“Right then lads”, I begin, “All I want you to do today is keep in mind what I’ve been telling you this week. What should be going through all of your heads when the scores are level?”
“We can win this”, replies the dressing room in monotonal unison.
“What about if we take the lead?”
“We can win this”, they reply, a little louder.
“And can anybody tell me what should be going through your heads if we happen to concede a goal?”
“WE CAN WIN THIS”, they shout.
Thanda Royal Zulu, like our last opponents Ajax CT, have rejected my application to become their manager in the past. I don’t forget a thing like that you know, and aside from my pride, I want us to redeem ourselves for our poor derby performance by beating these today. Having come up from the First Division last season, they’re one of the favourites for relegation, so nothing but 3 points will do.
I had a thought recently that I should tweak Project: Foxy, as nobody that I’ve given a chance as the attacking midfielder in the system has put in a decent performance yet. As well as that, fairly often we find ourselves outnumbered and dominated in midfield if a team is playing a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1 formation. I’m going to give this one more try today, but if we fail I’m changing things up. Young centre back Gary Havenga will make his first appearance of the season, replacing Tlali while Cele reverts to his most comfortable position on the right side of defence.
Elsewhere, Aiden Jenniker is coming back in for Sello Japhta on the left wing, Sullie gets one more chance behind the striker, and Carl Lark replaces Emil Sambou up front. I do consider dropping Komo as we’ve been shipping a fair few goals in the last couple of matches, but my coaches and I agree that he’s really developing at the moment as a result of his exposure to first team football, so he stays in. We’ll be looking to Ryan Moon to make things happen on the right wing today as TRZ have a very solid looking deep midfield triangle, so playing through the centre probably wouldn’t work.
10 minutes in, Lark forces a mistake by centre back Ngidi and robs him of the ball before running clean through on goal. The goalkeeper Peters shows good awareness though, running out to close down the angle and making it difficult for Lark, who can’t find a way around him.
It’s a quiet first 40 minutes in the way of chances, but we’re really dominating the play. Smelling blood, I urge the players to start downright attacking 5 minutes before half time. 2 minutes before half time, and during one such attack, Sullie loses possession and TRZ counter attack. Ngcepe holds the ball up well just outside our box and lays it off for Hadebe, who lashes his shot into the top corner from 25 yards. Bloody hell.
10 minutes after half time, Ryan Moon spots Lark running through the central channel. He plays a brilliant long ball over the defence and Lark takes the ball in his stride. As Peters comes out again to close down the angle, Lark stabs at the ball and it rolls under the keeper, hits the right post, rolls across the line, hits the left post and eventually settles in the net. Thanks, Lady Luck.
The hour mark passes and I haul Sullie off the pitch. I don’t know when he’ll get back on it to be perfectly honest, all I know for now is that he can fuck off home. Khat comes on but he’s also running out of time to impress. Almost immediately afterwards, we put together a good move that culminates with Khat chipping the ball out to Jenniker on the left. He tries a low cross but its blocked by Mkhize… And so begins another counter attack. May plays a long diagonal through ball behind our defence and Ngcepe latches onto it in the box, before blasting the ball past Komo. Why did I tell us to keep attacking after watching how well they counter attack? After knowing that counter attacking football is their only option as they try and scrape enough points to stay in the division? Because I’m just a regular person, albeit with half a robot face. I put my trousers on one leg at a time like anyone else. And sometimes people are fucking stupid.
Nevertheless, we’ll keep attacking. We can either pull level or we can concede again and lose 1-3, and at this point it won’t make much difference to ship 1 extra goal. I do make a couple of changes though, bringing on Gogotya for Sinbad and Japhta for Zulu, dropping Jenniker to full back to accommodate the winger. As we enter the final 10 minutes, Thanda Royal Zulu’s free kick breaks down and now it’s our turn to start a counter attack. Carl Lark gets the ball and surges forward against the back-pedalling defence. He then makes the unfortunate decision to have a bash from 30 yards and the ball flies well wide. They make counter attacking look so easy.
A couple of minutes later, Japhta gets the ball on the left wing. He swings an excellent cross into the box from a deep position and Peters comes out to claim it, but he’s beaten in the air by Carl Lark, who loops a header over the keeper and into the far top corner of the net. I’m relieved, but this isn’t a time to celebrate. It’s a time to drop deep and not over extend ourselves.
A couple of minutes later however, Ryan Moon plays a through ball behind the TRZ defence and perfectly into Lark’s path. All he needs to do is pull the trigger, complete his hat trick and earn us the 3 points, but he takes a touch allowing the defenders to catch up and when he does shoot, Mkhize is there to block it.
Let’s be honest, a draw isn’t ideal, is it? Fair play to Carl Lark, he really pulled us out of the shit there, but overall I still want more. I still expect better. We have a 17 day break before we host Chippa United in our next match, and I’ll be using that time to work on something different.
Project: Foxy MK II isn’t designed to be in any way groundbreaking. It’s designed to address the issues that we’ve found in Project: Foxy. First of all, we’re going with a standard 4-1-2-3 as oppose to the asymmetrical 4-1-2-2-1 that we’ve been using. The benefits of this are twofold in that firstly, we’ll be tougher to break down in midfield, something that has been a problem with the old system. Secondly, it gets rid of our attacking midfielder problem. Khat, Sullie and to a lesser extent Maloka have failed to impress me in any way, shape or form behind the striker, so we’re binning the role entirely, at least until we can bring in someone better. You may be thinking that this will leave us short at the front, but to make up for that, Sello Japhta will play in a very similar way to Ryan Moon does on the right, acting more as a wide forward than a winger and giving us essentially a 3 man attack.
The overall system is designed to keep us tight, keep the scores level, and have enough going forward to nick a goal. Focussing on defence seems like the sensible thing to do with a squad that has a fatal allergy to going a goal down at any point ever. We’ll keep ourselves extremely narrow to prevent teams from playing straight through the middle of us, which has also been a problem so far this season. We’ll sit deep, remain compact, and congest the middle of the pitch, forcing the opposition to head out onto the flanks, where we’ll close them down, win back possession and hit them on the break. Well, that’s the theory anyway.
We work on our shape, our discipline, and most of all our defending throughout the break. In other news, Keenon Blignaut tells me that he needs to leave the club for first team football and I tell him that I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. He’ll be sold as soon as a bid comes in.
Khat tweaks his hamstring in the build up to the match whilst playing a reserve friendly against Grassy Park. He’ll miss the next couple of weeks, but I don’t think we’ll miss him all that much.
I also complete my National B License qualification that I started when I first arrived in Lansdowne, and seeing as the European Championships qualifying stage is over, I chance my arm by sending my CV to the Football Associations of 2 nations thay have sacked their Managers after not qualifying; Liechtenstein and Iceland. Because why not?
Finally, we’re still waiting on news of Joseph Ekwalla’s work permit. Terms have been agreed and graciously funded by Goolam Allie, but as usual we have to wait a full month to see if he can join us. It really is a piss-take.
When the match does arrive, I name quite a changed side, with the recently recovered Gertse restored to the starting line up along with Moe, Gogotya and Japhta. It’s time to see how our new formation fares.
Straight from kickoff, Gogotya picks out Moon on the right with a great sweeping pass. Moon speeds down the line, past Ngcobo and crosses from the byline. Carl Lark gets his head to it but is denied by a great save by Akpeyi.
Quarter of an hour into the game, Seanego whips in a dangerous corner but Adolph heads it over the bar from the edge of the 6 yard box.
After 20 minutes they really start putting us under pressure. First, Seanego forces a good save from Komo with a powerful header, and then when the ball’s worked back around to the edge of the area, Ace Sali tees up Langwe, but his low drive towards the bottom corner is tipped behind by Komo.
With half an hour gone they’re still on top, and Gogotya makes the fatal error of leaving his man to close down Ace Sali, already being marked by Sinbad. This leaves a Langwe-sized hole in midfield, and Ace Sali picks him out. Langwe has all the time in the world to play a first time pass through for Seanego, who knocks the ball past Komo and in. I promptly make it unequivocally clear that I want Sinbad and Gogotya to stick to their positions and not leave the exact same giant gaps in midfield that I’ve just spent 2 weeks trying to get rid of.
With 7 minutes to go before half time, Seanego’s corner is flicked on by Ngobe and nodded into the net by Kama at the far post. 0-2.
But then, a miracle. An absolute bloody miracle. My team collectively decide that we can win this match. Straight from kick off after the goal, Sinbad plays it back to Moe on the half way line, he plays a long arcing ball over the top, and Carl Lark’s there once again to nod the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper. We aren’t done yet. I’m so proud.
Less than 2 minutes into the second half, Cele receives the ball on the right wing and whips a cross in first time to the edge of the area. Lark arrives, Lark heads the ball, Lark finds the bottom corner of the net. I feel faint.
It’s an even game from that point on. With 20 minutes to go, we go on the counter to make sure we don’t concede late on and ruin this fantastic fightback.
With 15 minutes to go we win a corner. Japhta steps up and curls it into the box, but it’s headed clear – As far as Sinbad, 25 yards out. Sinbad gets the ball out of his feet, keeps his head down… And drills the ball straight into the bottom right hand corner. I join the 7 odd thousand Santos supporters in leaping to my feet, arms raised in jubilation. What a comeback. What a match. So long, Langwe. Sayonara, Seanego. Smoke me a kipper, Ace Sali, I’ll be… Oh for fucks sake, it’s been ruled out.
I mean yes, Gertse, Moe, Gogotya and Moon were all stood in offside positions as the defenders moved away from goal and Sinbad took the shot, but they werent really interfering with play. It clearly wasn’t supposed to be a pass to any of them. They weren’t in the keeper’s way or even his eye-line. Oh well, still 2-2.
5 minutes later, Ryan Moon chips the ball up for Carl Lark in the box. He tries to make it a hat trick of headers, but this one doesn’t have much pace and is easy for Daniel to catch. I give Maloka a late cameo in place of Sinbad, but the game ends 2-2.
I think overall there are definitely positives to come from our last 2 matches. I’ve bemoaned the lack of determination in the squad but they’ve certainly shown some to come back from 0-1, 1-2 and 0-2 in the space of 2 matches. You could even make an argument that we should’ve won that last one, but I’m not too sure.
That evening, no sooner do I get back to Geen Rook Nie, get up to my flat and fall into bed, than my phone begins to ring. I lazily dig it out of my pocket and look at the screen. It’s Keith America, my assistant. My greeting is half frustration, half confusion. “Hello Keith?”
“Boss”, he says breathlessly, “We’ve just had a call from the LFV!”
“The Liechtenstein Fussballverband, AKA The Liechtensteiner FA, sure.” I say, incredibly learned in the names of the Football Associations of foreign nations. “Wait… Fuck off.”
“Do you want to be the manager of a National side?”