Monday, 30 January 2012

The Tide

It's one thing to say something, another thing to do something. Knowing and being are two totally different concepts. but the presence of belief is a powerful thing. We took that power to the pitch on Saturday and learnt quite quickly that belief can only show you the door, it will not walk you through it. 10 minutes into the game and we were 2-0 down. And all the fire and the passion and all the goals we set ourselves couldn't stop it from happening. But what matters is not how we felt about it but what we did about it. We played, continued to play and worked our way back against that tide, minute by minute, pass by pass.

Half time came around and no face was a face of dejection, the belief was still there. We had 35 minutes to turn it around and yes, we could do it. We just needed that goal. Danny stepped up soon after the break and gave us that goal. We celebrated, drinking in that momentum, but were stopped in our tracks. The goal was disallowed. There came the turning of the tide. Last week many an angry word would have been said, a stick thrown or a head dropped. Not this time. We took that hit on the chin and simply said 'No. Not today'. And so with fire in our bellies we tried again. And then the goal came. And then the next, and the next and the next and the next. It was like a tempest, a whirlwind, a dizzying spell that saw us flying and crushed the hearts of our opponent. Never bested them before, set not to again, but then we blew them away.

It would be remiss of me not to mention some of the stunning finishes on display as well with three great goals scored from insane angles (one by myself I might add, on the reverse, but enough about that moment of inspiration!), the kind of shots that any other time could have gone embarrassingly wide. I think coach may have a problem on his hands in that respect with three different forwards now believing they can score from that position (though in our defence we should never have passed at the time). Coming off the pitch in the end I can say without any doubt that it was the finest half we've played all season and a real showcase of our ability to overcome adversity. We could have crumbled but on that day we proved why we're top and have been for so long.

And now on this wave I hope to see us ride. The momentum we have I hope will carry us through towards the fulfilment of our final goal. To be the champions. The road is clear: 5 more victories is the minimum, 7 more is the target. After play like that we've seen again what we are capable of, recaptured that elusive thirst, and now we mustn't let it go to waste. We 're going to push ourselves and everyone else forward through these next few games and show with no doubt what we will be, show them the champions. I wish I could play the next game right now.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Test

In terms of a physical and mental test there are few things more daunting than running a marathon. I've never done so myself but tune in to coverage of one and you'll constantly hear stories of second and thirds winds, and the dreaded wall of fatigue looming over the runner as he gets closer and closer to the finish. The one thing true about a marathon is that it doesn't ever stop being a marathon. You don't get to 20 miles and get picked up by a rickshaw for a bit, you're either in for the long haul or you're out by the roadside next to Paula Radcliffe's excrement. The season is our own personal marathon and right now we're running a tough mile. The wind is blowing in our face, we're off our stride and some jokers are trying to put a move on us. Now is the time to dig deep and fight that pain.

One of the things we try to do as a team is earn the right to win a game, it can't really be any other way when you're top of the league and have been since day one. You have to keep earning that right. That wind isn't about to die down. The teams we come up against are no longer playing Sale, they are now playing 'top of the league'. Any team that matches us will claim to be as good as us, and all who beat us will claim to be better. I can't live with that, for the simple reason that it would be a lie. I think that in the two games that we've dropped points so far this term we have been defeated or held back by one team, ourselves. It may be that we don't stand up to the physical presence of team or we allowed ourselves to lose our discipline, our shape and our formula. Once the battle starts going against us in our heads it becomes twice as hard.

I see the moment that we're in right now as the crucial moment and potential defining moment of the season. We're heading off the back of dropping points into a game against the team who conquered 2nd place last week, they're also the only team that have beaten us this season. The only team we have never beaten in our history in this league. To say I want to win this game is the understatement of the century, the thirst for that victory burns inside of me, I wish for us to descend upon them like the wrath of almighty God. It is the perfect test of champions, backs a little against the wall, asked to earn our passage to a better place, these are the kind of games you want to be a part of.

For us to win we only need to do one thing, play to our potential. We know we are the best this league has to offer and now is the time for us to remember that (and have it remembered), play our game, and let everyone else try to match us. I know that there will be a lot of soul searching and that we will come to the game on Saturday with a strong will to win as always, maybe mixed with some frustration and some tiredness also. Dig deep, this is the test we need to pass to get where we want to be and it will not be easy, but then nothing worth doing ever is.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Not back, but better

As winter bites and the first few games fall victim to the cold weather, there was a warm little part of me re-ignited by the joy of returning to league action and to winning ways. The cold weather was no match for our weather-proof pitch and the show went on. Last week wasn't fun losing in the manner we did. Everyone was switched on this week though and ready to get out there and stake our claim. It's a dangerous thing, the Christmas break. Some teams get stronger, some get weaker as players drift away or get dropped from higher teams to help out (no such luxury for us, not that we'd do that because it's despicable cheating). After last week I'm sorry to admit that we did look ahead to the first game and the fact it was against the bottom placed team was seen as something of a blessing to us. Not that they played that way, in fact I have to give credit for resilience on the part of our opponents and I hope that they can bring that fight to the rest of their games because I think they'll survive relegation that way, even if it means losing 4-0 to us.

As for us, well we were satisfied. We're a team that is about attrition. We work hard for everything we achieve. It was a great pleasure to see that old industry return in the game. Commanding the ball, playing patient and striking at the right moment were all things that shone through, as well as some few moments of individual brilliance, like high notes of contrast in an otherwise sweeping symphony that brought us the victory we deserved. A good day at the office then. But as usual, it's not enough. Not enough not just because the road isn't run yet but not enough because we want more, of everything. We were all about focusing on getting back to our best this week, and while there is still a bit more fitness work before we can claim that I don't want that to be the true aim. The true aim, to steal a phrase I think Nick used, is not just to be back, but to be better. Towards the end of last season we upped our game, after suffering disappointing losses and having pretty much given up on winning the league we focused on improving our performance level. In the last few weeks of that season we played all of the teams above us, and beat them all. I truly believe we finished that season as the best team in the league (although the number 5 next to our final position would say otherwise). The evidence in my defence is the table this season, we've done a little better so far. We want to continue to do better and I hope we can replicate that late season dedication, in the immortal words of Yazz- The only way is up!

And so onwards and upwards we go into the battle that remains. Our next two games see us face teams battling for 3rd and 4th (one of these teams is the only team that has beaten us in the laegue, but more on that next week), they'll be tough matches and they'll want to try and reel us in, as always though it is up to us to show what we can do and play our game. This is no time to relax, it's a time to roll our sleeves up and get the job done.  Nothing but better is good enough anymore.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Iron fears the Hammer

OK, so last weekend didn't go fully to plan, which is a slight understatement. Just as well that it is totally irrelevant then. I would give credit to our opponents for playing very well and beating us convincingly but we know we didn't turn up and give a fair account of ourselves. I'm not going to waste time on excuses, to me they're just like unacceptable reasons. We've learnt a lesson in how we should discipline ourselves but now it is time to draw a sharp line underneath it and move on, because this weekend the league is back.

The house lights are back on and the score is counting this weekend. I know that there is a lot of passion in the boys and a lot of damaged pride just swarming underneath the surface trying to escape. It's going to be important to manage that in the right ways. What we need to do is step onto the pitch and fight for and win the right to play our game. We are in the situation where all we require is a little reminder of just who we are. We are the Hammer in the title of this blog, and the rest of the league is the Iron. It is our job to go out there and beat them again and again until they bend to our desire, to our design and fear the next blow. We are certainly not vulnerable, we are venerable, the rightful possessors of the top spot in the league and, with respect, the best team.

So come Saturday there will be no prisoners, we will not allow someone to march into our house and tell us what to do. We will be raw and ready, fighting fit and ready to tear out the throat of anyone who stands in our way (metaphorically of course... with the possible exception of H). I'm not the kind of guy who needs to give rallying calls, and we're not the kind of team that forgets what we've worked so hard to achieve. I think that in one way or another all of the boys will be thinking hard about Saturday and they will turn up. For those boys out injured it would also be great to see you down to support as well. In fact, that goes for anyone with a desire to see what we can do. We'll be ready on Saturday, let's just hope that the world is too.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Tool up

Hello hello welcome to 2012, the year of the Olympics, the last year of time according to the Mayans and, more importantly, the year that Sale continue to dominate! The Christmas break is coming to an end and I hope a thorough break was enjoyed by all. The team certainly enjoyed the 1st team Xmas do, some of us more than others (guilty as charged!). For anyone wondering yes I do remember some of it, which personally I think is my greatest achievement of the season so far.

With all that resting and feasting and relaxing behind us though it is now time to get back to business. On the agenda at the moment for all us is burning off those mince pies. We don't hit the league for another week and training doesn't start until Tuesday but not to worry about our sharpness as we have scheduled ourselves a friendly in order to shake off the cobwebs and get back into the swing of things. Hopefully the wind will calm down before we head up to Golbourne on Saturday to face their 1st team. Hailing from div 6 south they are placed one league below us but, like us, currently sit atop of the table (but only with a 4 point gap, must try harder!) and so I'm sure they'll be a team wanting to hit the ground running too, and get one over on a team higher up the tree than them.

It's a good test for us. Not just so we can get the fat out of our legs after the break but also because facing a competitive team looking to get one over on a higher team is going to be a recurring feature for the rest of the season I believe. The fact is we're just over halfway to our goal but we're not there yet, and now every team knows what they're dealing with. They're all out to get us, even if they don't necessarily aspire to promotion itself. For those who doubt it, I can recall the feeling of determination when we faced the league leaders last season knowing we couldn't win the league, and the elation after we beat them. As the season wears on and you begin to look more like settling into mid-table mediocrity the games like that are your big last chance to take a quality moment out of  the season. We're going to face teams each week fighting for things or just trying to prove a point, and we're going to have to beat them all.

I don't believe we can do it, I know we can as a law of nature. If we maintain our level then we achieve our goal, I know, that's not good enough for me either we should always be improving. I want to see a double figure scoreline before the end of the season. For now though, the pressure is off this weekend. Let's go out and fight, try to win and most importantly get back into our stride. I know many of the lads are watering chomping at the bit with excitement to get out on the pitch, I'm no exception. Let's tool up and take it to the pitch!