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Reds Win Opening Game To Make History

The Reds travelled north to Haringey for their opening London Unity League fixture of the 2020/21 campaign and first competitive game since pre-lockdown on 14 March 2020.

East End Phoenix FC had started their campaign a week prior when they won 6-0 away to London Titans FC – an impressive victory. The Reds made the trip face off against the early leaders of the London Unity League in a match which the would prove a stern test for the Reds.

With a large squad and many players available at his disposal – the gaffer faced a selection headache as he prepared his troops for the first game of the new season. The squad was eventually whittled down to 17 with the Reds lining up on day one with Alex Hill in goal, a back four of Daniel Crump, Scott Hollingsworth, Gary Ginnaw and Sam Bushnell. Across the middle was new Club Captain Sam Sevenoaks, Ryan Harwood making his LUL debut, Samuel Timms and Calum McKenna. Up front was Robert Nguyen and Kieran Allen. The substitutes bench was made up of Dean Chambers, Jon Allen, Chris Kent, Naomi Reid, Harley Bagnall and Colin Ginnaw.

The team warm up ahead of kick off on a very hot Sunday afternoon in North London

The home side looked keen to attack the Reds from the off as they went with a front three early on and made the Reds defend the slight decline on the pitch. The referee was running late and so a substitute referee was called in for the opening 6-7 minutes of the game to avoid any significant delays.

The opening ten minutes were cagey to say the least as both sides looked to find each other out. The home side were looking to get the ball into the feet of the front three as much as possible or play a long ball over the top to test the Reds defence. The team looked calm and composed at the back with Alex commanding his area and playing as a sweeper to mop up on any balls that were over hit. When the ball was going out of play the Reds looked to slow things down and not exert themselves in the heat early on.

With the game starting to settle down the Reds looked to move into their quick and short passing rhythm that had seen them play so well during pre-season. The Reds had quite a lot of possession early on as the looked to retain the ball and not give it away easily. The home side were restricted to counter attacks and long range shots. Alex made two outstanding first half saves early on to deny the home side and force a corner on both occasions. The Reds defence looked solid from set pieces and were rarely troubled as they dealt with the threat.

Ryan and Samuel were given clear instructions to hold the midfield and avoid the temptation to venture too far forward early on. The attack was to be via the wings with Sam and Calum or playing the ball into the strikers feet. Robert and Kieran were getting plenty of touches early on both dropping deep to receive the ball or making runs in behind the home sides defence. The movement from the pair made it difficult for the home sides back three to pick them up.

Chairman Colin greets LUL Chairman Brian Silk

The Reds won a corner on around 15 minutes and with some routines organised on the training ground – it was time to put them into practice. Samuel took the first set piece with Kieran on the goal keeper and the rest of the team ready to attack the ball. It didn’t quite go to plan – these things rarely happen at the first attempt but the danger was there to see.

Midway through the first half Naomi replaced Ryan in the middle of the park to bring more defensive stability to the team. Alex was comfortable playing out from the back as the home side rarely pressed high. Gary received the ball numerous times and fed Sam down the left. Some quick passing saw Calum breaking down the left and winning several throw ins high into the Phoenix half. A few long throws didn’t quite land where we had hoped but one ball fell to Robert who hit the shot on the turn narrowly avoiding the target. Signs the away side had a goal threat in them.

The opening goal arrived not long after. Invicta won a corner on the left hand side which Kieran went over to take. The team had discussed how to attack set pieces pre-game and a well organised set-up saw Naomi find herself unmarked in the box to score a bullet header from about 12 yards, the ball crashed past the keeper and into the roof of the net to give the Reds a 1-0 lead.

This seemed to spark the home side into life. They soon looked to get their football going and the wide players were beginning to become more of a threat for the Reds defence. A further change for the Reds came when Sam Bushnell was replaced by Chris with Calum dropping back to left back. Soon after the Reds doubled their lead. Sam Sevenoaks controlled a ball out on the right wing and whipped his cross into the box towards Kieran. Kieran’s first touch was sublime as he brought the ball down and then turned to volley across the keeper and into the far corner. 2-0 to the Reds.

With around 10 minutes to go before the break – the home side really started to turn the screw. Down the Reds right Daniel was being tested on a regular basis. Several dangerous balls were whipped in but Gary, Scott and Calum were in control. A break for Phoenix down the Reds left saw the cross whipped in towards the neat post but Gary was on hand to deal with the threat and force a corner. From the resulting kick Alex was quickly off his line to grasp the ball with a firm grip.

A change then came for the Reds with Jon replacing his brother Kieran upfront for the remainder of the half. The Reds stood firm as they denied the home side a way back into the game. One further chance was created by Invicta as the ball spun through for Jon who hit a a shot from just outside the box but was unable to find the target.

The referee soon blew the half time whistle which gave the Reds the opportunity to get some drinks on board and regroup.

Plenty of drinks being taken on board at every opportunity during a very warm day

The team started the second half the same way they had ended the first. The gaffer primed changes ready to be made within the first 10 minutes of the second half. The aim was to go for the third goal to kill the game off. The home side had intentions of their own and this was clear from the restart.

East End Phoenix had made changes of their own as they looked to find a way back into the game. They instantly pushed further up the field and began to press the Reds more often.

When the ball was given away in midfield the Reds broke – Robert found himself one on one with the centre half just outside the box on the right hand side. Most were expecting him to take the shot having beaten the defender – but he looked up and saw Jon in space. A very selfless Robert crossed for Jon but his ball was just behind Jon and the home side cleared their lines.

Sam sticks tight to his opponent as he watches the Reds attack on the far right

The Reds switched things up with Harley on at left back for Calum and then Kieran back on for Sam Sevenoaks with Robert moving out to the right wing with the hope he might find some space to cause the away side some problems.

The Reds were dropping deeper as they looked to hold on to their lead. A lost ball high up the field saw Phoenix break down the left and Reds right with a shot going all the way through and finding the bottom corner – much to the disappointment of the whole team. But this never saw any heads drop. If anything it made the Reds more determined.

Chances to extend their lead were few and far between as they home side had a lot of the ball as the game went on. The Reds were beginning to tire with a lack of match fitness beginning to show. Ryan replaced Jon to switch to a 451 and shore up the midfield. With Kieran moving up as a lone target man.

Invicta had a few chances as the game entered the final quarter of an hour. First from a corner the ball dropped just outside after a headed clearance to Gary who took a touch and then hit a left footed shot but it was straight down the middle and easy for the keeper to grasp.

The home side looked dangerous and created several threatening openings – however, the Reds forced them to take long range shots and majority went high and wide without testing Alex in goal. The Reds were made to concede a few corners late on along with several throw ins in the final third but the home side were not able to work any clear cut openings.

When Gary won a ball just outside the box form a Phoenix throw he broke down the left wing. With only space ahead of him he decided to just keep running hoping to draw a foul high up the pitch at the very least. A well timed recovery challenge from the home sides defender – who won the call the ball with Gary  landing on his head. A short stop came in play as the referee dealt with a slightly dazed Gary.

The Reds slow down play as they see out the game

The Reds entered the final ten minutes of the game with Sam Bushnell back on at left back for Harley, Calum replacing Robert down the right and Sam Sevenoaks replacing Kieran up front.

When the Reds looked to play out from Alex at speed to break the ball was played put down the left most of the times. Several times passes were over hit which gave the home side the ball back instantly. And with Calum’s pace the Reds looked to try and go long with balls over the home sides defence – but playing down hill meant the ball picked up pace and sailed through to the keeper on two or three occasions.

There wasn’t much time left as the Reds seemed to find a second wind and muster the energy to thwart any attack from the home side. The Reds won themselves a corner and then decided to keep the ball down in the corner for as long as possible as they used their experience ad game management to run down the clock.

Late in the game Chris dropped back to left back to allow Sam Bushnell to play just in front of him on the wing. It wasn’t long afterwards that the referee blew the full time whistle on a well earned and hard fought victory for the Reds.

The jubilant Reds celebrate a hard fought three points

After the game we caught up with the gaffer Gary who had this to say :

What a fantastic game and performance from our team. The game was played in great spirits by both teams. It was a hot day and Phoenix caused us a lot of problems. They made us really fight for it late on and we had to dig in to grind out the result. We managed to hang on for a huge three points.

I have a lot of respect for Phoenix and the way they play the game. I went over and spoke to them after the game all after the game. I praised them on their play but also they refusal to let the game go. It made it really difficult for us and we expected the worst when they grabbed a goal back. But we managed to battle and hang on.

The referee praised both sides after the game which was really encouraging. We had never won an opening game of the season in 8 previous attempts. So for Invicta this a momentous occasion. We know what our goal is this season and we have set ourselves some targers. We all worked for one another today and it was a team performance. We have to improve out match fitness for sure.

I was pleased for Naomi and Kieran who both took their goals well. Ryan started for the first time in a Reds shirt and Sam had his first game as captain. The first half was really pleasing from everyone.

We move on to next week which will be another huge test against Stokey FC.

Goal Scorers : Naomi Reid and Kieran Allen.

Assists : Kieran Allen and Sam Sevenoaks

Player of the Match : Alex Hill

Pope Street Bar & Kitchen Player of the Match – our No.1 Alex Hill

Next game : Home to Stokey FC in the London Unity League on Sunday 20 September 2020