Pre-season fixture 1 of 7: Wednesday 3 August, Priory Park, Bishops Waltham, south-east Hampshire
Wednesday evening marked the first of seven pre-season games for us during August. Opened windows did little to cool the away team dressing rooms at Priory Park; where, inside, thirteen of us jostled for adequate space in which to get changed. Kristian Hewitt had a look of concentration on his face as he searched the kit bag for a pair of extra large shorts. These days he is quick to dismiss his level of fitness; but judging on his performance in this fixture his words are merely a smokescreen. During the first-half, alongside Martin Barnett in the centre of our midfield, Hewitt showed large reserves of energy, demonstrated by several immaculately timed sweep tackles, where he slid in to dispossess his opponent before getting back to his feet with the ball in one rapid movement.
It was difficult to ascertain the exact stature of the opposition, who play in the Hampshire Premier League's Combination, which is somewhat of an anomaly, as it is made up of the Hampshire Premier League's reserve sides. However, by measuring that level on its own merits, Sporting's reserves had a good, if not ultimately frustrating season last term - losing the title on goal difference and the league cup final, after extra time to Liphook. Sporting had the better of the first fifteen minutes. Their passing was pleasing on the eye, without ever finding a clear route through to Ryan Jones' goal; mainly due to Ryan Hurst and Sam Hewitt - paired together in the centre of our defence, who consistently snuffed out their attacks, with a combination of poise and composure. This resulted in one or two cross words being exchanged between Sporting's midfield and attack, who seemed to have a distinct difference in opinion in how they should go about their business.
Sporting dominance faltered when we noticed they were playing a very high defensive line, which we exposed five or six times. Sam Schwodler and Lee Fielder both had several clear runs through on goal. Fielder reacted angrily when he missed the target, kicking the air in frustration. Debutant, Dan Jackson, went closest to breaking our duck, when his right footed strike cannoned powerfully back into play off of what seemed to be the underside of the metal crossbar. At this point it seemed an impending Burridge goal was inevitable. At half-time I heard several Sporting players discussing the first-half. They chose to ignore their defensive frailties, deciding instead to put the negative focus on our tactics, which they considered long ball. Far from being the kind of prehistoric anti-football, written about extensively in the pages of Charles Hughes' book, The Winning Formula, (which claims that the majority of goals are scored in under five passes), our approach was a calculated response to what we considered a weakness. Our passes were long, but they were also, mainly, accurate. This approach was highly effective in producing goalscoring chances - but unfortunately, no goals.
The frustration caused from not capitalising on our previous goalscoring opportunities seemed to accumulate in our collective consciousness; weighing heavy on the shoulders of whoever happened to have one of the many more chances we created in the second-half. Sam Schwodler was openly self critical, cursing himself with all the names under the sun. It was particularly odd that his goalscoring touch should desert him the day he finally wore suitable footwear, in the form of his new Adidas blades, specifically designed for these conditions. In the past Sam has worn metal studded boots all year round, irrespective of how hard the pitch is. Marc Judd then conceded a penalty. He was furious, and directed his anger towards the referee, whose decision appeared vindicated by the distinct lack of appeal against his judgement. Sporting scored from the resulting spot kick, which proved to be the decisive goal of the game.
Later, Lee Fielder sat in the corner of the changing room, saying that his missed chance would haunt his night's sleep. "Which one?" Replied Marc Judd. In truth, the only real negative aspect of the evening's play was an injury to captain, Kev Willsher - who was substituted after shepherding the ball over the byline from an opposing forward. He was somewhat distant after the game - perhaps lost in negative thoughts about the length of time he will be unable to play. It turned out he had torn a muscle in his shoulder, and as a consequence will be sidelined for four to six weeks. He did not join the majority of the squad to evaluate our performance in the garden of the nearby Priory pub. It was agreed that it had been an enjoyable game- with a great flat and expansive surface on which to play on, where everyone saw plenty of the ball; all that was missing was the result.
Burridge squad: Ryan Jones, Mark Reeves, Ryan Hurst, Sam Hewitt, Mark Sanderson, Marc Judd, Kristian Hewitt, Martin Barnett, Dan Jackson, Lee Fielder, Sam Schwodler, Kev Willsher, Paul Andrews
Burridge's next fixture is a 10am kick-off on Saturday 6 August, versus Locks Heath Reserves, at Stoneham Park Sports & Social Club, Stoneham Lane, Eastleigh, Southampton, SO50 9HT.