Aldershot & Farnham Hockey Club head coach Ian Jennings feels player unavailability played a key role in his side’s 5-3 defeat at Tunbridge Wells in the South East Men’s Premier Division.
“They (Tunbridge Wells) are a quality side and I had two key members of the squad unavailable,” said Jennings.
“This puts us in a very difficult position as it means I have no rotation options and players are having to play the whole game rather than me being able to put fresh legs in and then being able to put them back on.
“It probably equates to us being about 30 per cent down on efficiency and at this level it’s not sustainable. The vulnerability of my squad is that I have nothing else to draw on from the second team and this is a genuine worry and concern going forwards.
“I have four under-17s in the squad – no other team in the league have guys playing at this level at that age as they are all early to late 20s – and it’s a massive step up for them, maybe even too much.”
Despite the defeat, Jennings was pleased with aspects of his side’s performance.
“Generally I was pleased – we have certainly improved – but every time we looked like we were getting back into the game they would score a pretty soft goal which would take the wind out of our sails,” he said.
“Couple that with the unavailability and there’s only going to be one outcome.”
Jennings has challenged his side to bounce back from the loss and go on a winning run.
“Winning has to be the aim,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to end up in a dog fight in the latter stages of the season, as that’s where our toughest opponents are waiting for us. However, we go into Saturday’s game with the same two players missing, so it’s going to be another tough ask, but fingers crossed we can get another three points on the board.”
With the first half of the season cut short because of a cancellation of their game against Woking, Aldershot and Farnham kicked off the second half of their season with a journey down to Tonbridge School to take on Tunbridge Wells.
The first half of the season – the first in the South East Premier Division for the men’s side of the club – was a bit of a mixed bag for A&F following a strong start. However, the performances were more often than not promising, even if the results often failed to reflect the balances of the games.
In the driving wind and rain, A&F were looking to go one better than the 2-2 draw they managed in the reverse fixture, however they were going to have to do so without Tom Herring and Daan Barron who were unable to make the trip.
Despite this A&F had the first decent sight of goal. Scott Perry was left in acres of space on the left touchline. His direct run led to an inviting ball delivered across the face of goal which had no takers.
But it was Jamie Weston, deputising for Herring, who started off a move down A&F’s right. He distributed out to Conor Wilkinson on the right sideline, who moved the ball back inside to Phil Rushmere.
Stu Morhall was left unmarked 30 yards from goal and he accelerated down the sideline, along the baseline, into the D and rifled a ball into the far corner of the goal to give A&F a deserved lead.
Tunbridge Wells hit back quickly though – their advanced playmaker got on the ball and launched a quarterback style aerial into the D which evaded all but the Tunbridge Wells centre forward. He calmly rounded Hamish Hall in goal to restore parity.
A&F pushed to take the lead again, entering the circle and winning penalty corners. However, it looked like it might be another game without their penalty corner attack finding the net, as they couldn’t make one of the set piece opportunities count. Hall in the A&F goal was being kept busy himself, more than once denying the opposition good opportunities when one-on-one.
Tunbridge Wells then made the visitors pay with a contentious goal. A ball fired into the visitors’ D towards Kevin McCafferty and the opposition striker led to a clash of sticks, with the ball ending up in the net. The goal was awarded and with no evidence to overturn the initial decision, the goal stood, despite protestation from the visitors. The scoreline remained 2-1 when the half-time whistle went.
The second half couldn’t have started worse for A&F as they found themselves 3-1 down within five minutes of the restart and losing a little bit of their structure as they struggled to get a foothold.
They went back to basics and started to pile some pressure on their opponents and were duly rewarded when they were awarded a penalty corner which allowed Perry to fire a drag flick high over the keeper to make it 3-2.
Just as the visitors were building into the game again, a poor tackle resulted in a Tunbridge Wells penalty corner. A drag flick restored the home side’s two goal lead, to again leave A&F with plenty of work to do in the last ten minutes to battle back into the game.
But battle back they did. Zac Chinn, facing his old side, was routinely winning the ball off the opposing defence in a high press. As he drove around the outside a nasty stick tackle resulted in a short corner and Perry found the bottom corner to set up a tense finish.
Again, A&F were the masters of their own downfall. For all the pressure they were steaming forward with, they were unable to tighten things up at the back. Another penalty corner was awarded to the home side and this time the initial danger was dealt with well by A&F. However, an audacious lob over Hall nestled in the corner to strike a hammer blow to A&F’s chances of escaping with any points.
A&F welcome struggling Lewes to Heath End today (Saturday) and will look to replicate the win and clean sheet they got in the reverse fixture.