Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Handball Challenge: Match Two, Brentwood Vs Essex University

A local derby by all accounts, but with only four teams in the Development League South, which are slightly spread out, we journeyed to Cranfield's patch for the match - each match day all teams gathered at the one venue so as to play back-to-back matches and allow the coaches to deal with any league business.

Cranfield University like to keep their Sports Hall a well kept secret and so you only really know that the modern white block of a building opposite the campus petrol station is in fact the very hall for sports that you're seeking when you leave your car and make the effort to walk through the main doors - there are no noticeable signs on the way to it from either direction, and the hall itself is entire unmarked. Genius.

Controvesy in the carpark: I spoke with Rolf on my arrival, a stocky chap who'd attended my first training session with Brentwood but whom I hadn't seen since, he informed me that he was here for the game but had decided to play for 'A slightly more advanced team', which he added with a wry smile. I hoped he'd be proved wrong but in fairness this was only my second match and no less than three other team mates were on their debut run out today; Duncan, Terry and Ian were each eager to impress.

Essex University's Handball Team are a cosmopolitan bunch who are well organised and skillful in an attack that's quick to break (something which they did on no fewer than two occasions courtesy of cutting out my own poorly selected passes).

Rob scored the first goal for Brentwood - we were ahead for the first time this season! Sadly it was short lived...

The game had spluttered early into life in our favour but the away team soon put pressure on a nearly recovered Mark (he'd damaged his ankle in our first match) in our goal; including having to defend a penalty which I'd unwittingly given away - the ref blew for me elbowing their right wing player, I'd just been clumsy with my left arm in truth (no malice involved).

We knew we were in a game. (That's me far left - stood too far out)
Just ten minutes in I was substituted for Terry to make his handball debut, with both Duncan and Ian each already showing no signs of nerves and making impressive attacking moves, our sole sub was anxious to get involved; he'd prove more aggressive than myself in our defensive line.

'Is that a slow moving train or what?', clearly we needed to work on our speed in switching from attack to defense from this excellent turn of phrase from our Coach.

When I was reintroduced in the first half I settled into my wing duties with greater ease, hugging the line and hanging back slightly as instructed to give our attack some width and passing options. I also cleaned up my defensive play and following some other advice from Coach Kuller Rabaca I managed more effective close-outs on my opposing player by placing my arms behind my back and simply side-stepping into their way.

By half time the scoreline read 6-20, we were trailing but already Ian and Duncan were showing confidence in their goal line moves and combining well with the more experienced players of Rob and George (our most eccentrically-haired team mate), who worked well in those opening second-half moments to bring about 5 Brentwood goals in the first ten minutes.

Essex struggle to contain George in the early moments of the second half.
The second half had started with the same formation as the first had ended, with myself and Sean now occasionally switching wings - a tactic our Coach employed to give their defence something to think about.

On a few occasions I was left short of available passing options due to our players being man-marked so well and getting themselves involved in tussles of their own, my lack of experience led to poorly weighted passes back to Rob in the centre of midfield, which were cut-out by his marker and gave Mark little chance in our goal as they quickly counter attacked. It was no surprise that I was subbed out to Terry once again who was having more success.

Rob, was recently back from honeymooning on the other side of the world, was now commanding our attacks with confidence, though our defencive line became near bereft of comunication as we tired.

Essex Uni were not quick to defend after their increasingly successful recces into our half, though their vocal front man was quick to ensure each of his players were covering their opposing man and this system was proving very effective for them - their last 12 goals came with just 1 in reply, we were soundly dealt with.

Rob celebrates his return by making Rolf look average in goal.
The final score was 12 - 42, the Essex Blades remained unbeaten this season. It was dark when I set off in the car after the match that day, the mood in my car wasn't much brighter.

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