Monday, 27 February 2012

A Date With Destiny

So here we are, having travelled so far and worked so hard for so many weeks, we have finally risen over that last rise and now our goal is in sight. Real, actual, sight. I woke up Sunday in a beautiful world, a world where only one more win shall separate us from the league title, the prize for which we have striven these many months, and striven we have. We have had to battle and rally, we have been down in the trenches as well as flying high on the winds, we have been staring down the barrel of a gun and we have been putting teams to the sword. We have had to have words both with ourselves and each other, we have had to stop having words with umpires and now here we go, crossing the line once again and hearing the bell ring out as it does in those long, incredibly dull, athletics races. One more lap to go.

We have had to fight complacency and arrogance all season, not because we are vain and lazy, but because we didn't want to bastardise our confidence into something that works against us. We haven't so far and I thoroughly expect that to be the case next week, the stakes are no higher than normal and the challenge will be the same as always; win the game. I admit the team talk in terms of motivation might be a bit easier than normal, because frankly if you can't get motivated by the words 'win this game and we win the league' you don't deserve to be in the room.

I hope we can match and build on our play from last week. Our dominance in a 5-2 win was great against a team that really deserves to be pushing higher up the table, and that beat our chasers the week before. It was great to see Neil re-igniting his claim for top scorer of the division and hopefully he'll take back sole possession of the top spot this weekend. My only concern for us were the two sloppy goals we conceded. Although there was much 'debate' about the second goal and why we shouldn't have let it in I must admit I was more surprised by the first goal, to my memory it was the first time we had conceded on a break from the other side this season. Now let me say that I think the back line has been outstanding all season and the rock on which our fortunes have depended but having only come away with 2 clean sheets since the Christmas break I would hate to see their superior stats chipped away at by some late season fatigue setting in (and if you're wondering boys, yes, that is a challenge).

As for this weeks game itself, we couldn't ask for a better setting. Having been denied the chance to win the league at home we instead must travel up the road to the commonwealth pitch at Belle Vue (in my opinion the best quality pitch in the region) to take on our opponents and (for the geographically uncertain) local rivals in an away game. Except, I don't want this game to have any away feeling to it whatsoever. For all those who have backed us all season I implore you that come Saturday don't head down to William Hulme (sorry 2's) but travel the extra 2 miles up the stretch and come and live the moment that we have all been waiting for, there is even a stand for gods sake! All hockey associates should know where Belle Vue is, but if you don't play, or are an idiot it is ... HERE. Push back is 3pm sharp!

So please come one, come all, bring replica shirts, flags, signs, rattles, bells and vuvuzelas and show us some love because we've got a date with destiny and we wouldn't want you to feel left out.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Once more into the breach

I love it when a plan comes together. No I'm not in the A-team I'm merely echoing the satisfaction that can be gained by achieving exactly what you set out to do. Last week we did that; travelling all the way out to Wales. The preparation was going to be key to the execution and we were able to both prepare and execute, from the first minute when we went 1-0 up, to the last minute when we finished 6-2 winners we were able to stay composed and in control, there were moments of doubts when concentration dropped and some unnecessary moments of madness we could really do without but overall I'm really happy with our results. I think I said last week that this was our hardest remaining challenge, I'll now go on to explain why I was lying all along.

Firstly, by virtue of other results, we now stand a mere 5 points away from being able to claim ourselves as league champions and promotion winners. 5 points, for the mathematically weak among you, translates into just two more wins. We're in the position due to ourselves of course but have had our lives made easier due to 2nd place chasers being put to the sword last weekend. The beauty of this is that their conquerors, with fresh blood dripping from their sword, are now the opponents that stand between us and a title clinching date with destiny a week later. A tough team that we struggled to put away earlier in the season I know that this time we will be looking for a much more comprehensive result, and to any thirst for giant killing that may have got their blood up and our proud selves worried I simply say, it will not be our fate.

Forgive the dramatic language but this represents what I believe to be our final hurdle and our final chance to fall and I do not want complacency nor arrogance to seep in like the poison they are. Our achievements are good, we currently enjoy a gap at the top of our division not bettered by any other team in the entire league structure and boast the finest stats across the board for our division. Our dominance has been proved by those numbers, but the proving goes ever on, and I'm relishing these last tough few steps on this long road to success. So to Saturday and to battle once more, I look forward to us getting the job done once again.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Keeping it simple

And so we returned back to the pitch, as the cold lifted and the Sale train kept on rolling. Four stops now until safety, Six stops until home. That translates to 4 more wins for the league title and 6 more wins to finish us off. The truly astute of you will have recognised that this means we came away with another victory on Saturday. You would be correct, 3-0 was the score. It was a strong showing for us, satisfied was the outcome, though we fall short of ecstatic.

Why?! I hear you cry. Well, 3-0 is all well and good (with 2 from yours truly, more on that later though) but 3-0 was all we managed against opposition that offered pretty much no threat. Now I feel sorry for the opposition seeing as their captain decided to bin them off at half time when they were 3 down leaving them with just 10 men (if this happened on our team that captain would turn up at training only to find coach waiting to insert the match ball somewhere it would certainly obstruct play). The opposition were left with little choice but to play for pride and keep the score down. They managed that and fair play to them, I should have probably scored at least one more but I'm not going to let that get me down. I was the proud recipient of a man of the match award for the first time this season, and I'm going to use my contribution as a metaphor for the road ahead.

Saturday was a typical Sale win this season, do the damage early doors and wear the opponent down through goals or passing and then toil to add to the tally later on. We play our best stuff when we play it simple. It's a common misconception that playing it simple is easy. You have to work hard. You have to move when you pass, get free for an easy ball and know what you want to do with it when you get it, anticipating what those around you are going to do. It takes concentration, fitness, and determination. A simple rule to follow is to know where the easy pass should be, front and square. If you're on the ball look front and square, nothing on? pass back. It you're off the ball get free and get front or square either to the man on the ball or to the man front or square to the man on the ball. Repeat in rapid succession whilst moving towards goal. Score. Win game. Repeat weekly. Top the table. Write blog. Simple!

I scored two of the simplest goals ever on Saturday. Standing on the back post I got the ball hit at me and then put it in from less than a yard out... twice. Now it did help me that my marker was having a nightmare and I did very nearly get a third the same way (I assume he got a bit of a dressing down at half time because the penny seemed to drop in the second half). But just being in the right place, at the right time, to receive the right ball is all we need to do to win this league and I will be waiting on the back post and the penalty spot for all of the remaining games to make sure that is exactly what happens and I hope the other lads do the same in their respective positions.

Next week takes us back to Wales in a difficult away trip against a side who are always strong at home. We didn't travel well at all the last time we crossed the border, falling to our only loss of the season. This makes the trip a potential banana skin and I'm hoping we'll be heading out there with a real sense of purpose and wanting to hammer home our determination... in as simple a way as possible of course! Nothing is more important than getting those wins, our fate is in our hands and that is always the best way to be!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Down Time

Not much to report today folks. Sadly due to 'inclement weather' our game, and pretty much every other game in the region, was called off on Saturday. It's very frustrating for hockey addicts like me having a Saturday thrust upon me like that. I simply do not know what to do with myself other than mope around the house cursing the weather. It's especially bad timing for us in that we are now having our momentum sapped everyday through inactivity (our training has been cancelled too). Hopefully it's going to be a return to hockey training tonight though as the conditions seem to be marginally warmer currently. After our comeback win all we really wanted to do was play the next game there and then. But we're not afraid of the effort needed to get back to that level so I'm sure we be making a storming return this weekend.

Considering the lack of action on the field for us I though I'd briefly share some of my opinions regarding the elite level of the game, they're only the opinions of a casual fan I hasten to add so please don't take them as gospel. The FIH (the sports governing body) chooses to market Hockey as the fastest team sport in the world. Now that's debatable (certainly at the level some of our teams play at!) but I can see where they are coming from. The self-pass rule in particular helps to make the game flow. At the elite level this creates for near ceaseless play, ensuring players are well and truly tested and rotation is needed (apparently elite level forwards can expect to play in 10 minute rotations).

What strikes me the most about elite level play is the importance of short corners (or penalty corners as some insist on calling them). When a short corner is conceeded in an international game the players react almost as though they had scored. Now there is good reason for that, they pretty much do always score from short corners. Also what it highlights is the high level of skill that defenders operate with at the elite level. They are truly masters of their art for making an open play goal more of an exception than a rule.

With the olympics coming up I think credit has to be given to GB hockey for the great strides that both the mens and ladies teams have made in the past few years. They are now both serious challengers for medals and on home soil with raucous support from the crowds this should ldead to an excellent atmosphere and hopefully some great games. The prospect of that combined with the ever increasing profile of Hockey in the national media are a cause to keep me warm through these joyless frozen winter days. Thanks for reading, sorry for the lack of content, blame the sun.