We’ve got a relatively settled routine as to how we prepare for home games. At around 2.15pm (for a 3pm kick off) we will get the first sight of the opposition’s starting XI and from that moment we will start to compare their line up to their previous game, or one that we have got a scouting report on. In the next ten minutes alterations will be made to our formation, tactics and set-pieces, to try to exploit any weaknesses. Of course, our approach isn’t unique and our opponents will be more than likely doing exactly the same downstairs in their changing room. Whilst no one will ever confess to games being won off the pitch, the importance of preparation cannot be under estimated even at our level.
Yesterday the preparations and execution were slightly different. Having played our visitors just four days previously meant we knew a fair bit about them. It’s fair to say that we spent some of the time on Tuesday watching how they played rather than our own performance in preparation for today. Few teams set themselves up the same when they travel away. Alas, with a threadbare squad at the moment, we don’t have much choice. Injuries to Matthew George and Ronnie Conlon further depleted our squad yesterday but we have a talented group of youngsters such as Dean Stewart-Hunter who came into the side. The notable change in our visitors line up was the return of keeper Jack Delo, who had been injured in the warm up. Even knowing what the injury was enabled us to have a plan to try to exploit that weakness.
Our visitors “secret weapon” on Tuesday was their huge long-throws which when they first started taking them, surprised us. So the key to this game was don’t concede throw-ins in the final third. If in doubt, concede a corner or simply clear it in-field. If we did concede one, then bear in mind they would be likely to throw the first couple short to surprise us.
The second complicating issue for this game was that Darren would be serving a one-game touchline ban relating to his dismissal back in October against Cray Wanderers. He’d entered the field of play after a Cray player had assaulted Lloyd Cotton and subsequently been red-carded.
We could of course appeal against the charge but would need to submit evidence to the contrary of the match officials. Lose the appeal and the fine (£100), and the ban (1 game) could be significantly worse. So Darren took his punishment and headed to the stands. But how could we ensure he would be manager seen and not heard? Simple – I would sit next to him and make sure he served his ban.
According to the official FA guidelines on an official serving a touchline ban, the ruling is:-
“A participant serving a touchline ban should take up a position in the directors box if one is in existence. Where there is no directors box (or a position is not available) they are required to take a position in a stand or position which is detached from and some distance away from the dugouts”
“The participant can make communication with members of the coaching team within the dugout but only via the use of a telephone or a ‘runner’.”
So the “runner” would be me, passing notes down to the dugout. Not quite the normal afternoon of watching the game for me then.
Lewes 3 Herne Bay 1 – The Dripping Pan – Saturday 14th January 2017
The first instruction is written down and is given to me. As I head down the steps to tell Ross that James Hammond should take the free-kick, I can hear Darren shout “Get ‘Ammo to take it..” Hammond does indeed take the free-kick and he curls it perfectly into the top corner to give us a 1-0 lead. It’s going to be a long afternoon.
Thirty seconds later Stephen Okoh races clear of the Herne Bay defence and lobs the ball over the keeper…as the ball is in the air I feel a grab on my arm. Could it be two? No, the ball shaved the post and goes wide. Notes are furiously written by Darren as he sees things I can’t see.
“Win the ball faster” he shouts at nobody, but Codge hears him, translating his message into a quiet word in the ear of Lloyd Harrington as he comes over to take a throw-in. On the twenty minute mark, the Vice-Chairman of the Isthmian League sits directly behind Darren. I write on a note that he is sitting behind him, but Daz is too engrossed in the game, concerned that Jack Dixon is sitting on the ball too long.
He races off at the half-time whistle, trying to get into the dressing room before the players, ready to give his full and frank opinion on why we aren’t more than one goal ahead.
Less than two minutes into the second half Dixon fouls his marker, picks up a yellow card which will see him banned for two more games (having just come back from a two game suspension) and the referee points to the spot. On Tuesday night Adria pulled off a superb save from Pulman’s spot kick. Today it is Walder who steps up and slots it into the corner. Somehow we are level.
“We’re flat and that’s making the crowd flat” I text Deaksy and tell him to start singing.
The written messages soon dry up, replaced by my phone being used as a walkie-talkie with Ross on the touchline. James Hammond restores our lead with a tap-in after the impressive Kaja roasts his man down the right and tees him up. Then the crowd start making some noise and we start dominating play.
Lloyd Harrington picks up a yellow, meaning he will also miss the two vital games against Dorking Wanderers. “Looks like I’m going to have to play in those games”. I assume he’s joking although when Charlie Coppola neatly flicks the ball round his marker, Darren tells me the England Schoolboys international learnt that trick from him in training and I can see the seriousness in his eyes.
We huff and puff and finally blow the Herne Bay resistence down with a third in injury time, Egli Kaja (the first ever Albanian to play for Lewes for those who love a random fact) beats his man and is then hauled down. A mele breaks out as four or five Rooks players want to take the spot-kick. Jack Dixon wins the discussion and slots home. Job well done all round. I could now have a beer and relax, around two hours later than I normally could.
Three wins on the bounce, scoring nine times and conceding just twice means that we rise to 5th in the table, the highest we have been since the opening day win at Chipstead.
The final restriction that we had to ensure Darren complied with was a little bit stranger:-
“The participant who is subject to a touchline ban may not make contact with match officials, match delegates or assessors prior, during or after the match.”
Which technically meant when the officials came into the bar for their pasta post-match, Darren couldn’t even go and shake their hand and say “well done” although he resisted passing me any further notes. Normal service will be resumed in two weeks time thankfully.