“One of the best footballing performances I have seen from one of my teams.”
.....under-18 lads produced in the FA Youth Cup against Kempston Rovers on Thursday night at the Dog & Duck.
Kempston have always produced decent teams and now that their senior side is in the Southern League, we expected them to bet even better.
And when they came past me to enter the dressing room before the game, I wondered if we were playing the right team! They were giants in the main and also looked a mainly upper age group.
I have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed some good runs in the competition in the past and have been to Molineux to play Wolves and the City Ground to be hammered by Nottingham Forest and had Walsall away – all great nights.
I want this group to emulate those days – and they`re certainly capable of achieving it.
First, though, we had to get over this hurdle and from the first whistle it looked as though it was going to be a tough task.
Bigger, stronger and more physical than us, they pinged long balls forward looking to get beyond our back three, but Jaydon Taylor – back to his best – Jordan-Lee Holmes and Dante Memoli were absolutely superb at the back, while wing-backs Callum Harley and Dan Owen got forward well and were often our most potent weapons attacking-wise.
But, the things that has plagued us all season – missed chances – haunted us once again.
Skipper Ben Fitzjohn, as busy as usual, and Harvey Bland – in what was his best game since returning to the club – both had several opportunities, but perhaps the best two chances of the opening half fell to Harley and Owen.
However, completely against the run of play, Kempston opened the scoring from out of the blue when one of their lads took a pot shot from 30 yards which went above Sam Curtis` head and into the back of the net.
The disappointment of that could have led to the lads dropping their heads and if we weren`t careful, we could go into the break further behind.
But we managed to steady the ship, continued to play our football, prompted by our excellent midfield trio of James Bishop, James Lea and Frankie Hayes, and went into the break that one-goal down.
Apart from taking chances, it was virtually impossible to be critical of the players at half-time as we`d played them off the park to be honest.
We just told them to continue in the same vein – but try and take some of the opportunities that came their way.
And we did just that.
Apart from back passes, Sam Curtis had little to do in the second period, indeed, I cannot recall them having more than one shot – another effort from long-range which this time went over the bar.
And then myself and assistants Simon Bishop and Steve Oslar almost fell on the floor as low and behold, we actually scored from a corner to equalise!
We must have had 30 corners this season from which we haven`t looked like scoring to be honest.
We wanted to work on corners at training, but unfortunately you can rarely get everyone there in order to achieve it.
But this time Harvey Bland powered in a header from a Fitzjohn corner.
Once again, we settled and played the ball around beautifully at times and produced several more chances that were either saved or were wasted.
But then came the decisive moment when a through ball from James Lea found Bland who crossed low and hard for Fitzjohn to slide the ball past the Kempston keeper.
We were then expecting a bit of an onslaught from the visitors looking for a leveller themselves, but it never came, mainly thanks to our terrific defence and defensive midfield work.
And then we had a great chance to put the game to bed when Harvey Lewis, on for the hardworking Dan Owen, was tripped in the box.
But Ben Fitzjohn`s penalty duties may have to be looked at now as his effort was saved by the visiting keeper, who in truth had kept them in the game in the second half – the skipper`s second miss this season.
We saw the rest of the game out reasonably comfortably to achieve a really notable win.
And one of the best comments I have heard this season came from a Kempston parent after the game when he suggested we were “on a different level” to them!!
Some of my past teams have been bigger, stronger and perhaps possessed more of a killer instinct – my Rothwell own side of the late 1990s for example – but I cannot think of a better all-round footballing side than this one.
Updated 09:38 - 22 Sep 2017 by Steve Whitney
Sam Curtis; Jaydon Taylor, Jordan-Lee Holmes, Dante Memoli; Dan Owen, James Bishop, James Lea, Frankie Hayes, Callum Harley; Ben Fitzjohn, Harvey Bland. Subs used: Harvey Lewis, Sol Paul. Not used: Callum Herring, Alex Burnell.