Sunday 17th March sees more matches from the Blair Mini Youth and once again some quality write ups from the U11 age groups, sit back and enjoy..........
HOLLANDS AND BLAIR THUNDER U11S V LARKFIELD
There are games of football played on bowling green surfaces in warm sunshine where the ball is effortlessly stroked around and players get the chance to express themselves, showing off their skills and talents.
Then there are other games played in blizzards, on unmowed quagmires, where the players have to fight tooth and nail to string passes together, create chances and stop the opposition building anything. These are the games where you learn about your players and what they are willing to put on the line for their team-mates. This was one of those games.
It was never going to be a goalfest. For a start, Blair’s starting back line of Charlie Firth, Max Barwick and the impressive Ben Phillips simply weren’t going to leave their keeper Harry Lawrence exposed – Harry had one save to make all match, from a well-struck free kick, which he was behind all the way.
But the conditions didn’t help either team. A heavy pitch, strong, swirling wind and a second half hailstorm put quality passing moves and incisive building through midfield at a premium.
In an even first half, Oscar Colyer caught the eye with a determined shift on the left, a task made all the more difficult by the uncut grass on his wing that stopped the ball dead every time it rolled over there.
Joseph Watling, Fred Bullivant and Archie Rutherford worked hard in midfield but chances for striker Zach Tydeman were in short supply, due to a well-drilled opposition and the conditions.
The breakthrough came four minutes into the second half. Thunder had already gone close when Charlie’s header from Archie’s cross cleared the bar but they struck moments later, Joseph getting the final touch on Archie’s clever ball into the Larkfield danger area (although at least two other boys were trying to take the credit for the goal!).
From there, Thunder didn’t exactly look comfortable, but they worked to keep Larkfield out. Fin Langthorne, who again looked dangerous further up the pitch, followed a sweet Blair passing move with a thunderbolt shot that struck the upright in the 52nd minute and the boys saw out the clock.
If there was a moment that summed up this performance it came when a loose ball fell invitingly into the path of a Larkfied player well into Thunder’s half. As he prepared to pull the trigger, Franki Hillier appeared out of nowhere with a crunching slide tackle to smash the ball out of play. Franki, by no means the team’s biggest player, never gives an inch to an opponent regardless of the size differential, and his thunderous challenge gave the whole team a boost.
Some days, a piece of flair or individual technique will win you a match. Other times, you need every player to roll their sleeves up and grind out a result. Thunder are becoming experts at the latter.
Next week they face Bearsted away in their final U11 mini-league match.
HOLLANDS AND BLAIR U11s LIGHTNING VS MAIDSTONE UTD RANGERS
Match 7 of 8 of the mini league saw Blair make the short journey to Victory Academy to face a resurgent Maidstone United Rangers.
The wind was again strong but the pitch would not be an excuse with the hosts utilising the 3G option.
With a full compliment of players and with the returning Callum Spittle, Blair’s warm up showed the desire required and was the perfect prep for the tough challenge of a 100% league.
With the wind behind them the match started well for Blair, playing the sort of possession football that they have become recognised for. Superb combinations between the excellent Liam Sherriff and his defenders Simpson and Howard saw Blair playing out and breaking lines with support from Horner and Wells out wide and Carter and Barnes-Farnham rotating superbly in midfield to enable Blair to beat the press.
Combinations gave the chance to link the midfield and attack with Inkpen and Liddle again causing all sorts of problems for the Maidstone back line.
The bright start was rewarded almost immediately when after just two and a half minutes a flowing move ended up coming through to Liddle who again demonstrated his superb setting work, laying off for Wells to sweep a long range strike over the keeper, off the post and into the net.
With their tails up, Blair continued to make chances and press the home side back but failed to make the advantage pay with goals despite dominating possession.
Changes rang in after 15-20 minutes seeing Spittle slide back into defence, Okoronkwo went out wide, Olagbemi took over the opposite flank and Hughes went into midfield.
Blair continued to create well when on a rare break out after a long ball forward Maidstone were challenging for a bouncing ball when the striker was nudged with little contact and it was deemed enough for a penalty award.
Penalty specialist Sherriff looked confident and as the ball was struck with pace low to his right, he stretched and got a hand to the strike but couldn’t prevent it squirming underneath his reach and just over the line.
Blair were denied a second from a superb free kick by Carter that was flying in the far top corner only to be tipped around the post. An excellent save by the Maidstone stopper.
The message at the break was to stick to playing out and building the play under the wind and to battle hard for loose balls.
The second half saw lots of competitive action and some excellent solid 50 50 challenges from both sides and with the home sides frustration at being restricted boiling over at times with a couple of late tackles leaving Blair players questioning the motives. Eventually those tackles started to push the limits as the tension rose going into the final minutes of the match with the clock ticking down and chances wasted by the away side.
The best chance of the half fell under the cross bar from a corner but the Maidstone number 10 failed to convert and the scores remained all square. Blair worked hard again to get forward and Liddle took a boot to the face, Carter was caught high on the shin and Wells was battling hard in the tackle when a foul on the edge of the box after 56 minutes gave Blair a shooting chance.
The superb Man of the Match Liam Hughes placed the ball and awaited the Blair defenders to venture forward. He faced a 3 man wall and the pressure of the clock. The referee blew his whistle and Hughes sent a superb strike over the wall leaving the stretching keeper devastated as the ball clipped his fingers and flew into the top corner!
Blair’s players went wild knowing that they were in touching distance of 7 out of 7!
A messy last few minutes saw Blair over the line and the full time whistle was met with celebration for the reds who secured their second league championship of the season!
Chants of Blair Army and Campiones rang out as the boys celebrated a superb league campaign so far. With a local derby to go away to Chatham Town for a 100% invincible season Blair have cemented themselves as favourites for the cup!