Back on hallowed home turf last week and we welcomed the Pumas of Milford to Kiln Lane.
This, the team, who we had pushed hard at their place finally losing 3-1. So revenge, of sorts, was in the air.
Ideal conditions for football (not too cold, skiddy top) and after an extended warm-up, we were set fair.
Badgers were without dependable right-back Jack Scott, in his sick bed, and venerable leader Will McKinney on international duty (school event), but with the new addition of Adam Pankhurst (a warm welcome to Adam) we were down only slightly on numbers. And with Cap’n Marvel away it was Louie French who assumed the skipper’s armband.
In a rearranged XI, Gaffer Peter Scott carded a slightly unfamiliar line of:
James Maynard Ben Sadler Tom Gregson-Hill Ollie Jackson
Adam Pankhurst Max Davis Louie French Archie Mariner
Alex Fenton Luc Cordier
…with Toby Meadows, Jacob Carter and Jack Sadler warming up on the side-lines.
Toss done, ends called….pffeeep on the ref’s whistle and we were under way.
And from the off Badgers were under the kosh! Pumas were into us. By crikey! Wave after wave of attack: down the flanks, through the middle…it was going to be a long day.
Ben Sadler at the back was holding together the back-four almost single-handedly. And when was breached, his namesake Sewell was on hand to scoop up all the loose balls and collect the shots.
New-boy Adam Pankhurst was beginning to find his feet and assisted by James Maynard on the right flank, he and James were settling into the game well.
We were still struggling to match the pace and tempo of Milford though and with their Nr.3 seemingly controlling the game we were, at times, chasing shadows.
No doubt about it, Milford were massively on top: stats showed 85% to 15% possession in their favour! Or it would have done if we had such stats!!
But as hard as they puffed, Milford could not breach the stoic Badgers defences. Word again this week to our fabulous left-back Ollie Jackson. Having the season of his life, Ollie leaves nothing on the pitch and again was digging in! superb effort from Ollie.
Archie Mariner, in front of Ollie on the left flank, was also starting to stamp his authority on the game. Throwing himself into tackles, breaking up the Pumas raids which saw a demise in raids down our left: great work Archie.
In the middle the two work-horses, Max Davis and Louie French were putting themselves about in defence and in offence, were starting to make in-roads into Milford. A couple of decent through balls (one each from Max and Louie) saw Luc Cordier and Alex Fenton split the Pumas suspect defence. Luc fizzed a shot (only just) wide and Alex was eventually closed down.
But after a very difficult start, Badgers were now on equal terms; no doubt about it. Hassling, hurrying the oppo and now really coming into the game
Another corner forced…and one which should have led to the opener. Tom Gregson-Hill’s trusty left foot swung in a pearler, and Alex Fenton, unmarked, leapt salmon-like, connected head with ball but alas it lacked the power to beat their keeper. It was a marker and a message to our visitors that we had some weaponry though….and we were going to use it!
A couple of rolling substitutions, saw Toby Meadows and Jacob Carter introduced. And some fresh legs added some needed impetus. Toby breaking up the oppos play and Jacob tracking back when needed and looking up for it going forward.
A couple of shots were traded, Badgers rasping another shot wide (again from Luc) and one from Milford which hit the stanchion, before the referee brought first half proceedings to a halt.
Badgers had held on well and repelled Milford, but for all their attacking presence, Pumas had not created anything golden.
Tight, tough, tense.
Second half started similarly with Pumas assuming control.
But with a rearranged XI, Tom up front with Luc and the impressive Jack Sadler on in a defensive-midfield-leftback-offensive-leftwing position (yes, you read that correctly!) Badgers started to eek out some chances.
Archie and Jacob by now had taken control of midfield. Ubiquitous Jack played Tom in down the left. Tom beat one defender, then another but his shot was wayward and lacked power.
It was a marker though.
And now the Opta stats were heavily in our favour. But raid after raid was being soaked up by the Pumas.
Luc went close, Alex broke through a couple of times and now the Badgers were more than in it; we were dominant…..and, erm, dominating!
Then, the moment.
Jacob and Luc connected well, ball fell loose and “smack!” against the Pumas Nr.3’s hand. “PENALTY!!” we all cried. And a shrill blast on the referee’s whistle confirmed as much.
The referee was marking out the position for the free-kick. What? The offence was a good metre inside the area surely?
From this reporter’s position it was blatantly inside. And looking for confirmation, I got the nod and verification from the side-lines from one of our coaching team (who shall remain nameless but who is Scottish and whose name rhymes with Pugh) who had his arms wide apart and stating “yards!!”.
No matter. Referee’s word is final and good on the boys for accepting it and not arguing.
And argue they needn’t have.
Because, ball placed on the edge of the area, Luc stepped up and smashed the ball past the organised wall, static keeper and almost through the net!
A just reward for the incident and for the past 10mins of Badgers power-play.
1-0….but still plenty of time left.
The expected riposte from Pumas sort of came. But again without required penetration.
The Badgers were resolute and steadfast, and were holding firm. And as the seconds ticked away, so did Pumas confidence and chances.
Final blast on the referees instrument ended a finely balanced game; and Badgers a hard fought victory.
“YESSSS!” – Badgers posse were ecstatic…..”they’ll be dancing in the streets of Brockham tonight!”
First (league) win in….um, a while and our first clean sheet of the season: outstanding effort boys – very well done.
Funny old game football. Having won 10-1 in the cup a couple of weeks back, this slender 1-0 victory was just as impressive…if not more so. Always good to win the tight contests.
Onwards, Together, Up the Badgers #UTB
Man of the Match: take a bow Archie Mariner: superb in his defensive midfield role.
Reporters Star Man: for his all-round effort, chasing lost causes and being a real team-player, Alex Fenton was magnificent.