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Despite suffering from a raft of injuries and absences, on 6 January, Soho made it six wins from six in the London Unity League by overcoming Titans XXL 3-0, to keep the gap to league leaders Titans 2Brewers a slim three points.
A stark lack of wide midfielders forced Soho to line up at Regent’s Park in an unconventional 4-3-2-1: a formation both seasonally inappropriate and tactically unfamiliar for the home side, which saw central midfielder Bjørn and forward Kieran deployed as the nominal wide players in the line of three, and coach Connor pressed into service as one of the two advanced midfielders behind Cameron up front.
But the home team settled quickly, and produced a goal after three minutes through two of their players actually playing in familiar roles; defensive midfielder Dan, starting between Bjørn and Kieran, arced a long ball over the Titans back line, for Cameron to run onto and poke home. The defenders and goalkeeper were caught in two minds, each leaving the long pass for the other, and Cameron was offered a simple opportunity to score Soho’s 20thgoal of the season.
Soho had a few chances to add to their lead, as their forwards’ movement and interchange of positions unsettled the visitors’ back four. Kieran drifted across the width of the pitch to overload the Titans right-back, and play Bjørn in behind on the left, only for his cross to hit the goalkeeper; minutes later Rash, the third member of the Oranges’ front line, slipped Cameron in behind the Titans defence with a neat reverse pass, that just trickled away from him and into the arms of the onrushing goalkeeper.
However, it was direct running and, in the words of the Proper Football Men, putting yourself about a bit, that doubled Soho’s lead midway through the first half. Rash picked up the ball on the right, and cut inside onto his left foot; instead of shooting at goal or finding a teammate, however, he surged into the Titans penalty area, jinking and barging his way through defenders, before sliding the ball to Connor in the box. The coach-come-forward turned coach-come-scorer, and added to the home side’s lead.
The rest of the first half was a choppy affair, with neither team able to hold the ball for extended periods. The Titans were able to threaten Soho in the wide areas, taking advantage of the overlaps generated by their 4-3-3 shape against Soho’s outnumbered full-backs, Adam and Charlie. Adam in particular, on the right, got the worse of the Titans attacks, as they shifted their front three towards his wing; with the Titans left winger hugging the touchline, their centre-forward between Adam and right centre-back James, and right winger between James and defensive partner AJ, the visitors would often flood up to three people into Adam’s part of the field, and had some success in turning the Soho full-back, and getting in behind the defence.
With a firm base camp established on their left wing, the visitors began probing at the heart of the Soho defence. Midfield runners, and, at times, wingers cutting in from their flanks, drove at the centre of the field, exploiting the space left behind by James and AJ as they were pulled wide to support their full-backs. The Titans’ most sustained period of pressure led to a number of chances and a pair of corners, but Soho goalkeeper Will was a match for everything the visitors threw at him.
There was relatively little action in the remainder of the half, save for a booking for Dan for a digression I cannot actually remember, but that I have down in my notes as a “tasty chop”, and Soho went into half-time with a two-goal lead. The second half brought no changes in personnel, but a change in shape, as Connor dropped in alongside Dan in midfield, and Bjørn and Kieran pushed wider to produce a 4-4-1-1 shape more suited to protecting against the Titans’ wide attacks.
With the visitors’ attack somewhat blunted, and a tired Soho team struggling to create much in open play, it fell to a set piece to give the goal its final game, and make the Soho lead that much more comfortable. A corner from Conner led to a panicked goalmouth scramble, and in the melee Rash was able to poke the ball home. The coach claimed an assist and, as was the case several weeks ago when AJ may have scored from the half-way line, without clear and obvious evidence to the contrary, I would struggle to deny him this particular statistical accomplishment.
With an hour gone, Soho began to make changes, introducing myself, Austen and Andy to provide fresh legs in midfield, and willing defenders on the flanks. The visitors pushed hard for a consolation goal in the closing stages, even swapping their goalkeeper for an outfielder in what was presumably intended to be a piece of Louis van Gaal-inspired keeper-switching ahead of a pivotal moment, but there was no such twist in the tail. The visitors angled a number of dangerous balls into the box from set pieces, but were unable to convert their pressure into goals, and the game finished 3-0.
The result saw Titans reach the halfway point of the season, and the team finds themselves seventh in the league, ahead of a trip to Charlton this weekend. Soho, meanwhile, remain in second, just behind Titans 2Brewers with a pair of games in hand, and will host Stonewall on Sunday, their final game before a one-week break ahead of a tough run of five games in as many weeks.
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