Balmain Rovers v Enfield A: Ron Routley Oval, Concord: Sat 12 August 2006
Match report by Ricky Onsman
Despite early confidence that Strathfield would qualify in fourth spot, it turned out to be Enfield B taking the field against us in the glorious sunshine of the Division 8 Minor Semi Final. You know Enfield B. We played them in the 1st game of the season at Pratten Park. They got a freak flick-on backheader for the only goal. And then we played them at Henley Park and they scored inside 15 minutes with a freak flick-on backheader. But then Matt scored in the goalmouth and Serdar put away an Ismet cross.
This time around the venue was Ron Routley in Concord: mostly hard, flat and fast. Amir in goal; Dan, Ricky, Gavin, Allan at the back; Barry, Paul, Akin, Dave in the middle; Serdar, Ismet up front; Brendan on the bench with Jason (when he arrives from Canberra). The pre-match talk focused on keeping things simple, supporting each other, keeping posession, accurate passing, running into space - all things we know we can do well.
And that's exactly what we did. For once there was no stuttering start to the match, no early goal conceded. Balmain Rovers players displayed confidence in themselves and each other. They systematically and enthusiastically won the ball, held the ball and passed the ball, building pressure on the Enfield defence. Brendan controlled the air space over midfield, finding enough time to be able to call exactly where he was directing his headers. Barry found enough space to think about whether to pass or shoot, and in both cases was constructive and controlled. Fifteen minutes in Paul swung a corner in from the right that looked dangerous but no-one connected. Minutes later he did the same from the other corner. This time Brendan had it lined up at the far post when Barry leapt terrier-like in front of him to head the ball firmly home.
Enfield relied on their striker's use of his generously proportioned behind to get possession and take a shot or two at the Balmain goal, but the real action was all at the other end where it was only another fifteen minutes before a sustained phase of pressure from the Rovers midfield saw Paul push a delightful pass straight up the middle for Serdar to latch on to and send goalwards to put Rovers 2-0 up. The rest of the half saw Barry and Brendan dominate the midfield, exerting more pressure on the Enfield defence. Really, all Balmain's forward players were on song, with Akin and Davo also giving Enfield headaches. With Gavin playing a midfield-focused centre back role, supported by the height of Ricky and then Jason, and the width of Allan and Dan, the occasional Enfield attack was quickly stifled. Rovers' movement from defence to midfield to attack was impressive in its fluency and Serdar and Ismet were able to regularly trouble the Enfield defenders. Half-time: Balmain Rovers 2, Enfield B 0.
The second half, however, was as if it had been plucked from a different game - one in which Balmain Rovers had forgotten how to play. The defence became disorganised and uncommunicative, while the midfield found it harder to win possession and the forwards rarely got the ball at all. It wasn't so bad at first, just surprisingly messy, until Amir was penalised by the referee for taking too long to dispose of the ball from within his area. This resulted in an Enfield indirect free kick from the edge of the box, and ultimately a goal. Enfield spirits lifted and they realised they could take advantage of the situation. Their large centre back started pushing up through midfield. the Balmain defence tried various combinations and formations but nothing felt as fluent as before.
The second Enfield goal was like a mini-nightmare come true. An Enfield attack launched from about 35 yards out lobbed into the Balmain penalty area. A knot of players orange and green set themselves to leap. Amir has ideas of plucking it out of the air and calls "Kippairrr!". Several Balmain players hold their momentum, but Amir is obstructed by too many bodies. The Enfield striker has gone up in front and flicked on a backheader. Aargh! It's the same bloke! It's deja vu all over again! The ball skips over frozen Rovers heads and Amir's outstretched arms and into the Balmain net. 2-2.
And that's how it finished in normal time. This being a final, the ref called for 20 minutes extra time, 10 minutes each way, no break in between, no golden goal. There was plenty of passion in the Balmain Rovers drinks break, although no-one could really nail what went so wrong in the previous 45 minutes. Nevertheless, we went out there determined to get our mojo back.
And that's exactly what we did. It was as if the Rovers who'd played the first half and been mysteriously substituted by aliens in the second had returned triumphantly to their true nature. Contesting and winning possession, controlling distribution, pressuring the opposition - it was all back. Two key indicators were Amir's pulling off a couple of ridiculously athletic saves and at the other end Serdar and Ismet running at the opposition defence. On one of the latter sorties early in the 1st half of extra time, Serdar waited for a gap but got bored and smacked it at goal anyway from 25 yards out. A better goalkeeper may possibly have stopped it but it was a fine strike, restoring Balmain's lead. Enfield didn't give up and there was plenty for the Balmain defence to do, right down to the last goalmouth scramble.
In the end, it was a deserved win, but we all know we will need to play our best football for the whole match if we want to win this week's Preliminary Final and the following Grand Final. Full time Rovers 3 - Enfield B 2.
Pele Points: Barry Scott, Brendan Coutts 2 points, Serdar Celik, Ismet Tastan 1 point