Falcons began the defence of the LUL Title with an entertaining 4-4 draw against Bexley in Barnes.
The familiar feeling of dread on waking up to messages from the early hours in the match WhatsApp group returned in full force on Sunday morning. Fair play to Jack, he's set new standards early on this season, having attempted (unsuccessfully) to leap over railings on Saturday night and ultimately ending up in A&E with a fractured elbow. Kieran and Conal also had to drop out of the squad, joining Jimmy, Andrew, Stevie and John as the others missing from the team that won the league last season. Fortunately, we've been recruiting well over the summer and the starting line-up saw the two Bens and Cal make their league debuts, while Phil and Ed joined Abdul on the bench. Chairman Matt also discovered the small print in his contract when he had to pick up the goalkeeper's gloves for the first time in a few years.
So, a change of formation, five new faces, a new home venue and players getting lost on the way to a game against a rapidly-improving Bexley team... What could possibly go wrong?
Well, not too much early on. We got off to the best possible start as a number of players combined in midfield and as a cross was sent out to the edge of the area, Paddy smashed the ball in to make it 1-0 after just two minutes and hopefully stop him moaning about Chris taking the ball off his foot last week.
There were three or four golden chances to extend the lead from one-on-ones before Bexley equalised. A free kick saw one of their defenders lose his man and then out-jump Pete to head the ball in. They then went 2-1 ahead with a nice one-two and dinked finish over Matt.
Credit to our boys. They kept passing the ball on a good surface and this resulted in a killer throughball from Alex to Olu. As the winger burst into the box he was clattered for an easy penalty, although it did result in a period off the pitch with a shoulder injury. Chris stepped up and struck a confident spotkick to make it 2-2 going into half time.
The chat at the break was mostly positive. The two fullbacks had equipped themselves well and Ed had made a solid start in midfield, having come on for Olu. The key was to keep passing the ball well and retain the energy levels from the first half.
Once again, we got off to a flier. In the first minute of the second half, Paddy strode through midfield and played a perfect throughball for Alex who made a diagonal run from the left wing. His left foot shot was too much for the goalkeeper and Falcons had the lead again at 3-2.
There was a bit of a shambles leading up to Bexley's equaliser at 3-3 as three players confused each other into not making a challenge but there was no doubting the quality of the finish as a curling shot from the left went over and around Matt from 20 yards. However, we made it 4-3 in no time at all. Olu and Ed combined on a short corner and Olu's perfect cross found Chris unmarked at the far post for a simple header.
Sadly, we couldn't quite hold on for the win as tiredness crept in. A long free kick from the back saw one of the Bexley strikers run in from the right wing and his finish was enough to beat Matt and make it 4-4.
Abdul and Phil both entered the fray in the final ten minutes to inject some energy but no further goals were scored in this entertaining contest.
Going into this match, there was a serious concern that it would end in defeat. Having to bed in so many new players in a different formation at a new venue against a quality opposition was quite a challenge. However, they all responded very positively and, with some better finishing and one or two fewer mistakes at the back, we'd have had the win. The football was really good at times and, for the most part, we coped well with the threat of long balls over the top. Mistakes will be made early on in a season and it's our job now to improve and try and make a run at defending our title. With 21 players now fighting for a place there's certainly no danger of complacency setting in.
Post-match we enjoyed a few beers at the Red Lion in the company of Steve from our new sponsors, Emerald Life. Two Brewers duties were restricted to Matt, Brady and Alex, although they did appear to bump into a rather familiar face!
Thanks to Bexley for a good game, Josh for stepping in to referee and particularly to Ed and Abdul for making themselves available at short notice.
Next week we're back at the same venue to face a Stonewall team who began their season with a 3-2 win.
Squad: Matt, Pete, Duncan, Cal, Ben M, Brady, Paddy, Alex, Olu, Ben C, Chris
Subs: Ed (35), Abdul (80), Phil (85)
Scorers: Paddy (2), Chris (36, 75), Alex (46)