Cambridge 4 Wisbech 1
In hindsight, the heavily overcast skies and slowly descending mist that covered the Fenland on Halloween offered a very fitting backdrop for Saturday’s encounter between the Hockey Blues and Wisbech Town.
It was a game where the team found it very difficult to establish a consistent rhythm, where tempers flared too often and where every player had to really work to achieve a hard-fought victory.
Although coming off the back of an impressive win against Bedford Town the previous week, injuries and illness had taken their toll during training, and it was noticeable in the first phases of the game that the team was struggling to find a rhythm.
Wisbech blocked out their half effectively, playing very deep for the majority of the game and putting in strong flat tackles on any runs around the ‘D’, making it difficult for the Cambridge attack and midfield to work their way through.
However, individual skill from Nick Parkes and David Bell in midfield as well as visionary passing from the back four gave the Blues a number of opportunities on goal, mostly through upgrades to short corners.
Unfortunately, it seemed as though luck was just not to be with the students as Parkes shot narrowly wide, and Simon Sampson’s deflection clattered off the post; time and again short corner chances were saved by the Wisbech keeper.
Finally, mid way through the half, Dave Saunders threw himself in front of Dave Madden’s flick, deflecting it straight into the roof of the net, giving the Blues the advantage they had worked so hard for.
Unfortunately, Wisbech’s firm defensive stance continued to foil Cambridge’s efforts and eventually one of a number of breaks by the home team found the back of goalkeeper Robinson’s net after a slick passing move down the right hand side.
The combination of events led to increasing frustration on the part of the Blues and it was only through the timely intervention of the half time break that everyone was able to regain their composure for the remaining 35 minutes.
Strong words during the break from senior players brought everyone’s minds back onto the task in hand and it was a focussed 11 players who lined up for the second half.
Once again, early pressure across the pitch allowed Cambridge to turn the ball over and attack, although this time there was more energy about the runs, and more purpose in the passing. Increasingly the superior fitness of the students became apparent as players found themselves running through the same Wisbech back four that had been so immovable in the first half.
Although a number of chances again went begging, the desire was there, and on the third time of asking Stuart Jackson was able to collect a weighted ball from Ollie Salvesen and, taking it around the keeper, put the Blues back in front.
It was a nervous ten minutes that followed the goal as the Blues’ defence repelled attack after attack, Wisbech even getting so close as to hit the post, and it was only after the tenth Cambridge short corner, scored by Jackson on the far post, that the visiting team could start to breathe easy, knowing there was a two goal buffer between them and their opponents.
As the defence looked to protect the score-line, keeping the ball away from the Wisbech attacking line, perhaps the greatest shock of the game hit the Cambridge bench.
Centre-back Saunders suddenly wandered with the ball the length of the pitch, through the midfield, and, winning the free hit on the edge of the ‘D’, went quickly, jinxing his way around the outstretched sticks of the defence, before calmly sending the ball past the bewildered keeper.
Saunders’ team-mates could only look on stunned as he celebrated such a classy individual goal which secured the victory, the man-of-the-match award and protected the Blues’ second place in the East Premiership.
Stuart Jackson – Sports Reporter