Three consecutive victories for the Bentham Academicals
23 December 2016
Following their stunning 3 – 0 victory over Carat FC in early November, Bentham Academicals FC faced two tough opponents leading up to the Christmas break
On 24 November at 1 pm, they were scheduled to play the mighty Manning Gottlieb.
A fully fit squad, with morale at an all-time high, arrived at Coram Fields prior to kick-off in order to warm-up and discuss their tactical approach to a crucial fixture. However, 12:50 pm soon became 1:20pm with no sign whatsoever of Manning Gottlieb. Despite their self-confessed ‘unwavering commitment to deliver[ing] sharper insights, smarter ideas and stronger results’, Manning Gottlieb completely failed to materialise. The Bentham Academicals thus won by default.
The final fixture of 2016 was scheduled for 7 December at 1 pm against the highly organised – and, fortunately, far more reliable – Clintons.
Unlike the previous game, against their no-show opponents, the Bentham Academicals squad was wracked by injuries and absences. Julius Grower (formidable and versatile centre forward) was in India, James Shirley (central defensive rock) sustained a shin injury against Carat FC, and Peter Donald (safe pair of hands between the sticks) was side-lined because he kicked the ground and not the ball while warming up two weeks before, to name but a few.
The starting line-up against Clintons was as follows (with various rotations and rolling substitutions):
– Ben McFarlane (GK); Henry Balogun (CB); Joe Atkinson (CB); Paul Troop (LM); Prince Saprai (CM); Alex Mills (CM); Chris Riley (RM); Luke Irons (CF); Guillermo Jimenez and Gabriel de Oliveira Ramos (Subs).
The first half began with a high degree of intensity on the part of both sides, with plenty of goal-mouth action. The playing surface was slick under the grey December sky, which was highly conducive to the kind of quick and velvety passing football that you would expect at this level of the game.
Despite the favourable conditions, the Bentham Academicals and Clintons were at first at tactical loggerheads, with the exception of two flurries forward by the UCL Laws side, leading to two corners in quick succession. The best chance of the first twenty-five minutes came from the opposition, with a burst through midfield followed by a venomous shot that was pinged against the left-hand post before being bundled to safety.
The response from the Bentham Academicals, however, was as instantaneous as it was conclusive. Joe Atkinson surged forward from centre back with a lung-rupturing and unstoppable run, before rifling a shot home into the bottom left hand corner of the Clintons goal. They were ahead, and right on the stroke of half-time. 1–0.
Eager to react to having gone a goal down, the Clintons boys elected to begin the second half immediately. This turned out to be one of the best tactical decisions of the afternoon. Quick out of the starting blocks, they piled forward, exploited a temporary defensive frailty, and brought the game to parity with a low shot from the right hand side of the penalty area. 1 – 1.
Refusing to let their heads drop, the Bentham Academicals monopolised the next ten minutes of play. While Clintons appeared momentarily to rest on their laurels, Alex Mills pelted forward. With the speed of his feet matched only by the quickness of his wits, he drilled over a cross from the right hand side of midfield. In the box rose Luke Irons, with the grace of an Atlantic salmon and the agility of a gazelle. Utterly outmuscling the Clintons defenders, Irons headed the ball into the top corner right on the fortieth minute mark. Unadulterated elation can only describe the scenes that ensued. 2 – 1.
Now at 2 – 1 to the Bentham Academicals, the game refused to die. Heartbreakingly soon after regaining the lead, Clintons began to run riot in the UCL half of the field. Immediately following their second venture forward by Clintons, an errant clearance ricocheted around the Bentham Academicals penalty box. Every man in a black and white shirt, plus at least a dozen newly-congregated onlookers, could only watch aghast as the ball broke to the Clintons centre forward and was cannoned into the net. 2 – 2.
With less than fifteen minutes remaining, the Bentham Academicals were at an immense risk of seeing their unprecedented run of victories brought to a depressing conclusion. But as both teams began to appear to tire, like boxers in the twelfth round of a title bout, the Bentham Academicals were not yet finished. Dodging and weaving through a series of rugged challenges in midfield, the Mills-Saprai partnership held up the ball with forty-eight minutes on the clock, before Mills glided an inch-perfect pass to the feet of a now centre forward Joe Atkinson. Gasps were audible at Corams Fields as he dropped his shoulder and drove towards goal like an Aston Martin, before cutting in on the left around the stunned Clintons centre back. The Clintons ‘keeper contorted acrobatically to stop the incoming threat but he simply could not get there. Atkinson made it two goals for the afternoon, and three for the season. 3 – 2.
The remaining twelve minutes bore witness to a total rollercoaster of emotion as the Bentham Academicals defensive plans were shook to the very nucleus. Barrage after barrage fell upon every single member of the 8-a-side team, who were all back behind the ball in sheer desperation. No less than three corners were won by Clintons in rapid succession during those dying moments. Owing in no small part to the orders issued by the unshakeable and unperturbed Henry Balogun at centre back, however, no further goals were conceded and the full-time whistle blew like a symphony.
Bentham Academicals 3–2 Clintons (FT)
Attendance: at least a dozen
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