Willand vs. Cribbs FC
In the last match report, I dubiously noted that Willand were playing an unusual formation, one that consisted of two left backs. Not my finest hour but it did get me thinking about formations and tactics.
Willand’s manager, of course, grew up playing Dodgeball, a game that consisted of hitting the ball long and collecting the subsequent success.
I’m sure some will disagree with this assertion, and it should be noted that I only started watching our Mid Devon rivals sometime in 2008, so I can’t really comment on the glory days, but it fits nicely in the theme of this report, so I’m sticking with it.
The long ball game of course reached its pinnacle with the greatest of the long ball components, John Beck, who, while at the helm of Preston North End, famously let the grass grow out in the corners to aid the stopping of those probing hoofs from his centre halfs.
It was a long way from the opposing end of the footballing spectrum, where Total Football resided. The system, which advocated that any outfield player can take over the role of any other player in a team, was ironically introduced by a Burnley native before being populised by Johan Cruyff and his Ajax teammates, and was more recently reinvented by Ted Lasso at AFC Richmond.
These of course were the halcyon days and you could argue that football has gotten overly complicated, especially in the modern era of false number nines, fullbacks whose attacking stats are more remarkable than their defensive ones, and when no one can adequately describe what James Milner’s actual position was.
I think that I’m on safe ground when I say that when I was growing up as a football fanatic on the mean streets of Warwickshire, when the only flares at the game were located on the legs of scrawny teenagers rather than the hands of odious oafs, football was a simpler game.
And its simplest form was 4-4-2.
It may come as a surprise, but the formation most associated with association football didn’t originate on the seedy streets of Mansfield but rather in the more sublime stadiums of the Swedish Allsvenskan. Born out of the famous 5-4-1 that won Italy the World Cup in 1970, Swedish clubs like IFK Gothenburg and Malmo FF began to use the 4-4-2 to great success, and it quickly became adopted by high school sports masters across the British Isles.
It worked in schools because the rules were pretty simple at that level; the most popular pupils were the forwards, the most skilled prowled the midfield, and the toughest played at centre half. The rest of the squad were then left to fight it out over the roles of goalkeeper, full back, or bench warmer. No one really questioned the logic because it’s what we all saw on the limited occasions football was shown on one of our three TV channels.
Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish were as recognisable to fans of the beautiful game as to those more concerned with current affairs and the gossip columns. Players like Glen Hoddle and John Barnes were lauded as magicians for their ball skills, and there was no one you would want to fight at your back than Gordon McQueen or Kevin Moran.
Over the years, the 4-4-2 has morphed into the 4-2-3-1 with the occasional 3 at the back, a change that no doubt coincided with the release of the first Football Manager game. There have also been some oddities that have somehow made it from the white board to the pitch. I’m looking at you, Louis van Gaal, with Ajax’s insane 3-3-1-3 formation and fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink leading Australia to a World Cup by playing 3-6-1. And of course, I’d be remiss given the tone of recent reports, not to mention the Christmas tree formation!
Willand stuck to tradition and employed a 4-4-2 formation (including opposing full backs), although the manager did deploy Bray as support for Howe in a formidable looking forward line.
Opponents Cribbs started the game in what appeared to be a 6-4 formation, which was quickly explained when the ball was hit high towards the Willand goal, holding up in the wind before being cleared by the Willand defence.
The blustery autumnal conditions seemed to be blowing simultaneously in all directions, meaning that both teams were struggling to find any early rhythm, and the first 10 minutes consisted of nothing more than a series of long balls and fouls.
The first chance of the game fell to Willand in the 11th minute, with Bray stealing the ball from the full back deep in the Cribbs half, his cross falling to Howe, who couldn’t keep the shot down.
Minutes later, Brown had a good opportunity for Cribbs when he broke well down the right, but his cross but probably shot, missed both Duru and the far post.
As the half moved on, there was almost constant pressure from the whites, with Cribbs struggling to clear their half and Willand created a number of chances without ever testing Greatbanks, other than a comfortable save from a Bailey header.
At the other end, it was a Bailey misclearance that gave Cribbs a rare chance, but the forward snatched at the ball and the shot was fired over.
The breakthrough came in the 36th minute when a good interception from Kelly looped towards the Cribbs full back. Bray again harassed and harried, winning the ball and crossing to Howe inside the penalty box, who was tripped before he could fire in a shot.
The Willand number 9 picked himself and the ball up and made no mistake from the penalty spot to fire the Whites to a halftime lead.
Willand 1 – Cribbs 0
Cribbs came out with more fire in the second half, but it was quickly extinguished when Willand were awarded a second penalty in the 55th minute after Moulden was felled in the box. To the surprise of no one in the crowd, Howe again stepped up and smashed the ball beyond a diving Greatbanks.
Bray came close to extending the lead further minutes later when Willand broke well from a Cribbs freekick. He outmuscled the full back again but saw his shot well saved by the Cribbs keeper.
Cribbs took advantage of the let-off and equalised two minutes later when Brown broke down the Willand left before cutting inside and scoring from a tight angle.
The game remained tight as the blustery conditions again came into play, but Cribbs chances of parity were reduced when scorer Brown was shown a second yellow card for a theatrical dive to the floor in the Willand penalty area, which had more chance of winning Olympic gold than a penalty.
Cribbs did however manage one more chance as Willand looked to play out the match, Jenkins unable to find the target from a Kellow cross in the 87th minute, but the home team hung on for the win, despite the welcome spectacle of Greatbanks vacating one penalty area for another as he came up for a late, late corner.
The win was welcomed by the crowd, including a local club scout troop, who brought an unusually vibrant atmosphere to the game and hopefully will bring their parents back to future matches.
In the end, it was a solid victory for the home team, although some might argue that they tried to overplay on occasions. Not least the well-travelled Kelly, who could be heard lamenting towards the end of the game to keep things simple, ‘We’re not expletive Barcelona’ being the actual phrase he used.
We might not be Barcelona, but we are at the top of the expletive league!
Willand 2 – Cribbs 1
Man of the match was Owen Howe selected by match day sponsors Clear Surface Thank you for you support
We would also like to thank ball sponsor Pressure washers south west
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