Match Report - 04 Sep 2010, Leeds Modernians Football Club 1sts beat FC Headingley
This week’s report starts with a scene of domestic bliss, on the eve of the season. On Friday 3rd September at 21:14, Mods’ first team supremo Mick Birch checks that his young son is asleep, then goes downstairs, strokes the cat and eases into his arm-chair. Scanning the book-case, he reaches for Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, which he reads for the 27th time. He finishes it shortly after 3am, puts down his opium pipe, drinks a pint of ferret’s blood and relaxes, safe in the knowledge that he has now completed his preparations for the short trip to FC Headingley. Reassuringly he still has almost six hours to stare at the wall, while rocking in his chair, before it’s time to iron the socks & shorts for the opening league fixture.
Unlike other managers, Birchy prefers not to sleep before a big match for fear that a conventional approach to rest & recuperation would lead him down the path of rational and predictable behaviour. Aside from this tactical avoidance of a normal nocturnal pattern, Mick would have been unable to sleep on this occasion, due to rumours of an overnight breaking story in The Wharfedale Times, about seemingly reformed sex pest, Will “Widz” Brown. Mercifully, as day broke in North Leeds, the anticipated story remained dormant and Birch was able to relax again and practice his manic grin.
Of the 14 selected, only Liam Dixon [who is still recovering from a recently sustained injury] was unavailable, so Mick was able to name a strong side. Tyrone Sarucan was in goal, behind a back four of Widz, Zac, Si Oliver and Dan Bradford. The midfield quartet comprised Jamie Duffy, Alex Pouncett, Ben Bowman & Stef Papa, with a front pairing of Ryan Unsworth & Alex Higgins. Jamie Francis and Rich Ewen started on the bench.
During 2009-10, we ended the season with a magnificent run, winning 13 of our final 14 League fixtures and securing promotion. However, it was Headingley’s richly deserved 3-1 victory at The Mods on 12th May that cost us the Senior B title and ensured that they would join us in Senior A. The combination of that recent history, the fact that their player-manager, Chris Kuc is an ex-Mod, and Headingley’s recent move to a pitch just ½ a mile from Mods’ HQ gave the fixture real piquancy. 1950s throwback and referees’ appointment secretary, Tony Lewis, who was the self-assigned official, had an excellent match, managing to control both the game and his delicate quiff expertly.
On a bright afternoon, and on a flat, firm and vast pitch, The Mods out-muscled and outplayed the opposition, and Headingley can have no complaints about the outcome. Headingley showed last season what a formidable team they are, and their front two represent a massive goal threat. They also have accomplished midfielders and – in Kuc – a highly reliable keeper. However, in defence, they seem a little vulnerable and we were able to exploit this relative frailty on the day.
We settled well and it was good to see Dan Bradford showing for the ball and using it well, in addition to holding his position at left back. Widz cast aside the worrying media speculation and offered his customary barnstorming performance at right back, while Zac & Si showed once again what an effective pairing they are, even against such a high quality front two. Although Tyrone had such good protection that he didn’t have a notable save to make, his presence, decision-making and handling were all exemplary.
Across midfield, we were superior to Headingley, despite the presence of some gifted footballers in the home ranks. Jamie Duffy’s experiment, in which he reputedly aims to test his effectiveness while being 15% less fit than his team-mates, should offer some interesting scientific insights this season. To be fair to Jamie, though, he played through the effects of a cold, and - although he saw little of the ball in the early stages – he displayed fine footwork on occasions, and grew into the match. Pouncett and Bowman were highly influential, despite Ben being reportedly distracted by journalists seeking his reaction to news that Roque Santa Cruz had won a Ben Bowman look-alike competition recently. Stef Papa had a very effective match, combining speed of thought, great footwork and a willingness to impose himself physically. When Ewen entered the fray, he also made a sound contribution, winning and using possession to good effect
Up-front, Alex, Ryan and [Ryan’s replacement] Jamie all went about their business with a sense of alacrity, presumably born out of the knowledge that “Rocket” Rob Myers had scored two sensational goals in a friendly at the club the night before. Higgins, Unsworth and Francis may all be players of proven pedigree, but they also recognise a threat, and the free-scoring Myers must surely have his sights on moving up the Mods’ teams now. Perhaps it was the prospect of Rocket Rob’s potential challenge that provoked Higgins into a first half master-class of forward play, involving impressive touch & technique, strength in possession, fine distribution and – most entertainingly – a solid body-check on Headingley’s Number 18 who tried to employ bullying tactics only to end up on the deck.
For a long spell we appeared the better team, but were unable to break the deadlock despite getting beyond the home defence frequently and creating decent chances. Virtually on the half-hour mark Pouncett gathered the ball some 25 yards out and, eschewing the obvious option to shoot, stroked a sublimely weighted, angled pass into the path of an expertly timed run by Ryan, who tucked the ball home sweetly. Within a few minutes, Higgins drifted a pass towards Unsworth who directed the ball into the corner of the net courtesy of an exquisite head [20%] & shoulder [80%] connection. The home number 18, having come off second best when trying to intimidate our players turned his attention to his rustic-headed defensive partner, telling him “you should be on the sidelines because you’re shit”. Nice touch.
As half-time approached, we would have happily settled for a two-goal lead to take into the second half but a moment of rare quality secured a third goal. Pouncett hoisted an excellent ball forward towards Higgins, who was perhaps 10 yards into the opposition half as the ball approached him in mid-air. He kept his eye on the ball, and – without letting it bounce – re-directed it on the volley over the advanced [and now stranded] Kuc in the Headingley net. As the ball left Alex’s boot, it described a beautiful arc, and – as it travelled through the air - Chris had time to contemplate the loss of 3 points, submit his on-line tax return and rustle up an omelette on a primus stove that he keeps in the 6-yard box, all before the ball dropped beneath the bar and nestled in the net. 3:0 at half-time and Headingley were shell-shocked.
The second half was a more routine period, in which – in the main – we kept our shape, maintained our work-rate and continued to dominate. For a short spell towards the end, we looked slightly ragged, but this was perhaps a consequence of having put so much effort into the match on a large, demanding pitch, against a good side who were simply not allowed the time or space to build rhythm or momentum. Jamie Francis, who replaced the hard-working Unsworth was enterprising and lively on his competitive debut, and clinched the points with an astute close-range finish after further excellent work by Higgins down the left flank.
Although it’s important that we don’t get carried away by a single victory, this performance was tremendously encouraging, not least because we were psychologically strong enough to brush aside our failure to beat Headingley in three attempts last season, and then dismantle them so impressively. We proved that we are capable of sustained excellence, virtually throughout the 90 minutes, and this level of performance must be recognised as a benchmark of what we are capable of. Able though Headingley are, greater challenges lie ahead and we need to be prepared. As Sun Tzu, and Birchy might say:
“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”
FC Headingley 0 - 4 Leeds Modernians Football Club 1sts ()