Just Enough for Stu’s 2s – You only need to win by one goal with 11 players!
Morpeth Men’s 2nd XI travelled to Stockton for their first Teeside encounter of the season. A minor accounting error left the captain with a squad of just 11 players for the encounter. Reinforcing the key points from the previous two fixtures, Morpeth started early and within minutes of the push back Ross Valentine had found the back of the net with a controlled tap in above shoulder height of a shot that was deflected and looped up towards the far post. A positive start for the away side.
To conserve energy, Morpeth retreated into their own half and soak up the pressure. With some unconventional distribution from the Stockton central defender, passes still found their way to the forward line with a young and capable wide player posing the only real threat to the Morpeth defence. At times he was able to round the defender at pace and enter the D unopposed but the final pass or shot was generally lacking. Caught on the backfoot by an umpiring decision on the edge of the D, Morpeth conceded a short corner that led to an equaliser for the home side. The shot from the top of circle was deflected by the number one runner leaving the experienced keeper little chance to react to the change in direction.
Back on level terms, Morpeth mixed up the tactics, dropping back to absorb the forward passes and pressing their opponents high in the corners of the pitch. Some good interceptions and pressure created chances for Morpeth but nothing more. Stockton persisted with their drag flick/aerial clearances and nearly exposed the Morpeth defence with their young gun up front unable to find the goal after a one on one with keeper Finchy who closed him down quickly. Despite playing the ball wide of goal, Stockton claimed a touch and protested at the sportsmanship of the travelling team, despite the umpire agreeing with the visitors.
This gave the game more of an edge as Stockton felt they were being treated unfairly, despite being able to use any side of their sticks. As Morpeth players were drawn into individual battles, concentration dropped enough for Stockton to sneak a second goal and take the lead. Despite leading, the needle became too much for the home umpire who rightly decided it was time to produce some cards and a couple of Stockton players elected to have a short break. Concerned by the lack of fresh legs but possessing the numerical advantage, Morpeth needed to react and do the simple things to get back into the game. It was a good response, indicative of the early character shown by this newly formed team, and the first half ended with a flurry of penalty corners as Morpeth pressed into the opponent’s D. One of the corners expertly struck again by Valentine, firmly into the corner to level the score once more and end the half at 2-2 just like the previous week.
The first half had been disappointing. The Morpeth players hadn’t really stuck to the game plan or shown the quality of the previous two weeks. Fielding the bare 11 was clearly making the fixture more difficult than the disparate league positions would have you believe. The half time talk re-engaged the team on the basics, first touch, ball pace, staying out of contact. All key elements that had led to a second half masterclass the previous week. Stockton’s play was one dimensional and Morpeth needed to move out of first gear and take control of the second half.
The early exchanges were better, with good passages of play creating opportunities. Good reaction to turnover and some more direct attacks saw Rob Morris sweeping an almost trademark reverse stick effort high and wide from the top of the D. Another golden opportunity fell to Foster who rounded the keeper and with the goal gaping, pushed the ball just wide of the post – wolf cries were heard and a sigh of relief from the captain following his earlier accounting error. With chances from open play not being converted it was man of the match Valentine who again fired home from a penalty corner to earn a hat-trick and move Morpeth back into the lead.
Stockton continued as before, too reliant on the same style of play. As per the previous week, Morpeth kept a clean sheet with keeper Finch doing everything he needed to do. Despite further opportunities to score as both sides tired, it was a penalty corner at the end of the game that provided a final opportunity to extend the goal difference. Unfortunately, 4 in one game was too much for Valentine and poacher Murray was unable to find the form of the previous week. One goal was enough (as indeed it always is) to secure all three points and maintain the unbeaten start to the season. Now at the top of the table by a margin, Morpeth will be in the line of fire for immediate rivals Marton Furness in their home game at fortress Longhirst next Saturday.