U12 AFC Henley Hawks Fly Again in Penalty Thriller

The first round of the anticipated trophy competition saw the Hawks at home to Finchampstead Mavericks, a team in the division above.  Pressure was on for a win as every round of the competition is knockout.

The Hawks came out on good form and the Mavericks made it clear from the start they weren’t going to make it an easy match.  The Mavericks went 1-0 up after 14 minutes, but the Hawks’ spirit was not squashed – Jenson Lea had a shot saved just a minute later and there was pressure on the keepers at both ends.  Leo Schlaefli made some great through balls to Harry Graham who was putting in 100% effort up front as striker.

Ben Hemmings had a good first half in goal and Mikey Dowling gave another solid performance as captain at centre back making some great clearances, tackles and runs with the ball.  Harry Graham did a great run towards the end of the first half, looking determined to level, but his shot was blocked.  The Hawks reached another level in terms of effort just before half time with the team working more as a unit after some great individual performances earlier on.  There was constant danger from Lucas Wilson on the left wing who ran tirelessly throughout the entire match and also showed a determination not to let the Mavericks get past him.  A shot from George Acock was saved and there was more pressure on the Mavericks after a corner from Jenson Lea.

The Hawks came out with the same impetus in the second half with the addition of Oliver Duncan in defence.  There was some good build up play and passing from Daniel Flowers, Conor Quinn and George Acock.  The Mavericks threatened at the other end of the pitch with keeper Max Messias making a good save followed up by a series of great passes from Wilson to Schlaefli and out to Lea.  The pressure was rewarded with a beautifully taken corner from Lea, who found Flowers in the box, forcing a save from the Mavericks’ keeper.

Play was moving from end to end with both sides looking dangerous.  Mikey Dowling was forced to make more solid clearances and Oliver Duncan put in an incisive tackle and lovely through ball to Flowers who passed on to a well-positioned Schlaefli.

It was, however, the Mavericks who took the next goal at the 39 minute mark; nearly making it three a couple of minutes later had it not been for another solid save by Messias.  The Hawks knew they had more in them and were buoyed by their performance, if not the scoreline.  Minutes later more fluid passing from the Hawks saw Jenson Lea pass through a ball to George Acock who took his opportunity and slotted home the long coming goal at the 43-minute mark.

Leo Schlaefli’s skills and speed constantly contributed to the Hawks’ forward movement – this match saw a great balance of well-timed runs and accurate passes.  Flowers flourished in centre mid; with great composure and positioning he picked up a ball for a great run on goal – it was just him and the keeper but unfortunately the shot went just wide to thwart an equaliser from the Hawks.

The Hawks were now well and truly in their stride and not one of them thought they couldn’t come back.  There was more great passing from the back up, with Louis Catlin taking the centre back role for the last quarter making some solid clearances allowing Mikey Dowling to push forward.

A series of great moves and corners saw the Mavericks under pressure. Harry Graham passed through a great ball to Jenson Lea who quickly passed it on to a well-positioned Dowling – who made full use of his more forward role to chip a shot past the keeper bringing the scores equal at 2-2.

Lucas Wilson pulled off a great defensive clearance and Messias provided a safe pair of hands to keep the scores equal.  Harry Graham nearly sealed it with a spectacular free kick that was blocked just before the final whistle; forcing a great corner – and final play of standard time – from Jenson Lea.

The Hawks were on fire at the end of the match and kept this through extra time with amazing passing and runs from the team. Dowling was unlucky not to get his second goal 7 minutes into extra time.  His solid performance as captain and his tireless energy in a more forward role – along with the great goal – saw Dowling share the Man of the Match award with Harry Graham.

Daniel Flowers returned to his role at the back and he, along with Louis Catlin, pulled off some great clearances to keep the Mavericks at bay.

After a well fought extra time, it came down to the inevitable penalties. Five and then sudden death.

Jenson Lea stepped up to take the first penalty and slotted it home top right. The Mavericks replied with a well taken penalty making it 1 each. Harry Graham rocketed a shot past the keeper and the Mavericks equalised with a confident shot.

Louis Catlin took the third with a well-placed shot that the keeper wasn’t going to reach. There was a moment of confusion with the Mavericks third – with a ‘did it or didn’t it’ go in moment. The ref confirmed it did, so the score was even at 3-3.

George Acock took the fourth and it bounced in off the left post. Nerves were even more jangled as Hawks keeper Messias got a hand on the Mavericks fourth shot – but it popped over the line.

Leo Schlaefli stepped up for the Hawks and took an accomplished shot making it 5 out of 5 for the Hawks.  Messias faced the final Mavericks’ penalty taker before sudden death – and completely pulled it out of the bag with a confident save; giving the Hawks the victory and passage through to the next round of the competition.  A brilliantly well fought match with the Hawks demonstrating great resilience to come back from 2 nil down to win on penalties.