The General had expressed some concern earlier in the week about the possibility of the weather disrupting the game, and had invited pre-match phone calls to establish the state of play. An early morning Press enquiry found him travelling south, at speed, from his Coventry HQ, with minimal knowledge of the state of the ground, but confident of both the quality and quantity of his team. The gentle rattle of conkers in the background confirmed that he could sniff a rare and welcome three points, that he was intent on doing battle and that it would take a brave man to call the game off.
The Press, sensing a note of optimism after a difficult first half to the 2014/15 campaign, opted to record events in a recently acquired FIH notebook which sported the logo on the front cover “FIH: Inspiring and Entertaining”, and waved this about liberally to encourage the troops. On a chilly but bright morning, the team took the field brimming with instructions, some of which a few of the team remembered, although this evidently did not include Mark, who within the first minute asked the General from the subs bench when he was due on and when he was due back off. A slightly glazed look greeted Roger’s full account of the first half substitution schedule so recently outlined during conkers, and no sooner was Mark on than he was off again, commenting on the fact that the pitch was hard, reflecting the frost which spiced up the play, especially at the A316 end.
Tring had arrived with 9 players and an umpire, and took the field with 10 players (one wearing umpiring kit) following failed negotiations with the General for the loan of a player. Dave generously agreed to take sole control of the match from centre field. Tring fielded 3,4,7,44,57 and 61 whilst the Rogues managed a familiar 67 and a less familiar 14
, happily occupied by Mike Rose. A Rogue travelling up field at an unaccustomed speed from his theoretically defensive post was identified (once he had slowed down) as Lee Marnitz, who combined with Peter Wilson and Mike O’D down the right before linking up with Mike R, who put Mike O’D in with a chance which whistled outside the post. It was not long before some skilful combinations from Jerome, Mike O’D, Mike R and Peter W broke down the Tring defence, and Mike O’D’s final pass to Mark (self evidently back on the field yet again) gave us a 2-0 lead after 15 minutes. The Press Box purred at the prospect of watching a side with so much talent, but was soon breathless as he saw a Tring offensive down the right thwarted only by the crossbar, followed by action in the Tring goalmouth as their goalie saved from Peter Tallboys after a Mike R pass, and then Eddie back in action with a save from point blank range, followed by a fine stick save.
Whilst Tring showed some good touches throughout the game, Russell, Hugh, Lee and Max were in full command at the back, Rogues dominated the midfield and we regularly unlocked the Tring defence with some high quality hockey, in which our all of our forwards and several of our midfield were prominent. Whilst Ian and Mike O’D were their usual handful, there was no respite when they were not in possession and we stretched our lead steadily in the second part of the first half. Ian set up Mike O’D for his second goal with a shot into the top corner
after 19 minutes, Mike O’D created a chance which Peter T accepted with a crisp shot after 25 minutes and Peter T returned the compliment by slipping the ball to Mike O’D for his hat-trick after 27 minutes.
Tring realised that their luck was well and truly out when a respectable overhead ball was brought down by the wire strung across the pitch for the netting which divides the pitch in two, which super-scooper Andrew Oliver saw as a personal challenge for the second half.
The second half brought a succession of missed chances from some very skilful approach work, as Rogues contrived to miss even easier chances than their previous miss. Memorable amongst these misses were when Andrew rose to the challenge as he conjured up an overhead pass which not only sailed over the wire in the same spot which had brought down Tring’s first half effort, but found Mike O’D in space to put through Peter T; Peter T found Mike O’D twice in quick succession; Andrew and Mike R found Ian in space; and Mike R dissected Tring’s defence with a run to the back line and slip pass, and repeated the dose. Finally, the temporary drought ended when, after at least half a dozen relatively easy chances had been missed, Ian found the underside of the crossbar with a cracker from the very top of the circle to register 6-0.
At this point Farrukh arrived and took the field with a whistle and a red top, and after being asked to find a different colour from the Rogues team, he revealed an intensely bright, yellow-green shirt which finally justified Peter W’s sunglasses which had looked so out of place on a cloudy morning.
Mike R risked a fine for showboating with an attempted reverse stick slap into an empty net from which he had first drawn and then rounded the goalie. Mike O’D scored his fourth goal off the goalie’s pad after Ian’s shot had been saved, and Tring pulled one back from a deflected shot on our right post from what had seemed an optimistic hit into our circle. Farrukh produced a green card for an overhead stick stop by a Tring player, clearly confused by the different rules at Super Vets and National League – it was as well it wasn’t a yellow card, as it would have been invisible.
There was just time for Peter W to complete the scoring in overtime from a flick at a short corner, with the score at 8-1.
The disappointing absence of any tea meant that the post match analysis took place at the bar. By general consent, we had fielded easily our strongest team this season, against an opposition who were a player short and who had some weak spots, but who had a quality goalie. In such circumstances, it is easy to lose shape, but it was especially pleasing to see the consistently good standard of our play, leading to so many chances. Special thanks to Dave for umpiring three quarters of the game on his own, and a hope that the rest of the season will continue to see us fielding sides which are equally rich in numbers, mobility and talent.