Sunday 24th March sees the final games of the Winter League for Thunder & Lightning and as you’ll read they didn’t disappoint!
BEARSTED V HOLLANDS AND BLAIR THUNDER
The Thunder boys waited for their final Winter League match away at Bearsted to produce their finest performance of the season, perhaps of the last 12 months.
In a scintillating first half in particular, they simply did not put a foot wrong as they blew away a determined Bearsted team by passing intelligently, winning their individual battles and finishing when the pressure was on.
The boys have sometimes struggled to translate the fluent football they produce in training in the heat of a competitive match but in the first 30 minutes of this game they purred like a well-tuned engine.
The first goal was straight off the training pitch, Archie Rutherford’s pinpoint corner glanced home off the head of Charlie Firth, who has made the right back berth his own in recent weeks.
Max Barwick always looked assured on the left hand side of defence and his good work created a great chance for Franki Hillier who was only just wide of the mark on 15 minutes.
Not long before half time, Charlie played a trademark pass through to Zach Tydeman who set Fred Bullivant up for a fantastic team goal.
Two minutes into the second half, Zach was only just wide after doing all the hard work, denied by the Bearsted goalkeeper, who had a superb game. But Zach never lets his head drop and he got his well-earned goal in the 38th minute, slotting home after being put clean through.
Dexter Davis was rewarded for his graft eight minutes later, finding the net with a neat finish after some clever build-up work. And Fin Langthorne wrapped up the scoring late on after Dexter found him with a lovely through ball.
Leo Pickett showed some neat touches as he worked to get things going in the midfield engine room and Oscar Colyer was a picture of determination on the left wing, battling hard all game.
Ben Phillips again gave a virtuoso performance in the heart of defence, allowing the coaches to play Fin further upfield, where his skill and pace are constant threats.
Not the busiest day for goalie Harry Lawrence but he always stays alert and was never found wanting when called upon, pulling off a great reflex save near the end.
It wouldn’t have been possible to pick a man of the match – every single player contributed and none of them let their performance level dip.
The Bearsted manager was very complimentary afterwards, calling Thunder the best footballing team he had ever come up against!
Thunder ended up in the middle of the table and are left to rue a couple of mid-season performances that perhaps fell short of the high standards set by coaches Lee, Liam, Darren and Sam.
Because if they had played like this every week, they would have won the league.
All eyes now turn to Kings Hill next week, where Thunder start their campaign in the U11 Consolation Cup.
CHATHAM TOWN vs HOLLANDS AND BLAIR LIGHTNING
The final League match of the season presented a long awaited Derby for Blair, who, after some excellent performances had given themselves a chance to cement a 100% untouchables league with victory over local rivals Chatham Town.
With clear skies and the warm sun, the weather would play no part, but the pitch however was a bumpy one that offered up plenty of challenge. Being a short pitch, the players quickly figured out that through balls would be next to impossible so stuck to building and trying to get in behind from the flanks.
The line up was full of quality and equally the bench was too with Spittle growing by the session since his long layoff, Okoronkwo ready to unleash his pace, Olagbemi keen to impress in midfield and Inkpen who was victim of illness in the days leading up to the match giving Blair a full complement for only the second time this season.
A scrapy start saw few chances whilst the two teams sized each other up. The Sherriff showed his flexibility with some Schmichaelesque long throws out to the wide players Horner and Carter with superb accuracy.
Carter looked menacing on the right flank and was linking with Liddle and Wells through the middle with Hughes and Barnes-Farnham anchoring the midfield mopping up loose passes and getting the play moving again.
The superb Simpson and Howard squashed any attempts going forward from the Home side and their confidence was shrinking with every tackle and block. Howard expertly using his body and on one occasion a shoulder or arm whilst on the deck and under real pressure. Simpson showed his strength and pace and was doing a great job of maintaining possession using his intelligence to link with the midfield.
The first goal of the game cemented the hard work from Blair who managed to get their noses in front through Carter after 14 minutes, reward for his excellent performance throughout the first half.
The game continued to be cagey but Blair shook things up with changes and that led to one of the goals of the game. Liddle received the ball with his back to goal and pressure from a defender before flicking the ball between the press to the onrushing Inkpen who through on goal slotted home to double a well-deserved lead. The players were clever enough to see the work that Liddle had done and he was mobbed in celebration.
The good news stories continued late in the half when Blair were awarded a corner and after such a long layoff, Spittle tucked the ball home in added time to open his account for the season. Smiles were beaming after such a solid and comprehensive display.
At the half, the message to the players was about continuing the good work so far and to respect the pitch because it had surprises in it.
Almost straight after halftime, Blair stretched their lead. The excellent Okoronkwo, who had been working on his touch and delivery down the flank in the warm up delivered a number of superb crosses and, on 33 minutes delivered an assist for Inkpen to move onto 20 goals for the season so far, which was followed up by one of the best finishes you will see.
Sadly for the home side, their impressive number ten who had been excellent at the back misjudged a clearance and sent the ball flying into the top corner of his own net.
With a comfortable lead, Blair were becoming complacent and a mistake lead to Simpson being under pressure in his own box and in his attempt to clear, a nice bobble meant the ball scuffed off his shin and beyond the despairing Sherriff into the net.
Barnes-Farnham was guilty of being overconfident on the edge of the penalty area where he was dispossessed and Chatham took advantage for a second that squirmed under the keeper to give the home tails something to wag about.
Blair managed to concede a third, the most they have conceded in a game this season before they turned the screw again, creating chances and possibly even denied a couple of goals by the goal line decision system before the pressure brought a corner. Spittle rose above the defence and scored a headed goal to double his tally for the day and for the season.
We almost had another contender for goal of the season when Sherriff played a goal kick to Hughes who received on the half turn on the edge of his own box. It’s easy to understand why he is nicknamed Diego after Maradona by his teammates. Hughes dropped his shoulder to beat one, beat another in midfield, ventured towards the box beating another, beat the final defender before running out of pitch and taking the shot on was foiled by the keeper. From one box to the other without a scratch and denied by the goalie.
The scoring was rounded off as it started by the excellent Josh Carter, who broke into the area and dispatched his second of the game like a pro.
On the full time whistle the players celebrated chanting their own Blair song and revelling in their 100% season! Move over the Invincibles of Arsenal and embrace the amazing “Untouchables”!
The cup awaits giving the players a chance of a treble when they face Hartley De Sales in the Quarter final at home next week.