Sutton Valence 2nd XI travelled across to Sevenoaks this week, proud to have been selected for what we logically assumed would be a televised ‘Saturday Night Hockey’ match given the unsocial 4pm pushback.
Upon arrival at a gloriously floodlit Holly Bush Lane, the disappointed groans about the lack of Sky TV cameras was soon followed by the usual conundrum of how many players we had in the match day squad. With our regular skipper taken out by a festive thumbprint to the forehead and the pushback clock ticking closer, answers ranged from ten to twelve players, eventually settling on eleven and a half as all eyes turned to the car park.
Cue John Edmed. Having played recently for us in a pair of skateboard shoes from the 1990’s that flapped like a bass drum, his box of footwear tricks in the boot of his car did not disappoint us once again. Timberland boots. Yes. Timberlands. With surprisingly no complaints from the opposition or umpires and without a groundsman in sight, we had just enough time for a “don’t start slowly” team talk before the whistle went and we could get stuck firmly into our usual slow start.
Ten minutes in and two Sevenoaks forwards had found themselves with enough time just inside the D to stop the ball, both line it up for a shot, brew a cup of tea whilst deliberating which of them should take the shot and for one to then politely stroll out of the way as the other fired a bullet into the bottom corner the goal with Ross MacKay (the narrative goalkeeper) unable to get close and ending up spread-eagled on the turf as it flew past.
Aside from a similar situation when I was able to get a firm right kicker behind a slightly more central attempt, the rest of first half was played quite a safe distance away from my pads, with a defence of Parker, Hodges and Edmed nicely mopping up anything that needed taking care of before the ball could get anywhere near the Sutton Valence D. Stuck behind my helmet, and the one wearing Timberlands, it’s always tricky to tell what goes on in the opposition’s half from that distance but the midfield looked to be doing all that midfield tippy-tappy-fancy-stuff quite well. Darren Thompson and Ben Tragget were solid and dependable in the middle whilst Alastair Robinson, Andy Barr and Jack Sheldon looked creative on the flanks. Lewis Mitchell and Chris Stille didn’t stop moving all game and even Chris Sheldon ‘Party-Party’ Snr put in an impressive shift despite hanging out of something for the majority of the seventy minutes.
Sutton Valence's territorial advantage led to a series of short corners that produced a number of good saves from my opposite number between the Sevenoaks posts. However, dominating the possession statistics eventually paid dividends and Sutton Valence 2’s equalised at the end of the first half with Alastair ‘the Wizard’ Robinson sublimely scuffing a ball into Jack Sheldon who was well positioned in the middle of the D and able to deliver a fine reverse stick strike firmly underneath a diving goalkeeper.
All tied at the break and time once again for the usual ‘we started slowly again’ chat, this time supplemented by a few rousing ‘get stuck into them’ and ‘they’re only half our age’ observations. In truth, I’d be surprised if the average age of the Sevenoaks squad was more than a third of the ‘experienced’ Sutton Valence 2’s average age. However, we picked up where we left off with some nice link-up play throughout the pitch and it wasn’t until the last 20 minutes, when our ‘experienced’ legs showed some signs of ‘experience’, that the game began to open up. Sevenoaks were now throwing more forward in search of a winner and were breaking in numbers, with some firm kicking and a slide or two used by myself to keep the ball from crossing our goal line.
Up at the other end, Lewis Mitchell was coming out on top in an enticing battle with Sevenoaks’ own version of a quite handy mini-Mitchell (aged c.14 years old). Riled by what could have easily produced a card for the mini-Mitchell, Mitchell Snr. then took his ‘introduction to senior hockey’ lesson a step further by riffling a bullet into the bottom corner of the goal from the edge of the D to give Sutton Valence the lead. The sound of that impressively sweet strike echoed beautifully to the other end of the pitch where I was stood in our goal, coincidentally which was also where most of the last 15 minutes of action was set to take place.
Some tired passing on our left hand side was followed by some very tired tracking back across the width of the pitch and resulted in a ball being injected across our D to four Sevenoaks players without a red shirt in sight. Fortunately as I scrambled across the goal they were not able to take advantage of their numbers, although unfortunately it did result in ‘quite the outburst’ from myself who took exception to our team allowing four of the opposition to line up a short distance from goal and fire a hard ball at me. After the game I was told “we had no idea what you were shouting but it was quite scary and we got the message”, although thankfully the Sevenoaks players also got a message that the Sutton Valence goalkeeper could be a little volatile, especially whilst he was protecting a one goal lead with ten minutes to play.
Some good stickwork from the ‘oaks ‘mini-Mitchell’ saw him cut in and dribble around multiple red shirts along the goal line, only to meet (and subsequently bounce off) a padded wall of a GK holding a stick. The best chance of an ‘oaks equaliser came in the final minutes as a ball was driven across the D to a wide open attacker who heard me growling and saw me flying across the goal towards him as he missed the ball completely. Some sensible Sutton Valence game management over the closing phases led to the final whistle and a 2-1 away win for the 2’s who find themselves second in the league table at the half way stage.
Thanks to the opposition for a very competitive game played in largely good and honest spirits throughout. The umpires had a couple of good games too – although you always know they’re going to be a decent standard when they turn up to a South East England Division 6 Invicta league game with AV equipment.
Within the Sutton Valence squad… Man of the Match was quite an open affair amongst a team that came back from a goal down to keep the push for a second successive promotion firmly on track going into the Christmas break. I’m a goalkeeper though and the glory this week is going to one of the three guys directly in front of me. John Edmed is highly commended for only slipping over JUST twice in 70 minutes whilst playing hockey in Timberlands. Steve Parker also gets a strong commendation for being his usual calming and reliable presence that every GK wants in front of them. The MoM however goes to Alex Hodges for putting in his usual marathon of miles whilst simultaneously scampering between the positions of right back, right mid and left wing. Two shout-outs of praise further up the pitch from me go to Andy Bye and Lewis Mitchell who both tracked back impressively to kill what could have been decisive breaks whilst MoM Hodges was on another one of his up-field explorations!
Ross Mackay (G)
Jack Sheldon (1)
Lewis Mitchell (1)