Venue, Underwood FC. Opposition, English Veterans. Pitch, wide.....but well-maintained - one of the better we've played on.
Icarus Masters, the vintage fine wine of Vets’ Football, arrived in Nottinghamshire to take on an 'English Veterans' side though we are still none the wiser who they actually represented. Suffice to say, they all knew how to play and despite being an over-50s oufit, the majority had clearly played at a semi-pro level in their youth. We started with a 4-1-3-2 formation as yet again we tried to bamboozle the opposition, and ourselves, with an untried and untrusted formation with Eddie R at the helm. However, we started brightly enough with the early pace of Tony Spurle and Dave Batey creating some angst in the English Veterans' back-line. We had welcomed back Paul 'Barnsley' Taylor into the Masters who added his considerable weight upfront to try and cause extra havoc in their third. Unfortunately, early forays into their half were rapidly nullified and their midfield began to gain more of a foothold in midfield and exert more pressure on our back-line of Bradley, Roughsedge, Ben Baker (guest) and Lee Croucher (guest). The English Veterans were keeping the ball extremely well, making us do all the running and essentially having the most of possession whilst not hugely threatening Evo in nets (more on the Cat later). Kev Knott and Matt Hunt (guest) were being pulled around in the centre as their 5-man midfield maintained a stranglehold with the occasional outlet to the Vicar on the right or Batey on the left offering the odd respite.
It wasn't quite the Alamo but the corner count on our penalty area was rising rapidly. Still we held firm and it was heartening to see the commitment in the tackle and continual tracking of the opposition players across the park. It did, however, come as a shock to the English Vets when the Masters took the lead. A rare foray into the opposition third on 28 mins saw a ball crossed from our left, half-cleared/deflected by an English Vets defender, fall invitingly into the path of Tony 'Hitman' Spurle who launched an Exorcet from at least 40 yds (alright, maybe closer to 25) into the top left corner - keeper had no chance and the opposition were stunned (as was Tony). This really put the cat amongst the pigeons and the opposition flooded forward once more, but this time as a chasing team. Cue the Cat and overall MoM with some outstanding saves. The first on 30 mins had to be seen to be believed. Opposition midfielder twisting and turning on the edge of our penalty area, launches a great strike, top right hand corner all day long until Evo fingertips it with his weaker hand, just past the upright. Utterly outstanding save. Similarly brilliant save on 34 mins as their attack broke through our back-line and were presented with a one-on-one with Evo. Just outside the 6 yd box and clinical strike smothered by Evo inside his bottom right.
But the more they pressed for the equaliser, the more gaps appeared in their lines and with a slight age advantage, Icarus were able to exploit. On about 36mins a break by Kev Knott (I think) unpicked their midfield and a lovely weighted ball through to Matt Hunt had him running through on goal with only the keeper to beat. Into the penalty area and scythed down like a dying swan - clear penalty if a little embellished by Matt. Up steps man of the moment Spurle, keen to add to his wonder-strike. Unfortunately, the right hand post had other ideas and it remained at 0-1 to Icarus going into the break, helped yet again by another quality save by Evo on 45mins.
With only 2 subs on the bench there was quite a fluid rotation as we welcomed on Chris Ritchie and Scott Blackett. The second half began as the first half finished with large amounts of English Veterans' possession trying to find a way through our lines. But again, gaps were available through their midfield if we exploited our own possession quickly enough. This is exactly what happened in the 52nd minute as a press from Batey and Blackett won the ball in the middle of the park and released Kev Knott into their penalty area with only the keeper to beat. Clearly Kev had too much time as his brain appeared to over-engage what his legs were supposed to be doing; cue comedy spaghetti legs that managed to tangle themselves and throw Kev ungracefully to the floor with no opposition player in sight. Unperturbed, the mighty Blues dug in once more to repel wave after wave of concerted Veterans' attack who, yet again, left themselves open at the back. Step in Lee Croucher with another one of his runs out of defence and a lovely through-ball to Scott Blackett, who took it away from one defender and rounded the keeper to slot it into the back of the net. 0-2 and whilst not firmly in control, certainly confident with a buffer.
Another fine save on 65mins by Evo, a clearance a couple of yards out from our goal-line on about 70mins, and more and more blocks and tackles in our final third gives you a measure of how the final minutes fared for Icarus. Nevertheless, we stood strong and composed, broke when we could and played some good passing football to try and take the sting out of the opposition. To a man, we gave 100% commitment across the park. The only negative was the fact we had to recruit four guest players to make this fixture happen (though I suspect Blackett may be returning). On the positive, we have now found the new Vets' keeper - sorry Evo, you're too valuable between the sticks!!