Today’s game takes place in the eastern suburbs of Southampton, at what was Weston Park School. At present it is undergoing a drastic makeover, and is now known as The Oasis Academy – which is all part of some educational reform that has passed me by. Finding the changing rooms is not straightforward.
Myself, Martyn Barnett, John Rix and Sam Schwodler get lost inside the school grounds. We walk our wet footprints through one of the new white floored developments. This tests the patience of a member of staff, who goes to great lengths in explaining how much effort has been put into keeping them clean. She does at least point us in the right direction, if for no other reason than to shoo us out. A grey 1960’s block stands next to a more recent, bright white building. Mark Reeves points to one classroom in the former; identifying it as the place he had geography lessons. The school’s face lift looks well overdue.
|Sam Schwodler disagrees with an offside decision in the background. David Smart feels likewise.|
Thornhill wear the Southampton replica strip, circa 2006. The traditional red and white stripes are overshadowed by a black strip of panelling that runs down the shoulders, was worn by such footballing luminaries as Jermaine Wright, Kamil Kosowski and Gareth Bale. The pitch itself has been rolled. It is flat and reasonably big. As we walk out onto it, it starts raining.
Earlier in the season it would not be unreasonable to see Ben Rowe, Kristian Hewitt, Lee Fielder, Daniel Esfandiari, Chris Pye, and Ryan Hurst all in the starting line-up for Burridge. From that list only Chris Pye is involved today, taking his place on the substitute’s bench after a couple of months spent injured. The other names from that list have either taken a step back from playing, or fallen to injuries and work commitments, like Ryan Hurst.
Once again, Sam Hewitt steps in to replace Hurst, alongside Kev Willsher in central defence. It is not a position Sam enjoys playing in, but he goes on to have a barnstorming game, highly influential at both ends of the field. We struggle to leave our half during the first fifteen minutes.
Thornhill impose themselves with a quick passing game and it isn’t long before they take the lead, exploiting space inside our penalty area and hitting a shot in Jones’ right-hand corner. Slowly we ease into their half. Marc Judd and John Rix see plenty of the ball on either flank. The equaliser comes when John breaks free of the offside trap and drills a cross low across the six yard box. Sam Schwodler pounces to make it one-all.
The move that led to the equaliser is surpassed when Sam Hewitt intercepts on the edge of his own penalty area and strides forward purposefully. He plays a one-two with John Rix that takes him deep into Thornhill’s half. He has the presence of mind to bisect a busy penalty area by cutting the ball back to Martyn Barnett, who smashes into the top corner from the edge of box. Martyn is a reliable striker of the ball. This was another goal to add to his fine collection.
Marc Judd goes into the referee’s book for dissent. He is furious that the referee has missed what he considered a hay maker, thrown in his direction. We go in at half-time 2-1 up. Both Thornhill Health Kicks and the referee disappear into the bowels of the school, leaving us outside in the rain to gather our thoughts.
Paul Dyke makes us aware that Thornhill will start the second-half quickly. It’s an accurate prediction. They equalises within minutes of the restart. Although there is some doubt over the legitimacy of the goal. Chris Pye, who was running the line, was man enough to admit that as he wasn’t up with play there will always remain a doubt over offside, but the opportunity as a team to deal with the situation had already been missed.
With their tails now up, Thornhill go for the jugular, committing plenty of bodies forward. Their third goal comes from twenty-five yard. Their captain receives a short free kick, side steps past me and hits a low drive inside Jones’ right hand post. The mini collapse is a test of our resolve. At this stage of the game it is unlikely anyone would have believed there would be no further goals for the remaining half hour. The game is open.
Dan Allen puts in his finest performance in a Burridge shirt at left back, cutting inside and linking well with Marc Judd. Sam Schwodler has serious misgivings with the judgement of Thornhill’s linesman. While he doesn’t doubt every decision, there are one or two he has serious reservations over. Chris Pye, on for Smart, is not given offside when he finds himself clean through on goal. A lack of match fitness robs him of his usual self-belief and the chance comes to nothing.
By now frustration is getting the better of Thornhill. One or two of them seem very sensitive to any criticism. One of their strikers, who has already been booked, pushes his luck with some reckless challenges. He begins arguing the toss over a goal kick with the referee. His debating technique relies heavily on verbal abuse. His surprise at being sent off tells its own story.
We push hard for an equaliser. In the closing minutes we win several corners, but Thornhill stand firm to win the game. They are nestled in third position, while we are ninth. Then comes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. After running around in the rain and mud one comes to expect a shower. We stood expectantly under the showers waiting for a flow of water that never came. In terms of performance, Burridge manager, Paul Dyke, is not satisfied in anything less than 100% commitment. In the absence of any points, sweat would have to do.
GK: Ryan Jones, LB: Dan Allen, CB: Kev Willsher, CB: Sam Hewitt, RB: Mark Reeves (Rob Mills), LM: Marc Judd, CM: Martyn Barnett, CM: Mark Sanderson, RM: John Rix, CF: David Smart (Chris Pye), CF: Sam Schwodler
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