Fluke shot robs gutsy Reds of opening victory
PFFC 2 Quinine 3
Today marked the start of Philosophy Football FC’s bid to clinch their first league title for almost a decade. If last season’s performances and league finish was anything to go by, it wouldn’t take a football pundit to work out that that trophies and glory should not be far away. Some strong and potentially very exciting signings during a busy summer transfer window have bolstered the squad, and this could well make the difference between finishing third and first.
Having suffered knee ligament damage during last week’s friendly, I was resigned to watching the first league match from the touchlines, which was frustrating to say the least. However, it did allow a front-row view of our preferred ‘dynamic’ in action.
Our opponents were Quinine, a team against whom we experienced mixed success last season. In the second game of last season we drubbed them 7-0; they then returned the favour in the latter part of the season, thumping us 5-0. Regardless of which Quinine team turned up, a strong performance would still be required to walk away with three points as we did on the opening weekend of last season.
Before I get into the action, congratulations to Kadeem, who was deservedly awarded Player of the Year during Friday's pre-season party in Meson Bilbao. This shows the importance of having a quality keeper; the security and confidence this creates throughout the team is invaluable.
The team lined up as follows; Kadeem was between the sticks with a back three of Andrea, Mario and Jesús in front of him. The midfield consisted of Leandro and Ally whilst Ömer covered the left wing and Will covered the right. Simon filled my boots alongside Matt in the number 10 roles, with James the lone striker. Colm was the only sub due to a couple of late cancellations. The lack of fresh legs and the injection of energy they can bring would later be felt by all.
The game started at a good pace with both teams having a share of the possession. The men in red started well and were soon playing the passing game which has become an integral feature of their chosen formation. Will and Ömer were getting ample service from the left and right backs as well as from Ally and Leandro. This allowed Simon and Matt to push forward and create attacking outlets for Will and Ömer. This good play was almost rewarded within the first 15 minutes when a well worked move down the left culminated with Matt taking an ambitious left-foot shot from the corner of the eighteen-yard box. The keeper was well beaten but unfortunately the under-side of the bar had the last word on the matter and it didn’t go in. Minutes later, Will played a superb ball through to Simon who beat his man and played a delightful cross into the path of James, who couldn’t quite squeeze his header past the keeper.
Quinine continued to play well despite the growing pressure and strung a couple of nice moves together which were ultimately thwarted by the strong defensive play of Andrea, Mario and Jesús. Jesús was playing well on his debut at left back and continued to pick up the ball in defence and push forward, constantly looking to create chances and openings. Kadeem might have been dreaming about playing for Manchester United as, despite Quinine’s pressure, he was barely tested throughout the majority of the first half and was largely a spectator. However, just before the half-time whistle blew, he was placed under the spotlight. A Quinine break down the right resulted in a ball lofted into the box. Ömer jumped to try to get a head on it and divert it out for a corner, but unfortunately it struck his hands and the penalty was awarded. The Quinine number ten took the spot-kick and, although Kadeem dived the right way, the ball was out of his reach. So Quinine went into the break 1-0 up. However, having watched a quality first-half display from the touchlines, I certainly didn't think we deserved to be losing.
Andrea gave a half-time team talk while the players tucked into the half-time bananas which Ally had kindly brought along. There had been enough good football played in the first half to know that we were still well in the game and could easily turn things around in the second half. This is a credit to the team and reflects the progression that has been achieved over the past two years. In previous years we might well have rolled over in these situations and let teams pick us off, but this is no longer the case.
Colm started the second half, replacing James as the lone striker, but apart from that, the team was unchanged. We started very well and came out the blocks quickly, which once again pinned Quinine back. Pressure was mounting and I had the feeling that a goal was not too far away; sure enough, it wasn’t. Good play from Jesús down the right resulted in a ball pinged across the box which beat both the goalie and centre back. Colm was there with the welcome sight of an empty net, he duly obliged and poked it home. 1-1 and the Philosophers were certainly still in this match.
Soon after this, however, the men in red were down to ten, but not for reasons of discipline or ill health. Matt was having problems with his boots and decided some urgent maintenance was required. Much to the displeasure of the ref he left the pitch and proceeded to tape up his boots, calling upon all his experience to undertake such a delicate job.
He hadn’t been back on the pitch long when Quinine re-took the lead after a good break resulted in their somewhat disagreeable and lumpen front man finding his way through and clinically slotting past Kadeem. This was frustrating as all our hard work to get back in the game would have to be repeated and doubled if we were to get those precious three points. But the whole team kept at it and, within ten minutes, our strong mentality and work ethic was rewarded when, for the second time in the game, we pulled level. Andrea took up a position on the edge of the box as a goalmouth scrap unfolded in front of him. The ball finally came out to him and without taking a controlling touch, he struck a superb volley far into the corner, out of reach of the sprawling keeper. I can only assume that Andrea had been watching videos of Jermaine Defoe on Youtube before he came to the match.
With the game delicately in the balance at 2-2, it was too tough to call a winner, as both teams looked as though they could win it. A couple of difficult chances fell to Colm and Matt in the last 15 minutes but they were unable to convert them. Unfortunately, it was Quinine who would find the next breakthrough and take the lead for the third time. A long ball was played over to their forward, who was now becoming increasingly unpopular with our players, especially Ally, and he somehow scored a goal which can only go down as a ‘freak’ goal. He picked up the ball on the touchline following a lofted cross and as he fell over he somehow got a foot on it which lifted it over Kadeem and into the net. One can only assume that a thermal or sudden gust of wind must have taken the ball in. This was a bitter pill to swallow and for the first time in the game, it was clear from the touchlines that this had dealt a psychological blow of fatal magnitudes to the men in red.
To add injury to insult, the Reds were dealt another big blow when Mario limped off down the tunnel with an ankle injury. This would later be diagnosed as ligament damage which will consign him to a spell on the side-lines in the ever growing injury list.
In spite of these blows, the team battled on for the last ten minutes but could not quite find a way back into the game, and the points were Quinine’s when the final whistle rang out around South Park. In spite of the defeat, there were many positives to be taken from this game and if we play like that every week and show the levels of commitment and passion that were shown on Sunday, I have no doubt that we’ll finish in the top 1 – as long as we field a full squad each week.
It is important to state that it is imperative that we have at least three subs available every Sunday if we have any ambition to take this title – especially as four subs are being allowed this season. Next week we face Grafton. If we want to finish as champions, these are the kinds of games we need to be winning. I will be in Dubai this weekend but will be following the action on one of the many Al Jazeera sports channels. Good luck, boys!
PFFC (3-4-2-1): Kadeem; Andrea (1), Mario, Jesús; Will, Leandro, Ally, Ömer; Simon, Matt; James
Substitute: Colm (1)