Sunday, 4th January 2015
Harusia  Strategic Optimists  NXI 
The New Cross Irregulars registered their first clean sheet of the season to maintain their winning run and remain top of the league as the season reached its halfway stage.
A foggy day in Fordham Park. Although the gap between matches had been no longer than usual, there was still a palpable “after the Christmas break” feel to the pre-match preparations. Happy new years were wished, Christmas stories shared, and more than a few faces belied internal questions of quite why they had decided to brave the biting weather on a muddy pitch so soon after festive indulgences. It is unclear if such questions were answered by the end of the day’s play.
As league leaders, New Cross came into the January round of matches expecting to face an opposition alliance. The sight of both Harusia (a new year and a new name for the team previously known as Polscy Budowlancy) and Strategic Optimists players warming up together suggested these expectations were well founded.
The first rotation was a traditionally tight affair, with NXI doing a decent job of disrupting the opposition alliance. The only goal came towards the end of the rotation, following a characteristically fluctuating passage of play that saw all three goals come under attack. The move started as an attack on the goal of Strategic Optimists, but the SO defence managed to gain control of the ball and launched their own offensive on NXI, supported by the Harusia players who moments ago had been their adversaries. However, NXI’s Will Simpson was able to clear into space where Tristan Carlyle, who had been Simpson’s partner in defence for most of the rotation, ran onto the loose ball and stroked it inside the Harusia post with an assured finish that suggested he should perhaps venture forward more often.
Although Carlyle’s strike had been the only goal of the first rotation, at the start of the second it appeared as though the floodgates may have opened as two goals were scored in quick succession. The first was a fine collaborative effort between Harusia and NXI, with players from both teams patiently playing the ball across the edge of the SO box before an incisive through ball found the run of Harusia’s Alex Morgiel, who scored to make it 1-1-0. It is an odd quirk of 3SF that Morgiel’s goal brought his team level with one opposition, but still left them trailing the team who had actually helped create their quasi-equaliser.
Unfortunately for Morgiel and his team, even this slender parity did not last very long. A ferocious strike from SO’s Pat Davies could only be parried by Harusia’s goalie, and though Davies’ follow up was not as clean as his first strike it fell to NXI’s Striker-in-Chief Laurence Galpin, who slotted in at the far post.
Despite this early promise, those proved to be the only two goals of the second rotation, NXI’s disciplined defence doing a good job of limiting both oppositions to long-range efforts which either failed to hit the target or were comfortably dealt with by NXI goalkeeper Ben Borowiecki.
The start of third rotation saw an interesting development for a game where it is notoriously dangerous to take a lead into the final rotation.
At 2-1-0, SO seemed to be in the stronger position of the two trailing teams and perhaps expected an alliance with Harusia against an NXI team that was yet to concede. However, with the scoreline so tight it was actually in both their oppositions’ interests that SO concede again, as it would draw them level with Harusia and afford NXI some breathing space as they looked to secure their fourth outright win in a row. And so it was that Harusia’s Morgiel turned provider, feeding Galpin who collected the ball with his back to goal before turning his man and firing a low shot into the left corner of the SO goal to bring the score to 2-2-0.
Clearly frustrated with the lack of value coming from the NXI defence, Harusia and SO increasingly turned their attention to each other as they searched for the goals that would ensure they didn’t pick up the maximum two points for a losing result. SO in particular were keen to improve on previous results which had yet to see them avoid a losing draw or outright loss. NXI naturally welcomed the change of dynamic, which both relieved the pressure on their own goal and allowed them to play a more expansive and adventurous game. They would go on to take full advantage with a further two goals.
Galpin completed his hattrick with a well taken goal against Harusia, and then assisted Borowiecki, fresh out of the NXI goal, who made a late run into the Harusia box and turned in Galpin’s cutback without breaking his stride.
With the game drawing towards a close, there was still time for Owen Proctor-Jackson, Borowiecki’s replacement in goal, to make a commendable save, diving to his right to turn an SO shot round the post and maintain the clean sheet his predecessor had left in his care.
Soon after the final whistle blew and brought an end to the first match of 2015, the final score standing at 4-2-0. NXI maintained their lead at the top of the table and SO’s hard work was rewarded with a deserved second place, their ‘keeper in particular having a good match with a string of smart saves to keep his team in the game.
With 5 of 10 maches played the Irregulars have put themselves in a strong position, but know they go into the second half of the season with a cross on their backs.