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Tornadoes storm to the final


TornadoesManager Mark Smith reports on the HT Tornadoes‘ progress into the Jaguars Under 16 Cup Final:

Well I have to admit that the build up to last Saturday’s semi-final 2nd leg couldn’t have caused me more grief but the end result couldn’t have left me more proud of the Tornadoes!  Maybe it was just me, but a 5-0 lead seemed quite slender, given how results went against us in past seasons – against a team we’d only beaten for the first time in the semi-final first leg.  Added to that, we were without our star goalkeeper, Sam, who was away and our Captain, George, was struck down with a virus the night before the match so couldn’t play!  So all told, we turned up to face St James Eagles with our smallest match day squad this season of 13 players.

The main advantage of the boys having  built up a commanding lead in the first leg was that we didn’t need to score many (or any!) goals – we just needed to defend resolutely, not lose 6-0 and hopefully nick a goal or two to put the fixture out of reach of the Eagles.  Dropping Darius into central midfield to join James Smith and Connor and playing Tom as the lone front man meant that we could play the 4-5-1 formation I have favoured this year, giving us strength and depth in midfield with Geo and Ally on the wings and a familiar defence of Jordan and James Baker, Cameron and Charlie.  Joe Taylor volunteered to be our goalkeeper and I was only slightly more nervous when he elected to play without wearing his glasses!  Expecting a tough game I got in some pre-match flapjacks to make sure the boys had plenty of energy too!

I think we lost the toss and Eagles elected to play uphill and into the (fairly stiff) breeze for the first half.  This looked to be disastrous decision for them as the Tornadoes had three excellent chances to open the scoring in the first 10 minutes.  Only the bounce and slope of the pitch prevented the boys from controlling the ball early enough to get a good shot on target.  We’d practised a few corners in that very goal just before the match and Connor’s delivery for the first couple looked dangerous.  I think it was the third corner that Connor took that floated right across the top of the goal and in at the far post! Dreamland for me! That meant Eagles would need to put 7 goals past us to win and there was no chance of that…..or was there!?  I was just hunting in my bag for my scorebook to record the goal and I looked back at the pitch just in time to see the ball roll into an empty Tornadoes net!  I still have no idea what happened there but some slack play from the Tornadoes gave the ball away cheaply, several times, deep in our own half – and the boys got punished by the Eagles who scored twice more to go 3-1 ahead.  I can understand why so many professional football coaches end up having triple heart bypasses!

Thankfully, the Tornadoes kept their composure, knowing that they were playing the better football and easily winning the battle in midfield.  Rather than descend into negative finger pointing, the boys just kept to the match plan – “get the ball in their half and run with it or keep it for as long as possible”.  A quick reminder of that at half-time (3-1 down on the day but 6-3 up on aggregate) and a top-up of high energy flapjack and the boys were all set to keep the Eagles grounded.

I’ve got to be honest and say that I think the three central midfielders made the key difference in the second half.  Connor, James and Darius worked tirelessly to win the ball back when Eagles had it, were constantly covering each other and actively looking for the ball when we had possession.  Between them, these three showed massive amounts of energy and determination the whole match.  Ally and Geo were also constantly in the action and both players provided some excellent attacking runs to give the team a breather but also to create some great chances – and Geo was very unlucky not to score late on only to be denied by the legs of the keeper.  It wasn’t too far into the second half before we saw Geo win the ball out on the left and slip a pass to James.  James took on several Eagles defenders at speed and managed to get round the back of the defence and towards the goal from the left side, James’s shot looked to be heading into the net but Tom was well placed to make absolutely certain and belted the ball into the corner to bring us back to 3-2.

Those of us watching on the side lines were finally able to relax a few minutes later, when James spun a pass just over the Eagles defence, putting Tom straight though on goal and Tom volleyed a cracking shot straight over the ‘keeper and high into the net to level the score.

I’ve focussed on the midfield and attack so far but our defence was pretty solid for the whole of the second half.  Jacob was on at left back and Charlie shifted over to join Jordan at centre back – having proved a capable central defender in recent matches, Charlie’s communication skills were a very welcome addition in the middle of the pitch.  We were entertained several times by Jordan – who I swear was giving the Eagles’ (fast) centre forward an extra yard head start with each successive ball over the top, only to catch him back up just in time to make a critical tackle or put the player off his shot.  However, the pivotal shift in favour of the Tornadoes came in three Eagles attacks in the second half, which were met with phenomenal saves by Joe – including one outstanding reflex save to his left from very close range, which stopped a certain goal!

Legs were getting tired though. With Ally suffering a niggling knee injury and Cameron suffering a groin strain, we were lucky to have James Baker able to slot back in to good effect for Cameron and the fresh legs of James Crawley made sure that the Eagles were closed down very quickly down the right side and kept our wide outlet options open.  To cap things off perfectly and make it 2 wins out of 2, Darius intercepted a pass from an Eagles defender, beat another and clipped his shot over the keeper to score.  Final score 4-3! (9-3 on aggregate).

I’m sure I’ve missed quite a few moments that the individual players will remember as being important or worthy of mention the most important thing for me was that the boys were all fired up to play, they all played well – both individually and as a team – and they got the result they richly deserved, booking themselves a place in their first ever league cup final (on Saturday 9 May)! So collective pats-on-the-back all round and the whole team won Man of the Match.

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