It was ex-Oxford Manager Brian Horton that once famously described a football match as ‘a game of two halves’, a quote which certainly can be applied to the frustrating loss endured by Henley Mens 2s over the weekend.
The first half saw Henley demonstrate great resilience and ability to soak up pressure. Key saves made by goalkeeper Dave Bowyer, at times being forced to use leg pad, stick and foot in combination, kept Henley firmly in the game. Though Newbury and Thatcham’s inability to pounce on several goal-scoring chances kept the two sides level, Henley’s defence managed to repel at times continuous waves of attack, with some heroic last man tackling and final ball interceptions from Jeremy Clarke and Ian Roberts. The entirety of the first half was not all Newbury and Thatcham’s however, some nice midfield interchanging passes and pitch-stretching wing play challenging the Newbury back four on several occasions and tipping the scales back in Henley’s favour.
The frightening pace of the Henley attack eventually and inevitably saw the Oxfordshire side sneak in front. Defensive composure and quick-thinking from Henley left Newbury chasing shadows as Henley launched an incisive counter-attack from a 16-hit. Terry Pollard soon found himself at the centre of the halfway line, with an array of runners running both left and right. An eye-of-the-needle pass to his right was met by Harvey Richardson, who found himself at the top of the D one on one with the last defender, who was forced to engage Richardson and in doing so leave Chris Maidlow free for the ball to simply be squared to him and comprehensibly buried first time in the bottom left hand corner of the goal. 1-0 to Henley left Newbury and Thatcham well and truly rattled by the end of the first half not 5 minutes later.
A slight formation change after the break meant a much more balanced second half. Newbury could no longer launch wave upon wave of attack, whilst Henley lost their counter-attacking edge in favour for a much more solid midfield possession game. Consequently, the tide of the game changed in Henley’s favour. The away side enjoyed much better build-up play and free hits in dangerous areas of the pitch, more deflection opportunities within the D as well as an increased amount of short corners. Pressure and hassling led from the front by Guy Harmer, Matt Herbert, Harvey Richardson and Chris Maidlow caused the Newbury defence significant trouble.
Despite a more positive second half, Henley conceded two goals in quick succession. The second being of one of considerable contention after a short corner routine by Newbury and Thatcham saw what could arguably be called an illegal shot in the D put them in front with 20 minutes to go.
Henley once again demonstrated a steely resilience and ‘never-say-die’ attitude that will no doubt serve them well throughout the season. Creative, penetrative, attacking hockey from Henley was unfortunately marred by a series of subjective decisions from the umpires, and for all of their industry Henley were unable to draw level.
Despite a frustrating result, Henley can go into next week’s match against Abingdon at home with several positive lessons in mind. More ruthlessness in front of goal is needed, but a growing understanding between the midfielders together with the backbone of a solid defence means Henley 2’s will avoid any more footballing being applied, and in doing so pick up their first points of the season and gain some momentum for the long season ahead.