Lineup: Touaita, Laing, Wensley, Torr, Davies, Shaw, Connolly (Tierney), Peel, Guttridge, Perkins (Chadwick), Tulip (Frost)
Goals: Tulip (2), Guttridge
With the rest of the league in cup action this weekend, Cubo had a chance to take advantage of their game in hand and rise to joint top of the Surrey Elite table with their local rivals Battersea. In order to do so, the Cubans had to travel over to Teddington (with the commute busy than usual because of some inferior sporting event going ahead at Twickenham) to take on previous league champions NPL.
This season, the NPL pitch lived up to Tulip’s billing and everyone was eager to get the game underway. The game got off to a slow but steady start from the Cubans, with plenty of the ball and little threat from the NPL side. The first chance fell to Cubo, coming from a partnership between two of the clubs longest standing players and a move that has been replicated on hundreds of occasions over the years, with Tulip standing the full back up on the left hand side before performing a couple of step overs to beat his man and sliding the ball across the six yard box for Perkins to tap into the NPL net. Unfortunately, on this occasion the linesman put a halt to the early Cubo celebrations with his flag raised aloft for a very tight offside call.
The left-hand side continued to bring joy to Cubo, however to little reward, with Tulip again beating his man on the outside and forcing a good save from the NPL keeper (although Guttridge is still moaning that the ball wasn’t squared to him) and Perkins having a penalty shout turned down for what looked to be a clear penalty. In a game like this, it is vital to make sure you take your chances when on top, otherwise the opposition have a chance to grow into the game and that is exactly what happened, with the busy NPL midfield starting to see more of the ball and create a few half chances. Luckily for Cubo, their back four and Tom Shaw, the pitbull in the middle of midfield, ensured that these chances were kept at a minimum and the NPL trio had little time to pick out the passes.
With around ten minutes of the first half remaining, a key 5 minutes for the game played out…with a ball over the top of the Cubo centre-backs making its way to the NPL right winger, who with acres of space looked destined to score. This was until out of nowhere, Cubo’s left back Davies, on his return from suspension, somehow got back and with an outstretched leg got a toe to the ball as the forward looked to pull the trigger, putting the ball out for a corner. The next attack saw Cubo down the other end and resulted in several corners coming their way, of which the second fell to Laing on the 18-yard box, who was able to get the ball under control and attempt a ball back out wide, only for his heels to be clipped and the referee awarding a penalty. Tulip stepped up and coolly tucked the ball away into the corner, putting himself as the clubs outright top scorer this season (which is no surprise seeing as that was his 3rd penalty so far). The half time whistle shortly followed, with Cubo confident that they move up a couple of gears and extend the 1 nil lead in the second half.
The second half began with NPL looking for a quick response, pushing their wingers higher and pumping balls long, which were proving difficult for Cubo to cope with as the sun began to set, hindering visibility somewhat. The first chance of the half fell to NPL, with a ball down the left allowing their forward in behind the Cubo defence and round Touatia in goal before squaring the ball across the empty net – luckily the Cubo defence had not given up and Torr was able to clear the ball on the line and Cubo narrowly escaped. For the next ten minutes, Cubo uncharacteristically struggled to keep hold of the ball and Tierney was brought on to add some energy and composure, of which he provided superbly.
The next goal was always going to be important and with Cubo having scored from four set pieces the week before and the long throw of Shaw in their armoury, a throw in from the edge of the NPL box allowed Cubo to put themselves two up and in control. Shaw’s throw was aimed towards Torr at the front post, whose challenge meant that the NPL defender could only head the ball back towards his own net, where Guttridge rose like a salmon above the NPL keeper to supply the final touch into the net. It felt like Cubo were now in total control, Peel was finding more and more space through the middle and any NPL charge was easily dealt with. That was until, a rare NPL entry into our box resulted in their forward being taken down and a penalty awarded. This was a big moment in the game, with 25 minutes left 2-1 would make it a nervy finish to the game, but Touatia came to the rescue and stood strong to save the penalty with his legs – a huge relief for the Cubo defence who were desperate for their first clean sheet of the season!
More energy was injected by Cubo, with Chadwick replacing Perkins on the right, which resulted in some nice interplay down that flank between himself, Laing and Guttridge. As NPL began to push more men up the field, Peel came into his own, picking up the ball and splitting the NPL defence with some exquisite passes, one of which provided the assist for the final Cubo goal – weighted perfectly with the outside of his right boot, the ball bamboozled the centre back and put Tulip through one on one, and after giving the goalkeeper the eyes, sent him the wrong way and the ball into the bottom left hand corner.
With twenty minutes remaining, Tulip sacrificed himself and his potential hat-trick by brining on Frost to sure the left flank. The game management from this Cubo team in the final quarter of the game was outstanding, keeping the ball and frustrating the tiring NPL team. With the game all but won, the key for the Cubans was to ensure they went away with a clean sheet as well as the three points, and this was guaranteed following some nervy moments in the final few minutes, with Wensley tracking back and blocking a close range effort and Touatia coping well with some tricky in-swinging corners.
All in all, this was an excellent performance from Cubo, with patience, quality and game management each on display as and when required. A big couple of months lie ahead, but with Cubo now only being held back from the summit of the league by goal difference, it is in their own hands and they should be confident of staying at the top moving forward through the season.
MoM – Tom Shaw. Epitomised the Cubo performance, with energy, aggression and leadership. Tom put a halt any NPL counter attack with his perfectly timed tackles and provided the base from which the Cubo attacks began.