Invicta battle to preserve unbeaten run

The Reds travelled to West London for their fifth London Unity League game of the season with the intention of maintaining their unbeaten start to the new campaign as they visited Titans CRUK. The game summed up Sunday League football at its best – a 2 hour journey to the venue, players arriving minutes before kick off and no real warm up.

Following the comeback against Soho FC with 10 players just 7 days before – the team saw many changes with Daniel missing through suspension and several players unavailable for the game which ultimately gave others the chance to step in and get a run out.

The Reds lined up with Alex in goal, a back four of Billy, Dean, Gary and Harley, a midfield trio of Samuel, Ryan and skipper Chris with Jon as the lone centre forward flanked by Calum and Robert. On the bench was the returning Naomi, Lauren and Jamie. In attendance supporting was Chairman Colin, Thomas – still nursing an injury which has seen him miss the start of the current campaign and Daniel who was serving his one game ban.

The Reds starting line up and substitutes bench for the game

The Reds started arguably the better team during a close contest. The game plan was to stifle the midfield, play on the break and look for the early balls out towards Robert and Calum.  A small spell of dominance saw the Reds keep the home side penned in their half forcing several long range shots without really testing the keeper.

Titans were looking to get the ball into their midfield and look forward early balls over the top of the Reds back line. Gary and Dean looked comfortable as they dealt with any danger – with the duo using Alex as a sweeper to mop up and clear their lines.

Chris was in an unfamiliar midfield anchor role – much like a quarterback – sitting deep and looking to kickstart the Reds attack. With him being flanked by Samuel and Ryan who were doing a lot of the leg work in a congested middle third of the park and winning a lot of headers as they all did their defensive duty well.

Robert and Calum were always looking to break in behind their opposing full backs but without any real joy. Down the Reds left side Harley had his hands full with the Titans winger but dealt with any threat in a calm and composed manner. Down the right Billy – hot of his outstanding second half performance against Soho FC a week earlier – looked solid in defence intercepting several balls and bombing forward to support Calum down the right wing.

Playing the lone centre forward role – Jon had the envious job of chasing several balls and feeding off scraps. Any balls in the air were predominantly won by the tall centre half which gave the gaffer pause for thought of switching things up.

Titans were starting to grow into the game and had a couple of good chances to test Alex in goal but the defence didn’t rush their challenges and managed to either force a long range shot which saw several efforts go wide of the target or get a last minute block in.

The home side had their own secret weapon as their centre back had a long throw that was causing the Reds defence some trouble – it was pretty much the same as  defending a corner. The Reds had to remained switched on and focused as they dealt with any danger.

The pitch was becoming really boggy as a the game went on and it made the game a real scrappy affair with both sides unable to really gain a foothold and much possession.

A first change for the Reds came approaching the half hour mark as Jon was replaced by Jamie upfront. A different option for the Titans defence to contend with as Jamie would use his pace to run in behind. And almost immediately the change nearly paid off with Jamie having two half chances to open the scoring but unable to test the home sides keeper.

After a burst forward down the left hand side Robert was in need of a break and so Naomi was brought on in his place with Chris moving out side and Naomi adopting her usual defensive anchor role in the midfield. A much welcomed return for Naomi who had missed over a month of football due to a toe injury.

It wasn’t long after that a neat move down the left hand side which started with Harley at left back and ended with a ball into Naomi’s feet just out side the box – Jamie made the run to pull the defender away and open up for the shot. Naomi curled towards the top corner but the effort was dealt with comfortably by the Titans keeper.

Shortly before half time Calum needed a break and was replaced by Robert for the remainder of the half. The game petered out as the referee blew the half time whistle with the game still goalless.

The Reds regrouped at half time and made one quick changed with Lauren replacing Harley at left back. The rest of the team remained the same for the opening period of the second half.

The second 45 minutes proved to be a half of limited chances as both teams searched for the winner but ultimately came up short in the final third. As the half went on the rain began to fall which made the pitch even more difficult to maintain good possession of the ball.

Midway through the half Jamie was replaced by Calum with Robert playing in the striker role,  Calum to the right and Chris to the left. Chances were few and far between for both sides but Robert did have half a chance which he created himself when he broke from the left hand channel cut back onto his right foot just inside the Titans box – but was unable to place his shot in the far right corner.

Titans began to sit deeper as the half went on inviting the Reds onto them and then looking to break when they turned over possession. Twice they managed to break the Reds lines but on both occasions they failed to get a shot on target. From a cross from the Reds left hand side Alex made a point blank save low at his near post to force a corner for the home side.

The Reds made one final change with Jon back on in place of Lauren – with Jon playing up top on his own, Chris dropping to left back and Robert moving out to the left wing. Almost immediately after being reintroduced to the game – Jon nearly broke through but was unable to get away from the home sides centre half as the pitch started to become very heavy.

When the Reds did win the ball off the opposition deep inside their own half – Dean was always looking break forward and drive with the ball. This saw Ryan often dropping back into the defence to cover for his team mate – as the Reds avoided the situation of being caught outnumbered on the counter attack.

As the game approached the final quarter the home side won a series of corners which saw the defence hold firm. Alex played a commanding role at the back as he orchestrated his defence come and catch or punch the ball clear. A period of pressure for the home side which the saw Reds battle to keep their goal in tact.

One final chance presented itself for the Reds when Chris followed up on a ball over the top of the Titans defence and managed to get some contact on the ball but his close range effort was smothered by the home sides keeper – and no one was on hand to follow up on the loose ball as the home side cleared their lines.

The referee blew the final whistle on an even contest which saw both sides battle hard for 90 minutes and walk away happy with a point a piece. As the teams walked off the heavy pitch – there was fist bumps and elbow bumps all round as a sign of respect between both sides.

Full time – a tough battle but a clean sheet and another point to maintain the unbeaten start

Full Time Score – Titans CRUK 0-0 Invicta

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

What a game. 90 minutes. No goals. No cards. Not many fouls. Not many clear cut chances. Sounds a dull game right? It was far from that.

We were missing a few players today and had a few players that had been nursing injuries. Today 14 players made the long trip – it might only be the other side of London but for us its quite a journey and takes the whole day out. Naomi was back from injury and hadn’t played any football for over a month, Lauren was back for her first LUL game of the season and Jamie had previously only made a cameo appearance against Stokey.

We had a game plan and it worked. It took away a part of our attacking threat but we knew Titan’s strengths and we wanted to counter that by having additional cover in midfield. Everyone had to work hard to earn the result and a clean sheet was really pleasing. The midfield worked tireless, the defence looked solid and Alex had a really commanding game.

The match was played in great spirits. Both teams worked hard and battled well – and after the game there was a great sense of respect from both sides. That was fantastic to see.

We are still unbeaten five games into the campaign and its been a great start. We’re just taking each game as it comes. We have a break now whilst the second lockdown takes place – so we can rest up and nurse a couple of injuries. We can’t wait to get back.

Player of the Match : Gary Ginnaw

Next Game : To be confirmed – pending the second England lockdown