AFC Reading Falcons 1-2 Curley Park Rangers Jaguars (Palmer Park)
[League – game 21 of 21]
238 days before this game, the season began against AFC Henley on 8th September, as this final game kicked off Falcons were still in with a slim chance of being able to finish runners-up in the division and there was a determination in the squad to try and make it happen. The final game of the season was played at Palmer Park with our usual home pitch at Coley unavailable, our opponents Curley Park, the winners of the division who would be desperate to turn around the result from the previous game the week before. Tactically we setup in a 4-4-1-1, possibly our most popular formation of the season, with two banks of four, and an attacking midfielder playing behind our lone striker.
We nearly had a dream start to the game when Osamah raced through with only one minute and 30 seconds on the clock but his shot went over the bar. Curley Park showed us an awful lot of respect in this game by moving their stronger players back into defence and even going so far as to man mark Josh.S. I can’t recall any of our previous games over the last few seasons where an opponent has worried about one of our players so much they have had one of their own players shadow someone across the pitch in this way. Curley Park got the go ahead goal, we didn’t deal well with a throw in and their striker was able to turn and we just couldn’t get the ball clear as he eventually put the ball in. It was a tight first half and it was that solitary goal that separated the teams at half-time.
It was a case of staying in the game, we were in the same position last week at half-time and we turned it around then and we had to believe we could do the same this week. Things didn’t go our way at the start of the 2nd half and Curley Park got their 2nd goal early on, to get 2 or 3 goals was now going to be an uphill task but the team still gave it everything they had. The biggest moment of the game came when following a scramble in the box, the referee awarded Falcons a penalty after the keeper had fouled Bentley. The Curley Park players were unhappy; their manager also protested the decision to the point where the ref went to speak to him, during that time a Curley Park played decided to scuff up the penalty spot, resulting in his booking. Then another Curley Park coach/parent came onto the pitch to protest the decision and the ref called both managers onto the pitch and explained if that person didn’t leave the vicinity of the pitch he would abandon the game. He also said to me he didn’t understand all the protests as it was a stonewall penalty in his view. After a 6 minute break the penalty was taken and scored by Josh.S, well done to him for keeping his composure during that time.
With the score at 2-1, Curley Park sat deep and defended their lead, we went to a 4-3-3 with as many attacking players as we could try and throw forward. We had our moments, Osamah had a shot that the keeper saved well with her feet. Josh.R fired a free kick agonisingly over the bar, and Cameron had a goal disallowed for offside, so close to grabbing the equaliser but it just wouldn’t come. We were also indebted to Ollie for making a fantastic goalline clearance to deny Curley Park a 3rd goal. The game went deep into added on-time, a total of 8 minutes in the end, as the final whistle went Curley Park finished as 2-1 winners.
If you set aside all the nonsense over the penalty decision it was a cracking game of football, that was hard fought and very close, exactly what matches at this level should be like. It would be easy to criticise the reaction of the opposition but football is a passionate game and I could never say that I haven’t reacted in the heat of the moment. Their manager came and was big enough to apologise at the end of the game and full respect to him for doing that, I went and congratulated Curley Park on their terrific title winning season, there aren’t many chances to win trophies at this level and they will savour those memories.
Falcons finished the season in 4th place, nearly all teams in the top 5 have a points claim outstanding and if they all awarded the points then the league will remain exactly the same. It would be easy to look back and wonder “what if” with regards to the penalty decisions that didn’t go our way against, Camberley, Reading City and Henley, that would have given us another 6 points. At those missed chances against Meadow Sport that might have given us another 3 points and really put us in the title race. Success at youth level should really be measured in progression, have the players progressed as individual players? Have the team progressed as a unit? Are we enjoying our football? I believe the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’ and that means we really have had a successful season. Here’s to the next one.