There was barely time for Netley to restart the game after Ben Rowe's equalising goal. After sneaking the ball through a busy crowd of legs he was chased out of the penalty area by his team mates. He got as far as the half-way line before they caught up to offer their congratulations by wrestling him to the ground. It took two or three to knock him off balance, then he fell beneath the weight of the rest. Disappointment has been an unusual experience for Netley this season. Their players stood glued to the spot. Some of them looked down at the grass, others pointed fingers of blame at one another. It was odd to see them, a side who would have sealed the title with a win, succumbing to a last minute equaliser from a goal mouth scramble via a free-kick Kristian Hewitt admitted was far from his best. One of Netley's substitutes demanded they adopt a conservative strategy for the remainder of the game. “Keep the ball in the corners,” he screamed. There were five seconds of the match left.
|Ben Rowe (number 9), runs off after equalising against Netley on Saturday afternoon.|
Netley could have been forgiven for thinking the game was over at half-time. Having won sixteen of their previous eighteen league games, they can also include reigning Southampton Premier League champions, Bush Hill, as one of their scalps, having beaten them in the semi-finals of the Trophyman Cup. They trounced second placed Allbrook 4-0 last week in a game that went some way to decide who would win the divisional title. Perhaps the confidence they had taken from the victory turned to complacency in the spring sun. Our mood at the final whistle was in stark contrast to the silence of half-time. Although Paul Dyke reminded us that we had come back from two-nil down twice this season, albeit against inferior opposition, the statistic didn't seem to register with us. We looked embarrassed at having believed we could give Netley a run for their money.
Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint the specific qualities required to make a comeback without entering the realms of cliché. While determination and self belief did have something to do with it, the transformation in our fortunes was largely due to a singular moment. It wasn't simply Martin Barnett's goal early in the second-half, but the manner in which it was scored - it gave us the impetus to believe we could compete with Netley on a level playing field. When the chips are down there can be a tendency to delegate responsibility in front of goal with a sideways pass. This can be fatal for momentum, and all to often a chance to shoot will wither away to nothing. Martin's opportunity came from Marc Judd's slightly shanked cross field ball, which one Netley spectator had described fairly loudly as a load of fucking crap. No sooner had the words left his mouth, Martin struck the pass past Netley's 'keeper with the potent combination of power and accuracy from the edge of the penalty area. The spectator had the presence of mind to keep any further opinions to himself for the rest of the game.
This was the fifth occasion we had scored a last minute goal to either win or avoid defeat; and the third time we had come back from two goals down. It was also vindication for Rowe, who had endured a fairly miserable afternoon in front of goal last week at Durley. With fifty points on the board Netley can now afford to lose their final game and still win the league by goal difference over Allbrook - not that you would have known it at around 4:10pm on Saturday. At the final whistle Netley players quickly disappeared into the dressing rooms. If there were any celebrations they were kept behind closed doors and somewhat muted. Perhaps it is because despite winning the title there will be no promotion. The Southampton Football League does not permit reserve teams in its Premier League. If the previous four years of playing against Netley Reserves have been anything to go by very few of these players will stick around next season when the fixture will take place once more. Whether or not that fixture is against an entirely different set of personnel, it is unlikely to produce a game as exciting as what took place on Saturday.
Burridge played in a 4-4-2 formation:
GK: Ryan Jones, LB: Kristian Hewitt, CB: Ryan Hurst, CB: Kev Willsher, RB: Sam Hewitt, LM: Chris Pye, CM: Martin Barnett, CM: Mark Sanderson (Mark Reeves), RM: Marc Judd (Joe Hill), CF: Lee Fielder (Ben Rowe), CF: Sam Schwodler