In a game dedicated to improving our style of play, Falcons naturally ran out 3-2 winners over Phoenix with goals from a free kick, penalty and corner.
The constant theme of the season has been the inability to keep a regular starting line-up and Sunday was no different. Injuries prevented Duncan (sporting) and Conal (drunken New Year's Eve) from participating, Brady continues his suspension while Jimmy and Stevie were away. Fortunately, John and Olu were both fit to start their first game together in months, Matt picked up the gloves and Will started on the bench after impressing in training. Ben C started on the right while Jack made a welcome return to the starting line-up on the left.
With a five point gap to the undefeated Charlton at the top of the league, the key theme for this game was to be one of improving our passing and possession. This could only mean two things: Charlton would drop points and we would score all of our goals from set pieces.
Olu had an early chance from kick-off but it was Phoenix who had the best chance of the opening quarter hour when a header had to be cleared off the line. Then, a free kick frm the half-way line was flicked on by Paddy and the ball dropped invitingly for John to blast the ball into the net and make it 1-0.
Cal came on for Olu on the half hour mark and immediately made an impact, chasing down somewhat of a lost cause and then getting tripped in the area to win a penalty. Chris made no mistake from the spot to go to the top of the scoring chart for the first time this season.
We never like to hold a two goal lead going into half time so some very charitable defending presented Phoenix with the chance to halve the deficit just before the break. When the ball did land at the feet of their winger he made no mistake, curling in a lovely shot from 15 yards. A free kick from Pete hit the bar minutes later but the score remained 2-1.
Will came on for his debut in the second half as we shifted the shape of the team slightly and he had an assured 45 minutes at the back. There was regular rotation of the substitutes as tiredness and injuries creeped in after six weeks without a game. Cal had a couple of chances to extend the lead back to two goals but it was another set piece which made it 3-1. This time it was Pete's inswinging corner from the left which was headed off the line but ultimately dropped invitingly for Andrew who lashed the ball in for his first league goal and first from open play.
Just as things seemed to be getting relatively comfortable there was a huge stroke of luck for the opposition as their right winger mis-hit a cross so impressively that the ball was drilled into the top corner, leaving Matt with no chance. As a result, the final ten minutes weren't particularly pretty as Falcons dropped back to defend deep and see the game out at 3-2.
This was a competitive game fought out well between the two teams. Phoenix are an improved unit this season and ,despite some unfamiliarity and lack of fitness on our part, everyone worked hard to deliver the three points.
Post-match everyone decamped to the pub to watch Liverpool defeat City in a result that seemed to please everyone. We return to action next week with an away trip to Titans XXL.
Squad: Matt, Kieran, Pete, Andrew, Jack, Percy, Paddy, John, Olu (Cal, 30), Ben C (Will, 46), Chris
Scorers: John (20), Chris (p, 35), Andrew (60)