Aldershot & Farnham (A&F) head coach Ian Jennings was delighted with his side after they swept aside league leaders Tunbridge Wells 4-1 in the South East Men’s Premier Division.
Scott Perry scored all four goals as the Shots ran out comfortable winners.
“We very clearly laid out our plan on how we were going to challenge a side that hadn’t dropped a point in the previous nine games,” said Jennings. “You have to be careful not to start panicking or stop believing in yourself when things previously haven’t gone according to plan. This has never been our style and we continue to tweak our incredibly successful unit to try to be the best we possibly can be in all that we do.
“We tweaked the starting 11 and started with Scott Perry up front, giving him a little more freedom to express himself, and put into place a hard, high press from their 16s – differentiating depending on whether they set up as a four or a three at the back which would allow my screens to either double mark or step up once the ball had been played to one side. That caused Tunbridge Wells all sorts of problems and prevented them being able to play their preferred patterns. By doing this, we took the game to them as opposed to sitting back and looking for opportunities to counter attack.
“This was without doubt our best performance of the season and I was immensely proud of the group. I said in the pre-game chat that I thought we were the best team in the league, and it had only been factors – mostly out of our control – that saw us in fourth position.
“It was important to close the gap on the teams above us in order for us to have something to play for in the second half of the season. Any side I’ve ever coached has always maintained their drive, fitness, commitment and willingness to learn, despite what the scenario will be at the end of the season – and that’s what we all intend to do. Keep fighting until it reaches its natural conclusion.”
A&F’s tough run-in to the Christmas break pitted them against league leaders Tunbridge Wells.
Tunbridge Wells went into the game with a 100 per cent record, whereas A&F were coming off the back of two consecutive losses without scoring. But A&F were keen to be the first team to cause their opponents to drop points.
Despite the frosty weather, Heath End was able to avoid freezing over and the game started at a fast pace.
A&F set about imposing a higher press than usual to put pressure on the Tunbridge Wells back line and prevent them settling into the game.
This worked well as A&F created more chances than the visitors early on. But it was Tunbridge Wells who had the best chance of the opening moments from a wonderfully-weighted through ball.
The forward couldn’t get a strong connection though and watched the ball trickle agonisingly past the far post.
Then the game followed the script of the previous few weeks as Tunbridge Wells made A&F pay for not converting their early chances.
This time it was an innocuous crash ball from a wide position which deflected off Chris Boot, through the legs of the returning Hamish Hall in goal, and settled at the feet of a Tunbridge Wells forward to tap in and take the lead.
As with previous games, A&F stuck to their patterns but were failing at the final hurdle. Jonny Groves went close as he saw his deflected shot bounce off the bar and away to safety, and a Perry drag flick at a penalty corner was well saved.
A cynical foul leading to a green card for Joe Whelan then pegged A&F back, but once they returned to full strength they flowed forward with purpose. Another penalty corner came, and after the defence broke early Perry wouldn’t be denied again – his flick leaving the depleted Tunbridge Wells penalty corner defence powerless to prevent A&F drawing level.
The adjustments made to A&F’s press pre-game were frustrating Tunbridge Wells.
Ultimately, it was A&F mistakes causing cheap turnovers that were keeping Tunbridge Wells interested. They nearly took the lead on the stroke of half-time as another deflected crash ball wasn’t dealt with by Kevin McCafferty.
The opposing forward gambled on an error and was rewarded with a free strike at goal, but he could only drag wide to send the teams in level at the half-time interval.
After the break, A&F played some of their best hockey of the season. Boot and Will Caine ran proceedings in attack and defence. Perry’s move up front let Daan Barron cause no end of trouble down the left, Stu Morhall charged around the back of the Tunbridge Wells defence on the right and the positioning of the forward line was dragging the visiting defence from pillar to post. With Tunbridge Wells on the back foot, they were giving away more and more fouls in their own 22. The inevitable upgrade to a penalty corner let Perry flick into the top left corner of the net to edge A&F 2-1 ahead.
Tunbridge Wells were well and truly reeling now and A&F took full advantage.
Good outlet play found Conor Wilkinson down the right. His pace, coupled with Morhall’s direct running, drew another foul in the D and Perry completed his hat-trick in style with a drag flick into the top left corner.
Tunbridge Wells woke up and threw players forward in the hope of salvaging their unblemished record. Now managing to get some patterns working, they were eking out chances. Their best chance came from nice interplay in the D, but luck was with A&F as again the unmarked forward could only divert the ball wide of the open goal.
A&F were marshalling Tunbridge Wells effectively for the most part and eventually got their reward. With so many players thrown forward, Tunbridge Wells were susceptible to the counter.
Barron worked his way down the left and found Jamie Weston, also deployed further forward, in the D unmarked. Weston found a late-arriving Perry at the top of the circle, and he shot high into the net to seal his and A&F’s fourth.
Tunbridge Wells ended with a string of penalty corners, but Hall was equal to them – saving well twice and ensuring the game finished 4-1 to A&F to inflict the first blemish on Tunbridge Wells’ record.