KODAK YOUTH 1 V 4 KENSINGTON DRAGONS U12s
A daunting trip away to the runaway league leaders faced the Under 12s this weekend. The spectre of the 8 nil mauling at the hands (or rather feet) of Kodak was still hanging over us as we set off up the A40. They didn’t just beat us back in early December, they dismantled us, left us in bits, our confidence in tatters, scattered all over St. Mark’s park like discarded, Lucazade Sport bottles.
But this is a different team to the one that capitulated to the team in yellow earlier in the season. Although the personnel remains pretty much the same, the players have been transformed by the hard work and persistence of the coaching staff.
We welcomed back Ilya, Sidney and Joe for their fist games of 2014. But would the coaches tinker with a winning team that had performed so well last time out at St. Mark’s? As it turned out the changes were forced upon us by absentees, ironically due to Sport Relief duties. One half of our central defensive partnership and our new striker had been involved in a Davina McCall-esque 24 hour sport-athon and couldn’t make the Sunday morning drive out to Harrow, dealing us a severe blow before a ball had been kicked. But even before we’d learnt of our missing talismen, Jamal had forced his way into the starting line up as our lone striker with his impressive performances in training.
We knew this was going to be a tough match. Putting seven goals past Hillingdon at home last time out was a great confidence booster for the boys but this was a completely different kettle of fish. This was a serious test against a team that has been banging in goals for fun. Who have won 11 out of their last 14 games and lost only 2. But these are the games that you learn about your players and your team. These are the benchmark’s to see how good we are and how good we can be.
Yet again, the first few minutes were going to be important. It was vital that the Dragons imposed themselves and set the tone for the game. The opening exchanges were cagey, like two welterweights sizing each other up, exchanging blows and probing for an opening. And when one came, it came to the team in blue. Ilya’s rasping shot could only be parried by the keeper and Jamal, repaid the faith placed in him by providing an emphatic follow-up. Now the Dragons started to believe. Kodak looked dazed. This wasn’t in the script. They were on the ropes. The Dragons won the ball in midfield and played it out wide to Walleed on the right. He drilled a pass across the box, which was met first time by Ilya who buried it into the bulging net. The Dragons were 2 up and bossing the game. Joe, our long-legged, rangey midfielder was finally doing what we knew he was capable of. Reminiscent of Viera in his pomp, he was breaking up the Kodak attacks and along with Felix and Aziz they were dominating the middle of the park, launching our own attacks, releasing our pacey wide men and protecting our patched-up defence. As we took a hold of the first half, it was almost if Kodak couldn’t quite believe what was happening to them. They were rocked and they didn’t like it. They began to argue amongst themselves. Maybe they thought they were just going to turn up and give us another pasting. But that just wasn’t going to happen, not today. Reputations and league positions don’t win football matches. Hard work, and more importantly teamwork does that. We were first to every ball. Every 50-50 and every header had a Dragon name on it. Their coach tried to get them going with some choice words but it wasn’t long before Sidney burst forward with the ball at his feet and tore down the right wing. Cutting inside, he unleashed a cracking angled right-foot shot that flew into the top left-hand corner of the goal and the Dragons had a 3- nil lead at the interval.
We knew they would come back more organized, determined and aggressive in the second half and that’s exactly what they did from the restart. But we matched them in every department. A Captain’s performance from Franklin at the heart of the defence saw him marshaling his charges as they soaked up the early pressure. Now it was the Dragons turn to be on the ropes and for the first time we looked vulnerable. But we continued to play the ‘Dragon way’, passing the ball out from the back when the League leaders resorted to a more agricultural and direct approach. One such attack resulted in a goal for the home team. There was a moment when it looked like Kodak might rally and mount a fight-back but some well-timed substitutions restored stability to the Dragons.
With the clock ticking down Joe, with his deceptively lazy-looking gait stretched his long legs and drove out of midfield towards the Kodak goal. He glided past two defenders and coolly slotted home beneath the on-rushing keeper to seal a famous Dragons victory. 1-4. The home team were extremely magnanimous in defeat, commenting that our victory was well-deserved and that we were a vastly improved side to the one that they had faced earlier in the season.
There were some great individual performances out there today but once again it was an excellent team effort that secured the points. Every player that took the field in a navy shirt put in a serious shift. There was skill, guts and determination on display (the one mark in the negative goal column the only blemish on a near perfect display). If we continue to play like this then we have nothing to fear from anyone in this division.
We simply swept the league leaders aside. And seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces, players, coaches and parents alike at the end of the match, well, that truly was a Kodak moment.