It was like getting the band back together at the back as James Mason, on AWOL from the 3rds, took the centre back spot with Lego, and we were also strengthened by PHC’s very own Ronald Koeman, Wiebe Wilbers, bringing with him the touch of a European master. Sam Hext took his usual position between the sticks and Tom Papworth-Smith – perhaps dreaming of the vice-captaincy – finished a strong back line.
Our confidence was high. With Emrys Hart sporting a pair of bubblegum pink board shorts and a cheeky grin, what could possibly go wrong?
The first ten minutes were a rude wake up call. Alleyns were fast, well-drilled and super fit, they held a very high press and it was all PHC could do to keep them at bay. We struggled to deal with the early pressure, and it wasn’t long before the opposition had the ball in the goal. 1-0 after eight minutes.
After such an early setback, the team began to put a few moves together. Stiller, Rupert, Emrys, Will (who had clearly eaten raw meat alone for breakfast) and Jimbo were tireless in midfield. Stiller’s trademark twinkletoes dribbling a neat contrast with James ‘jarhead’ Wootten’s more uncomplicated style.
Marshalled by our tireless skipper Rupert, the team temporarily rediscovered the slick pass and go hockey that has mesmerised opponents across London this season. We managed to create a couple of half chances for Chris Brinkworth, leading the line again, as well as a two short corners, but we couldn’t turn the attacks into goals, and the team were punished when a smart overlap on the right from Alleyns saw PHC go 2-0 down.
Alleyns just did not allow us to play our natural game, and it was a similar story in the second half. Rupert’s stirring words at half time gave the team fresh heart. Phil Schartau sprang about the pitch like a leaping gazelle, Rory Wilkes and Tim Lui got into great positions on the wide angle, and for a time, using the width of the pitch, we were able to mount some strong attacks against a team that were physical and well-organised, their physicality leading to some entertaining repartee between James Wootten, Will Leachman and the umpire.
A couple more well-worked goals from Alleyns in the second half underscored their superiority, but to our credit PHC never gave up, showing a spirit that has become a hallmark of the team this season. Our hockey is so much better than last year, a testament to the investment by the club in professional coaching and two days training a week.
The team spirit in PHC 4s is ‘non pareil.’ For sure, we were beaten by a good team, but we’ll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and be back for another crack at the opposition next Saturday.
MoM: James Mason
DoD: James Wootten