With two exceptions,* last night’s game couldn’t have been any more different than the one seven days before. Whereas last week we played the bottom dwellers, who attempt to make up for their lack of skill with mad thuggery, last night was a clash of the league-leading titans.
I was out of action thanks to the mad thugs, but it was a pleasure to watch their skill and speed matched up against our skill and discipline. Their center midfielders were fantastic, regularly breaking ankles, making threatening passes and preventing our usually dominant center-mids from taking over, and their goalie was even better. He made two saves that I was sure were unsaveable, plus forced our best striker to miss wide on a one-on-one opportunity.
The game had everything, from a forty-yard volley headed for the upper right corner (one of the aforementioned saves) to our defender on the line keeping out a sure goal and them scoring an equalizer ten minutes from time. Last year, we would have cracked, gone into a defensive shell and risked losing while settling for a tie, but this year the team is much tougher mentally and we hit back hard with two great chances that their doggone goalie managed to keep out.
However, his fantastic reaction save on a shot from only five yards out gave us a corner about a minute before the whistle. The cross was shallow and was headed out, but not far enough and one of our substitute defenders who’d come forward headed it beautifully into the upper right corner where even superkeeper couldn’t do anything about it. It was one of the best games I’ve ever seen at any level… and it was particularly satisfying to learn after the game that this was the first time they’d lost in over a year.
So, we’re now in first place by three points and we’ve already played all the top teams with five games to go before the break. I don’t know if we’ll be able to stay in first for the entire season, but at least we now believe that we’re good enough to play at this level.
*1. We won in both cases. 2. The referees were wildly incompetent in both games, although it wasn’t dangerous this time, only irritating. I do so despise referees who seem to believe that the point of a game is to listen to them blow the whistle at every opportunity.