Many a true Lancastrian would rather be stricken with a bout of influenza than be required to cross the border into the land of the Yorkies. Poor Charli Wroe and Lia Vourliotis had to endure both last Sunday. Lia was nearly better, Charli wasn’t when we invaded Thrybergh to face a talented Hatfield side who, like Mystics U14s had already qualified for the last 16 round of the play-offs.
Charli’s pre-match coughing fit and the fact that I’ve seen more colour in a pint of milk, persuaded me not to start with her and to use her as one takes nasty medicine- in small doses. Nia Molloy was, therefore, given the unenviable task of marking the opposition’s excellent play-maker, A Racjan and what an outstanding job the ever-improving Nia made of it.
Against significantly taller opponents, Lily Hayes, Kizzy Spence and Emily Wood were initially detailed to compete on the boards. (Back not bill.) All 3 did remarkably well and gave up no second chance points. Due to her defensive expertise and ability to read the game, I asked Olivia Forster to do her best to subdue the player who top-scored for Hatfield when we played them earlier in the season. Olivia’s best turned out to be more than good enough.
I’m not a worrier but I was worried (= contradiction!) that the combination of being without a far from fully fit Charli, of having had no game last week and just one game in three weeks would have an initial impact upon our performance in an away fixture against a strong top 4 side. I was even more worried 10 minutes into the contest! Defensively, we were sound as a pound. Offensively, we were only worth a few pence. Our finishing throughout the first quarter was as efficient as a solar torch.
6-14 down and looking as out of sorts as an asthmatic without an inhaler, I toyed with the idea of singing the Billy Ocean classic, ‘When the going gets tough,’ to the girls. I decided not to for two reasons – I don’t know the words and my voice makes a similar noise to that of someone’s nails scraping across a blackboard. Instead, I re-assured them that Hatfield were playing as well as they good while we had yet to settle but we were still in the game. If we upped our defensive intensity a notch and did the simple things better on offense, we would be fine. We did both.
Each of the 8 Mystics who saw court time in the second quarter- the 5 starters plus Charli, Daisy Bryan, who, despite being 2 years young at this age-group, provided the stability and calmness we needed and Lily Gilronan who excelled in a most impressive debut – deserve enormous credit for steadying the ship and sending us on a scintillating 13-0 run during which Olivia and Emily hit top gear offensively. Everyone was now fully clued in to Hatfield’s preferred method of attack and how to counter it. This resulted in numerous 24 second calls from the 2 impressive referees and meant that we were good enough to transform an 8 point deficit into a 6 point lead at 25-19 by half-time.
As one can glean from how things had gone up to now, this was never going to be a game which saw a merry-go-round of substitutions – Hatfield employed just 6 players until the very last minute – but after the break, I did manage to use the 4 Mystics who had yet to appear and all 4 did well for us. 3 of the 4 – Esha Nayar, Eleni Vourliotis and Jo Vourliotis are young enough to play at u14 level next season. All 3 have shown that once they have served their apprenticeship, as most first year National League players do, they have the potential to make major contributions next season. On this occasion, Esha and Eleni showed just how much their individual and team defence has improved recently with faultless displays in this discipline. Jo is more inclined to catch the eye on offense and she showed some nice touches once again. The other member of the quartet, Lia Vourliotis was as diligent as ever and fitted in competently in the latter stages to help seal a deserved victory. The selfless attitude of these 4 committed players will be duly rewarded in games to come.
To restrict a team with the scoring potential of Hatfield to less than 40 is no mean achievement. To do so using all 12 available Mystics is even more impressive. Well played everyone. Many thanks to my assistant James and our brilliant team managers, Sam and Carys for all their assistance and to all parents/supporters/taxi drivers for all you do for our team.