Sometimes I wonder “is this gonna work” when planning out my football Saturdays in the north. This time it did. Three different matches, all literally miles apart, and gee it was fun. Here’s some of what I saw.
Valley Road: The Set Up
There’s only one real word for a match where it’s 11-0 at half time, that’s a thrashing. Devonport Strikers put on a display against the competition’s cellar dwellers Somerset. With Ulverstone on my play-card I left at the break, but I definitely didn’t miss out on the chips and gravy. And those bad boys more than lived up to its hype!
The funny thing with the half I did watch was how territory doesn’t tell the full story. Somerset often pushed forward with numbers, and a high defensive line. There were moments of promising attacking build up without the finished product. The trouble Somerset encountered was off the ball.
When the Strikers were in possession it was trouble. The high line was an open invite for Devonport to hit the counter and get in behind the defence. Somerset simply couldn’t put enough bodies behind the ball fast enough. Even when the Strikers had a spell of possession in attack, that wasn’t a counter, the defensive were left struggling. With three upfront for the green and white hoops, the resulting unmarked Devonport players had a field-day.
Maybe the pure joy of attacking play is where Somerset are at right now, conceding they won’t win matches from stubbornly grinding them out with a parked bus. But, if there’s any hope of clawing back matches that are otherwise a blow out, their set-up without the ball needs some love, care and attention.
For the team at Valley Road, the addition of Dutch player Renske Rombouts was wonderful to watch. Another dynamic midfielder, who can fire a delicious shot from 30 yards out. Welcome to Tassie.
Ulverstone Showground: Hunger and Adaptability
For a proper play by play on this one, head to Slice of Cheese.
But firstly, just wanna say again, team managers are the bomb. Seriously, without those guys I would be scratching around trying to figure out the different changes coaches throw onto the park each weekend. So to all the team managers across the league, you know I love you and thank you for those priceless pieces of information you provide pre-match.
This was an upset. Most people, myself included, expected Clarence Zebras would win comfortably. But the saying of nothing is guaranteed in football hits home here.
A 1-all draw felt like victory for Ulverstone. Considering a sluggish start, adapting to a new coaching philosophy, it should be recognised as a proxy victory. Add on the Reds didn’t concede from open play and looked dynamic up front themselves, it’s a strong sign things are travelling in the right direction in the North West.
CZ is a team who has relied on its depth this season when things haven’t worked quite well enough. But a long road trip and player unavailability hit them hard. Without the usual sparks to turn to on the bench, there was no plan C. Plan B saw a shift of personnel on the pitch, Madi O’Brien pushed into midfield to give it more bite. But in the attacking sense, there was no variety.
Instead Ulverstone almost had a cheat sheet for Clarence. The Reds matched pace with pace on the flanks, while experience marked Zoe Nichols out of the match through the centre. With CZ’s attack nullified, Ulverstone’s midfield brought the hunger. First to the ball and not letting their opponent settle to any rhythm.
A change in starting XI saw Lucy Reimer return to the front third, taking up a role as centre forward. Ulverstone will either need to keep Odette Carpenter at centre back (who also had a stellar match), or go on the hunt for another centre back, because Reimer looked the missing piece to get the best out of ex-University attackers Mikalha George and Eli Cropp.
How Amy Bissett fits into the attack whenever she returns, and what happens defensively are questions that will need answering later in the season. But for now, this is a winning combination if Ulverstone want to score goals.
Birch Ave: The Goalkeeper
I must admit, I bombed down the Bass Highway (within the speed limit mum) with the intent to do some scouting on the Northern Championship leaders. Launceston United had pricked my ears up before the season due to some quality recruitment. A 3-1 victory over the fancied Devonport Strikers packed with WSL experience meant I simply couldn’t ignore the Launie team.
No doubt United has some impressive elements to its game. There’s quality, including a midfielder wearing number 16, that might be Jess Robinson if my instagram snooping skills are worth anything. Number 16 was impressive, able to control the ball on a dime from a bombing clearance, ability to put tackles in, read the play and made good runs from midfield. The class was oozing from United’s midfielder.
But something else caught my eye. Riverside’s goalkeeper.
The last time I saw Riverside play they got flogged in a pre-season match they would rather forget. The keeper had a tough day in the office no doubt, but it looked like a position that wasn’t her usual, lacking the necessary confidence to use her hands.
A change in goalkeeper and the orange team were a completely different outfit. It was clear from the moment I began watching this encounter at the second half kick off, this keeper meant business. Marshalling defences is a skill often overlooked at this level, but it was music to my ears as defenders knew where their attacker was because of the calls from goal. While the basics of catching and meeting an oncoming attackers to tighten the angle and pull out a save were all done with the confidence of a trusted goalie.
Sometimes it just takes one player to change the outlook of a team. Riverside has that in their goalkeeper. The comparison of a game with and without their number one is chalk and cheese.