London Unity League
Venue - The Douglas Eyre Sports Centre
Report by: Speedie Gazelle
So we're back, actual full on football is happening, not stop start, social distanced football but proper Sunday hard tackling, goal poaching, yes I meant that flick football!
The stakes weren't high in the meeting of Stokey FC and Phoenix with this being the first match of a new season and the first since the virus took the beautiful game from us all those months ago. The venue, The Douglas Eyre Sports Centre a 10 minute BMX ride from my new home in Walthamstow, very happy! Fitness would be key and prove the deciding factor in what is usually an evenly matched game.
Pretty soon after kick off Stokey get into their established rhythmic passing game, calm, collected and classy but without threatening the Phoenix stand in keeper, Ex Captain Fantastic and now Magnificent Manager Steve. Soon Phoenix start the offensive with sporadic but beautiful moves particularly down the left wing, using Callum's natural left foot to feed the channel runs from Jack up front. The game starts to get a bit patchy but then the Stokey keeper gifts a goal to Luke, to be fair I missed this one, but Luke certainly didn't! 1-0 Phoenix.
Again Stokey ramp up the possession without taking it anywhere, Liam commanding the centre of defence with ease and Mike "Glutes" Luker intercepting well whenever it came near him. More good play down the right flank with Chris's non stop recharging hybrid engine running amok feeding Luke once again for his second. 2-0 Phoenix.
It was now that Stokey's key midfield started to churn things up, even though Captain Mabbutt won crucial tackles and used the ball well. His holding partner Casey had a storming first 20 minutes not putting a foot wrong before being replaced by new addition Seb. Then the comeback starts, goal Stokey, score now 2-1 to Phoenix. Pretty much straight after we witness another howler from the Stokey keeper, Mike "Glutes" Luker trying his luck from just inside the Stokey half which ends up fumbled out of the keeper's gloves and bounces sadly across the line. No celebration from Luker, he knew. 3-1 Phoenix.
The end to end excitement continues just before half time when a mix up in the Phoenix defences allows Stokey another goal. 3-2 to Phoenix and tempers start to flare, blame pointed at some but the football does the talking as Phoenix once again start to play, Harrison linking well with brother Jack whilst Luke harassers the Stokey passing game, Chris still running and recharging down the right.
Half time and it's anyone's game. The team talk consisted of simple clear instruction to use the ball better and play to the formation by utilising the width created by the wing backs it was the initial tactic from the start and worked well when used.
Second half underway with Phoenix starting to dominate, Phil replaces Chris at right wing back and gets stuck in stretching the Stokey team where possible. The half time advice takes effect as Kool Keeper Steve continually rolls the ball left to Mike who feeds the left side where Callum continues to advance, using other new arrivals Rash and Felipe to good effect. This avoidance of the tricky centre midfield where Stokey are strongest results in another goal for Phoenix with Callum's weaker footed shot taking a wicked deflection to make it 4-2 Phoenix.
Stokey's heads drop and constant pressure from the tireless Captain Mabbutt and Rash's sprayed balls from deep gives Jack the service he'd deserved all game long, unselfish play back inside to Harrison then on again to Luke for his hat trick! A measured finish into the bottom corner. 5-2 Phoenix.
Here's where fitness takes over, both teams tiring, Phoenix digging deep but a well stocked bench means fresh legs from Neil replacing Callum at left wing back. Back and forth end to end, chances a plenty for both sides with Phoenix not able to increase their deserved lead. Until Stokey pounce on some more miscommunication at the back, clawing another goal back. Rifling an effort high into the roof of the net. 5-3 to Phoenix.
Casey is returned to the centre of midfield to try and prevent more attacks through the middle, Seb's debut had been awesome in such a crazy game, Felipe too had some great interchanges with the front two. But the craziness continued from the questionable referee who failed to spot a clear 3 yard offside as Stokey's big man up top ran through to make it 5-4 to Phoenix. Chris's flag clearly raised and eyebrows from both sides meant a nervy last few minutes. Stokey's danger man fires a bullet to Steve's left but he flings himself and with fingertips pushes it round the post. Spectacular! Changes in the Phoenix defence brings Neil's power to peg
Stokey back down the right, he can still be heard grunting like a Tennis pro when taking throw ins...
After running themselves into the ground, and holding on whilst Stokey piled on the pressure Phoenix eventually finish this Sunday classic victorious! A well deserved win, the scoreline flattered Stokey a little but they fought hard, played well and probably should've got more from the heavy possession. Phoenix were tough and created many chances, I'd say everyone played well considering the fitness issue and lack of football in general.
Simon's reading of the game, covering the gaps, comfortable in possession and general managing of a tricky second half gets my overall man of the match display. Only player to stop Stokey's main threat by running him down to the corner flag and out of play. This was a really difficult decision as there were excellent performances all over including, Callum, Liam, Jack, hat trick hero Luke plus substitutes Felipe and Neil. Also Casey's 20 minute wonder spell!
Bring on Stonewall next weekend at the home of East End football, Hackney Marshes. Expect a crowd of Phoenix ex players turned supporters cheering on the team to another victory!