Starting XI: Arnold, Jones, Hooper, Ingle, Golding, Thethy, Joyce, Cooper, Neville, Noble, Ward.
The anticipated anarchic whispering was absent from the home dressing room at Barn Elms on Saturday as player/manager Tom Hooper was given the all-important vote of confidence by players alike following a tough start to the new season under his regime. Rumours of an imminent departure were fuelled by a revelation he has recently moved out of London and into Sussex. Hooper has since dismissed these claims and suggested his is “happy” where he is and asked that the media respect the privacy of himself and his family. Chairman Benjamin McGeown was unavailable for comment last night.
Despite the tricky start to the season confidence was high and a squad of 12 assembled to take on the relatively unknown quantities of Mint Green Army Veterans, themselves in a mixed vein of form having won two, lost two and drawn one to kick off their season in notoriously problematic Wimbledon & District First Division. Cubo’s squad was sparse and missing notable absentees including Watkins, Crisp, Spokes, Mulligan, Simmons and Lye but to name a few so with the limited resources available, Hooper shuffled the pack and ensured that Cubo had a strong XI to challenge a powerful looking MGA Vets side.
Another notable absentee was the typical November weather, instead replaced with mild sun and clear blue skies imitating the baby blue armies famous striped shirt. Goalkeeper Arnold was also missing and speculation of him oversleeping after an X-Factor marathon the night before were left unconfined as he arrived to join up with the team.
Hooper combined with a regular back 4 of Arnold, Jones, Ingle and the ever-present (except 1s duty) Mr Cubo Tom Golding. The 4-2-3-1 ensured that Joyce returned to partner Thethy in front of the back four with Cooper playing wide left, the FieldMarshall in familiar territory wide right and out-of-form Henry Neville; hoping to notch his first goal of the season; returning to his preferred situ in the number 10 role playing just off summer signing Sam Ward up front. The Birmingham lads vocal approach and passion was evident to all. He wanted this.
Critics have been quick to jump on Cubo’s slow starts in games this season and as it wasn’t long before the powerful presence of the MGAV front line looked to exploit the new CB pairing of Hooper and Ingle. A mis-placed back header from Ingle needed quick thinking from Hooper to clear the ball out and into touch. Cubo needed to settle themselves and it wasn’t long before the powerful number 10 of MGAV beat the offside trap and forced Arnold into a brave diving save at the feet of the attacker. With the noticeable height difference between the teams it was paramount that cheap free-kicks and corners weren’t given away by the Cubans.
The energetic Thethy and Joyce started to enjoy more free time on the ball and looked to play in Cooper and Field, both with sufficient ability & pace to burn off most full backs in the division. However it was Neville who was getting the most joy and continually found space in the pockets to turn and run at the back line of MGAV who seemed unsure how to deal with his flair, quick touches and intricate passing. A couple of quick fire Cubo corners led to nothing and a clean sheet in the first 20 minutes was a mini victory for Cubo as they looked to bounce back from a humbling 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Claremont last week.
A cheap free kick presented another opportunity for MGAV who had started with intent to pick up another 3 points on the road. Arnold positioned the wall but was helpless as a sublime 25-yard strike was curled into the far corner as he agonisingly thrust an extended arm towards the ball. 1-0 MGAV. Unlucky as the Cubo number 1 had been dominant in the opening exchanges.
This would be a real test of character for Cubo who have failed to win once all season after conceding the first goal. Sam Ward continued to look dangerous and his pace and power was a constant worry to the MGAV back lines as Cubo pressed for an immediate equaliser. The breakthrough came 10 minutes later after some great interlinking play from Hooper and Field; Joyce picked up the ball 30 yards out, waltzing past two challenges before curling a sumptuous left footed strike from the edge of the box into the top left hand corner; straight out of the Arjen Robben handbook 2014. 1-1.
Half time came and Hooper rallied the troops, smelling blood and highlighting the effect of the Thethy, Joyce and Neville combo in creating chances in attack. Conceding goals has been a problem and Jones and Golding were in good form dealing with the attacking wide threat with relative ease.
Cubo kicked off away from the sun in the second half and pressed forward trying to impose their home advantage. The tall back four of MGAV looked to impose their size and strength onto the game but were failing to get much joy from Neville, Ward and Cooper. Noble; making his first start of the season was subbed after 60 minutes for another summer addition – Phil Smith. The blonde Gennaro Gattuso was put in the unfamiliar wide right role looking to make an immediate impact from deliveries, set pieces and getting into the box. With the game pressing on, Cubo upped the intensity and looked like a different team that limped through the final 30 minutes the week before. Fitness super-fan Tom Golding was up and down the flank and his clever play put Sam Ward through on goal; only for the match ball to be cruelly knocked away by a wayward football from another pitch. The most outrageous thing to happen at Barn Elms since the unveiling of Arnies split pants.
Then Cubo were dealt a sickening blow. Neville; who had been instrumental in most of Cubos good play picked up the ball and knocked it between the 2 centre backs, with perfect symmetry he was crudely hacked down by both. A absurd cry of “no foul” from the defenders but it was Neville who was left to deal with the consequences of a hefty pair of challenges. Neville was showing very little signs of movement and after 3-4 minutes on the ground and was clearly in some pain. After the addition of some token ice spray, he slowly trudged off the pitch holding his arm in extreme discomfort. Cubo were now forced to play the remaining 25 minutes with 10 men as they had done the week before due to Barry dislocating his knee at Claremont. It later transpired that Neville had shattered his collar bone and dislocated his shoulder. An 4 hour trip to A&E and with the follow-up operation completed on Sunday sadly means he will likely remain on the side-lines for the remainder of the season.
Even with 10 men, Cubo looked the most dangerous and Hooper had settled into the back 4 with ease. Chances were few and far between but the passion, drive and enthusiasm from Cubo shows there are good things to come from this team. The game finished 1-1 and Cubo will look to build on this with their forthcoming fixture away to Merchant. Plenty of positives to take from the game and the injury will tarnish what was a courageous performance from the baby blues.
Manager Hooper will look to the future with much optimism but knows this is only the beginning. With players returning from injury, a competitive and hungry squad will look to achieve the managers vision of finishing top four in this league.
MOTM: Neville; before he went off. Salty was also superb over the 90 mins; along with Joyce.