The second game of the weekend, our postponed fixture against Newent from way back in January. Today the game was very different from the previous day, for Newent are also pushing for promotion, and having played more games than Cheltenham with less postpones fixtures during the frost start to the year, they currently hold onto the coveted top spot in the league table.
Needless to say the stakes were high today both teams had pressure on themselves to get an outcome. The game itself would certainly be one of the best both sides have played, after having to contend with scrappy teams in the league, it would seem against the better opposition brings out a better level of player in yourself and the team as a whole. The previous fixture back in October was a close game but ended with a win for Newent, though the Ladies 3s was a very different team back then, it was probably one of the weaker teams they had fielded, as the start of the season always takes time for teams to settle down. Now though the team is at its strongest, working well together as a team.
The very start of the game took Cheltenham some time to settle down into a rhythm, Newent were quick to make their intentions known and quickly dominated possession. Pushed back into their defensive half, Cheltenham struggled to break out and have any attack. Though credit to the defence then also managed to diffuse any attack the Newent made. Newent though were buoyed by their good early start and though their pressure hadn’t paid off straight away it didn’t take too long before Cheltenham succumbed to making a mistake. Newent were quick to seize this opportunity and after ten minute of play were 0-1 up.
A little bit of a shock start for Cheltenham, certainly most of their games it is them asserting their dominance during the first period of play rather than be on the back foot. Despite now being a goal down, they actually picked up their play. There were not going to let this game go any other way but a win for them. Playing with this urgency now in their game, they pushed Newent, taking their moments to attack, Defending when they needed to. Through the rest of this first half the two teams battled , but it very evenly matched. Though Cheltenham were now making attacking opportunities for themselves Newent defence time after time controlled the situation. But now being under pressure themselves Newent were stating to show signs of pressure, at one point leading to a player being green carded for knocking the ball across the pitch, meaning Cheltenham were unable to make the most of a quickly taken side line ball. Unfortunately with the advantage of an extra player for a few minutes Cheltenham could still not break back into the game and level the score and going into an important half time talk the score stood and 0-1 to Newent.
With the rarity of having one of our coaches on the side lines, the half time talk was full of much praise of how well we had recovered from the early goal. It was crucial to strike back as swiftly as possible at the start of this second half. We also needed to retain the ball better and reduce the number of times we needlessly gave it away. We were working well as a team and the one way to turn the game around was to continue to do so. With a number of substitute it was important to work as hard as possible when on pitch, and make sure we work back if we lost the ball.
Raring to go and change the game Cheltenham started the second half far better than the first half, encouraged but the coaches words, and knowing that Newent were going frustrated. And boy did we start the half better within a few minutes of the whistle we had evened the score to 1-1 with a beautifully well work goal. Using our speed down the wings and well time runs front he forwards, Newent were caught completely off guard. Surprised slightly by the speed of the goal, but no less encouraged that Cheltenham could turn the momentum of the game in their favour, they once again continued to apply pressure to Newent and take the lead for the first time. Newent were equal to Cheltenham’s attacks though, and as soon as one broke down they in turn put the pressure onto Cheltenham attacking themselves. Back and forth the game went, becoming more and more frantic. Sadly it was Newent to break the stalemate and once again take the lead to 1-2.
Cheltenham could have found this to be the end of the game to do down again, but instead used this as a catalyst to continue to fight. Knowing how evenly matched the two teams were and how frustrated Newent were that they were not easily dominate the game like so many of their other games this season, they push back hard than ever after conceding another goal. Unlike the first time where it took a long time to even the game again, Cheltenham struck back quickly. In a near identical style to the first goal, moving the ball around the opposition with clinically accurate passes Cheltenham once again brought the score line back level to 2-2.
Feeling it felt like the momentum was swinging in favour of one team and thankfully that was Cheltenham. Having pulled back another goals and having the better opportunities to attack Cheltenham were finally looking like they were handling Newent, and the game drew on and tiredness set in. On once such attack with Cheltenham clearly with a great chance advancing forward again, Newent players frustration boiled over. A couple of players, being far to aggressive with badly times tackles and very bad fowls stopping a very fluid attack. The umpires after the first half had no other option to bring out the green cards again, this time not for one but two Newent players. This was an opportunity that Cheltenham could not let slip through their fingers having the advantage of two extra outfield players, and Newent having to fill two missing defenders in their line for the next few minutes. It was a period of play when Cheltenham completely dominated as Newent hoped to defend strongly until their players were allowed to return to the pitch. During this time Cheltenham managed to win not one but several short corners. Though Newent valiantly defended each time it was only to go on a concede another one. I think in total it must have been 5 or 6 short corners in a row, yet whichever set up they tried Cheltenham just could not get that vital goal and take the lead for the first time. Finally Newent managed to clear their defences without giving away another short corner, and Cheltenham needed to find another way to get a goal. The minutes were ticking down not only with the extra players on pitch but in the game too. Soon it was back to even teams but Cheltenham still had the momentum, and once again had won a short corner. After the several failed ones from before, the players on pitch had changed a little, some fresh ideas and a little switch on positions on the set up, and old faithful routine finally came through for them. The ‘German’, a quick switch from top of the D out right before a carefully timed pass back to the player and sweep into the goal!!!! Finally, Cheltenham were at last 3-2 up, and now with just 10 minutes left of the game.
Now more than every some control and calmness needed to come back into the game, not an easy thing to do with the adrenaline of being in the winning position. But for the teams sake in the promotion title its was important to control the game, keep possession of the ball and deny Newent a last minute equaliser or the unimaginable thought of a winner. It took a few minutes for the team to adjust to the need to not attack but get numbers back behind the ball. Making sure every player was man marked as tightly and physically possible. These last ten minutes would seem like the longest of the game, But Cheltenham showed far more determination than Newent who could still not shake the frustration of being in a position that they were not used to.
When that Final whistle went, and the score line still 3-2 in Cheltenham’s favour it was not only with relief but jubilation that the game was over. Not only had Newent’s chances of promotion been dented, but the ball was now firmly in Cheltenham’s hands for their chances. Still no mean feet five more game lie ahead and five more wins are needed to guarantee they succeed in reaching the converted top spot and the only place for promotion.