LIGERS WITHSTAND WHITEGROVE WHIRLWIND TO STAY TOP
By Neil SINCLAIR
George Lee hits five as U13s recover from two goals down
Ligers showed tremendous character to recover from a scintillating start by hosts Whitegrove Tigers and confirm their position at the top of the Division. Alfie Lepine, playing centre forward, twice showed the Hearts defence a clean pair of heels, tearing through the back four to put Whitegrove two goals clear inside 10 minutes. His opening goal game in the opening minute, leaving Toby and Joe sucking air as he calmly placed the ball beyond George PM, almost before the stand-in goalie had pulled on his gloves. Alfie’s second goal resulted from route one football, as he again sprinted beyond the Hearts defence. His finish was made somewhat easier by George rushing out to meet him and ending up in no-man’s land, still 10 yards short of the attacker and 18 yards off his goal line. Alfie didn’t hit the sweetest of finishes but it rolled into the corner unchallenged.
Ligers, justifiably, looked very rattled. But this team possesses remarkable spirit and they appeared to press the reset button. The back four of Kevin, Toby, Joe and Zak began to hold their line and Kevin used his pace to sweep round the back to cover for his colleagues. John and Frazer got a grip of the midfield, battling well for the second balls and in transition, enabling Gabe, George L and Ilyas to find some space in the Whitegrove defence. On 20 minutes a searching cross from Kevin found Gabriel on the left who cut inside to halve the deficit.
Dylan was causing problems through the middle and managed a couple of shots but the home keeper was equal to them. He wasn’t quite as able to deal with George L when he picked up a pass from Gabe in the inside left channel, holding off two challenges before hammering the ball beyond the Whitegrove No1. But parity was short-lived. Within 90 seconds, Alfie had completed a first-half hat-trick down the hill. Dylan took the brunt of Coach Wallis’s wrath, having failed to track back with the home team’s raiders. With four minutes of the half remaining, Dylan found himself trudging to the bench to be replaced by Sam. It was an inspired move by the Coach: in the remaining minutes, the Hearts midfield changed the game. First of all Frazer found himself with space after good work by Ilyas on the right, and pulled the trigger to level at 3-3. Minutes later, John’s excellent half on the right of midfield saw him hit a pinpoint cross to find George L in the box, and Hearts went into the half-time huddle ahead for the first time.
The second half was a very different story. The increasingly influential Frazer and John gave way to Rufus and Tommy, while Dylan returned in place of Ilyas. Joe swapped with George PM in goal, and Kevin moved alongside Toby in central defence. The terror of the first 35minutes, Alfie, found himself increasingly offside and frustrated, whilst his team mates could barely wrestle the ball from Rufus, who was outstanding, George PM and Gabriel, whose passing, movement and tackling, made the left flank their own. Dylan, with a point to prove, was rampaging in both directions and Tommy was making himself a handful whilst laying off some good little touches behind the strikers. George was quick to capitalise on Ligers’ ascendency, netting his second to create a two goal lead. But it was his next goal that was the real stand out: a short corner between Sam and Zak worked beautifully, pulling the defence out of position and Sam’s cross found George unmarked to bury the ball in the back of the Whitegrove net. It was another astonishing goal-scoring feat by George; he has now scored his 24th goal in 10 appearances.
To be fair to Whitegrove, they kept on fighting. With only one replacement to call on, and the rain teeming down, they were understandably despondent but they never gave up. Joe, now in goal, added to their frustration by reading the game brilliantly and negating every through ball in Alfie’s direction, and some that weren’t. Joe only got one wrong: as the game edged towards its denouement, Joe rushed out of his box to nick the ball away from the on-rushing Tiger, miscued his kick and then stuck out is hand to parry the ball away from Alfie, whilst still outside his area. A red card offence, exacerbated by Joe telling referee Mr. Blower that he had done it! Still, these are U13s and Joe was permitted to retreat, chastened, to his posts, only to see the resulting free-kick whistle past his right hand from the boot of Adam Bickley.
Ligers weren’t to concede the upper hand. With barely enough time for the restart, the Duracell that is Gabriel found himself bearing down on goal unchallenged. He stepped round the keeper who had rushed to the edge of his box to close the angle and Gabe calmly walked the ball into the net as Mr Blower blew the final whistle.
Ligers confirmed their credentials to be top of the table with just two league games remaining before Christmas. It was a display of character and resilience against a Whitegrove team who belied their position at he other end of the table.
There has been an incredible improvement in ability and understanding of every one of the Ligers squad that crossed the whitewash in Warfield. The passing and movement, and even the communication was excellent; once the boys worked out how to negate Whitegrove's pace, the home team's threat evaporated. Every player now appears to understand the need to battle to win back a lost ball.
Ligers maintain a two point lead at the top of the table, as all three teams below them won convincingly.