side line ball options were well supported by Skipper, Faye, who was always on hand as well as in open play to provide an outlet to move the ball on and out of congestion.
Harpenden had a few successful attacks where they succeeded in earning a couple of short corner opportunities, but none troubled the defence with GK, Vicky, in control and throwing herself to the ground for the cause!
Harpenden’s goal came from an open play shot at GK, Vicky, where the ball then deflected off of her up into the air and as it dropped behind her towards the goal, Jo tried her best to guide it down with her stick but missed (eye test required!) and unfortunately couldn’t react in time to stop it from rolling over the line.
We were not despondent by this though and instead were quick to put pressure back onto Harpenden working the ball around our attacking D with Megan, for the second week, giving a demonstration in how to turn into a player and gain a short corner decision!
At the half time talk, despite being 1-0 down, the team were positive and Dina reinforced the benefit of taking quick free hits and movement off the ball where fitness would become key.
Going into the second half, Harpenden started well with a desire to push up and in doing so, we had to soak up some pressure going into our defensive end for a short time. Ellie worked hard to try and intercept whilst Emma P nailed a very tricky reach to jab the ball away from their No 7 player in the D who may otherwise have troubled Vicky.
After that we regained our composure and instead it was Harpenden who became unsettled and they received two green cards in quick succession for poor tackles. We tried to capitalise on this opportunity by pushing up and attacking hard and whilst we had some chances, Harpenden’s ‘experienced’ defence prevented us from making further progress.
As in previous games, our upper hand with fitness once again proved crucial and this combined with maintaining our structure and passing the ball effectively gave us significant possession and attack. Emma W and Emily on the wings drove the ball hard and left those marking them trailing behind! (Thanks to Abi’s mum, we have the photos to prove it!)
Sarah and Ali up front continued their work rate off the ball and Ali, who earned the well deserved ‘Man of the Match’ vote got herself in some good positions and overcame several players, but was prevented from executing a finish into the goal.
We were awarded a number of short corners in the second half but a combination of good defending by the opposition and our slight lack of execution meant we had no success in converting any of those advantages to a much needed and well deserved goal or two.
In the last 10 minutes of the game, Harpenden set themselves up tactically to try and maintain their 1 – 0 advantage. All their 11 players camped in their own half, along with adding in a 5th defender on the back line, to make it extremely difficult for us to penetrate the D. However, we were not put off by this and our determination to equalise at the very least was evident as every ball Harpenden hit away off the pitch to try and run down the clock, proved fruitless as we retaliated quickly with more attacking play and maintained the pressure on them right up until the final whistle.
Whilst of course we were disappointed by the result which did not reflect the run of play, we were commended by the opposition as being the toughest team they have played yet and one player even said they had a ‘not deserved’ 1-0 win! Their umpires also referred to the all round quality of our conduct on the pitch.
Despite having 4 games played now and no points yet secured, we are not disheartened as our strength and depth of play continues to build each week, and 2 of those 4 teams already played currently sit in the top 4 of the table!
We head in to next week’s game with determination and whilst we realise that we have to refine our short corner routines at training, Dina will also continue to build on our channels of play to aide our progress.