A dreary Saturday morning in late January saw Colts return to league action after a six-week hiatus due to Christmas, cup action and postponements; the familiar venue and opponents were Kidderminster Athletic Rhinos, one of 3 KA teams (Hawks and Kites being the others) in the Mercian division. Manager Stephen Coopey decided on a positive 3-3-2 formation which was matched by the home team, and therefore the starting line-up consisted of Cameron; Tom, Dyl and Ewan; George, Connor and Josh; Louis and Harry. The subs bench boasted Nathan, Caleb, Ollie and Reggie.
Both teams started equally brightly and with more room than usual in the middle of the park, an open game soon developed. Half chances were had at both ends and Cam found himself on alert early on. It was the home keeper, however that was the busier of the two for most of the opening half hour, and he kept Colts at bay on several occasions. Harry, Connor and Louis were all denied in the opening exchanges by some smart keeping, with George also probing with some longer-range efforts. The work rate in defence was impressive throughout, and it needed to be; with the score at 0-0 Rhinos were always capable of posing a threat. Dylan looked solid as usual before taking a knock which threatened to end his morning prematurely - however he soldiered on valiantly. Tom was enjoying another positive morning and Ewan, (who seems to be growing in confidence week-on-week), always appeared composed in possession. Every attack that Rhinos could muster was repelled by the back 3 and Cameron who also appeared unflustered by any pressure that was being applied by the home team. Josh impressed with both his defensive covering and also looking threatening when going forward, providing an important outlet and work-rate in the wide right area.
Going forward, Colts were growing in confidence and, thanks in part to Georges work rate and guile (and also helped by the opposing coaches mass-rotation policy!), were looking the more likely to break the deadlock. Louis saw a shot come back of the post and only some fine glove-work denied Harry and George. Connor impressed with some nimble footwork and slick passing, and when the opening goal came it was with a slice of good fortune - George picking the ball up on the edge of the area and seeing his curling shot take a deflection and drop into the corner of the net beyond the despairing dive of the Rhinos keeper. It was just about what Colts deserved, and their increasing grip in the centre of the park soon bore fruit; a long goal-kick from Cam evaded everyone in the centre of the park, and was picked up by Harry who advanced on the goalkeeper before sliding the ball to Louis who gratefully prodded home to double the advantage. Despite this Rhinos continued probing and the end of the first half came with the game still being played in an open, end-to-end manner; Rhinos best chance coming when a shot from range whistled wide of Camerons left-hand post.
At half-time manager Coopey made 3 changes - Nathan for Josh, Reggie for Connor and Ollie also joining the fray. Now playing downhill, Colts dominance increased; Nathan immediately looked to get on the ball and feed the forwards with some positive quick passing and Reggie successfully exploited the room that was opening up on the left wing to good effect. With growing confidence, Colts peppered the Athletic goal, but again were repelled by some excellent goalkeeping and last-ditch defensive work. As pressure increased, so did the corner count, with both Harry and Nathan swinging the ball in and generally causing havoc. Caleb replaced Harry in attack and quickly went about stinging the keepers' fingers with a smart shot before Louis again hit the post. Both George and Louis were shooting for fun, and it was the latter that indirectly created the next goal; a rifled shot was parried by the keeper, and subsequently rattled clear by a panicked defence, but only as far as Dylan who had found some room 5-yards inside the Rhinos half. Dylan confidently lobbed the ball back over the defence and into an empty net to score what could be considered as an early contender for goal of the season; the crowd went wild(ish) and the game surely looked beyond Kidderminster.
Josh then rejoined the action and partnered Caleb up front and shortly after Dylan made way (to a rousing applause) for Harry as Caleb reverted to a defensive role.
The final 10 minutes was played out in the feel of a pre-season friendly; Rhinos heads had understandably dropped and Colts were happy to have a shot from almost anywhere within range. The referee blew the final whistle without either side adding to the tally and concluded a very satisfactory morning for the visiting team. George scooped man-of-the-match for a well deserved battling performance which prompted some in the crowd to reminisce about a Leeds United first team line up from 'back-in-the-day' whereas others compared him to Jack Grealish, which was probably a tad unfair on the boy!
A good morning for the team who will be looking forward to the next few weeks will deserved confidence.