Line-up: Hutchinson, Laing, de la Haye, Wensley (Torr), Seymour, Shaw (Tierney), Peel, Cross (Brooks), Tulip, Perkins, Chadwick
With the excellent 3 nil win versus Merrow a week earlier, Cubo wanted to carry on 2019 in a similar fashion, with a huge top of the table clash against local rivals Battersea. Cubo made the short trip across Earlsfield with a strong team and the talk prior to the game was all about playing to their strengths, with freedom, while ensuring they matched Battersea physically.
From the off it was clear to see that it was going to be difficult to get the ball down and play on the narrow and bobbly Battersea surface. For the first twenty minutes the game was tight, and it was hard to see where the first opening would come from. It became apparent that Battersea were going to play with their wingers high and look for the ball over the top at any give opportunity, hoping to either get in behind the Cubo defence or force a throw-in, from which their returning seasoned long throw-in master could take advantage of. With twenty-five minutes on the clock, the ball bypassed the Cubo midfield and Seymour was left one-on-one with the Battersea right-winger, as he moved into the box he cut in on to his left foot and slotted the ball into the bottom left hand corner, putting Battersea 1-0 up.
Although a big set back to the Cubo team, their heads did not drop and carried on throughout the first half to try and find an opening to level the game up. Peel, Perkins and Tulip all found themselves in space running at the Battersea back line and a few half chances fell including two close range free-kicks, unfortunately all came to no avail. The closest Cubo came to levelling before the break came from a chance created by our very own chief long-thrower, Tom Shaw, who launched the ball into the Battersea box to see Laing flick the ball on, only to see it slide agonisingly wide of the far post!
The half-time team talk was centred around adapting to the pitch and ensuring that we stay in the game until our chances come, there certainly was an opportunity to exploit the Battersea full backs and we believed that could be the way to get back into the game. The first ten minutes of the second half were all Cubo, pushing high and seeing their forwards get on the ball more and more, however, just like in the first half, no clear-cut chances fell. Against the run of play, Battersea had their first attack of the half and they forced yet another long throw from a dangerous position – from this, Hutchinson pulled off one of the saves of the season, clawing the ball back from behind him as it looked destined for the back of the net. Unfortunately, Cubo were not off the hook yet and the resulting corner was not defended adequately, with the second ball being floated back into the box and onto a Battersea head before finding the bottom corner. After the positive start to the second half, Cubo were now 2 down.
Cubo faced a tough task to get anything out the game but it was clear to see that the motivation was there, knowing that a loss would put us 5 behind the league leaders. Brooks was brought on, with the aim to get on the ball and feed our forwards and straight away this resulted in a big opening for Cubo – with Brook’s forward pass blocked by the Battersea midfield, the ball fell to Peel in the middle, who was able to make some space and play a ball inside the Battersea fullback with the outside of his foot through to Tulip, who bearing down on goal from the left was able to fire home his tenth of the season. Cubo were back in it with about 25 minutes to go!
With the momentum on their side, Cubo kept pressing and pressing, looking for that equaliser. The best chance fell to Chadwick after an overload saw the three Cubo forwards facing two Battersea defenders, and after Perkins fed the ball into the box Chadwick found himself one-on-one with the keeper – unfortunately his shot fired against the side netting rather than between the posts. Cubo hoped that they could create more and more openings like this, however, following a foul from Shaw (which resulted in him being replaced by Tierney as a precaution to avoid him being sent-off), Battersea were able to extend their lead as the shot-come-cross from the set piece was able to float into the back of the Cubo net, killing the momentum they had built up and realistically ending the contest.
The last throw of the dice was to send on Torr and plonk him up top but it is clear to see that his threat comes from set pieces rather than from his movement and positioning during open play. The game therefore petered out and the referee ended a disappointing afternoon for the Cubans. Although the title challenge is still on, particularly with the fixtures coming up over the next month, this result means it is going to require an extended winning streak if Cubo are to be at the summit come the end of the season, hopefully beginning at Worcester Park next weekend.
MoM – Ralph Wensley. A tough one this week as there were not many stand out performances but Ralph, as ever, was dominant in the air and kept the big strong Battersea forward quiet for much of the game.