2016 did not start very well for the team. Firstly, Twyford Comets withdrew from the league, meaning our 7-0 win before Christmas was void: we lost the 3 points and our goal difference became negative again! Secondly, very wet weather in January resulted in the postponement of two home games and the cancellation of all training in the month. However, we did manage to play two league games and the last fixture the boys needed after a long gap was a match against the league leaders, Reading Rangers, who then had a 100% record in the league.
However, the good pre-Christmas form continued, and with two yellow cards seeing Reading Rangers reduced to ten men early in the first half, the game was finely balanced and could have gone either way, with both teams missing chances to win. A 0-0 result was a fair outcome and the boys remained unbeaten at home.
Our furthest away trip of the season, to Elstead in Surrey, saw the boys put in the first half one of their best footballing halves of the season, with the team taking a 3-0 half time lead, with well-taken goals and excellent football both in keeping and regaining possession. The second half was much closer as the heavy pitch took its toll, and Elstead game back into the game strongly, with the boys grateful to hold on to win 4-2.
February started with matches against the two teams who had given us our biggest defeats earlier in the season. We put in another excellent team performance to win 4-2 against Whitegrove Pythons, followed by what was probably one of our best performances of the season, particularly defensively, to beat a strong Caversham Trents side 2-1 in a very tight game. This was followed by a 4-1 win in the rematch against Sandhurst Town, a win which was only comfortable in the end due to the opposition not having a full team. The month finished with a disappointing 1-1 draw with AFC Caversham, in a game in which we had plenty of chances to win, but could have lost had a penalty not been saved.
March began with our only league home defeat all season when, despite taking the lead, two soft goals conceded saw us fall to a 2-1 defeat against a ten-man Ashridge Park team, who defended resolutely to keep us out. That disappointment was overcome the week after when the return match against a young Camberley Town team saw us struggle to score for the first 30 minutes, but then romp to a 10-0 win with some great attacking play.
With a four-week gap before our final league game, a midweek friendly was arranged against division winners Reading Rangers. Despite twice going behind, we played some terrific attacking football to lead 3-2 at the break. We then soaked up a lot of second half pressure, but scored twice more to win 5-2, giving the team a lot of confidence before our final league game.
That game saw us needing to win to secure fifth spot and the top half finish which we had targeted at Christmas. This wasn’t going to be easy against a Laurel Park side that had made it to the League Cup semi-finals, and a win seemed unlikely when we were 2-0 down from two set plays in the first 8 minutes. However, this game was 2 days after Liverpool had been in a similar position against Dortmund and the boys got back into the game to level, but then conceded again and went in at half time 3-2 down: the first time we had conceded 3 in a game since November. At the start of the second half I told the boys, in the words of Jürgen Klopp, to “create a story to tell their grandchildren”, and they certainly did that, scoring two well-taken efforts to go into a 4-3 lead. The last 15 minutes were incredibly tense, with the team conceding a late penalty, which was saved superbly, and the boys held on to end the season with a well-fought win.
The team will finish fifth in the league, which is down to a terrific run which saw them gain 23 of a possible 30 points from their last ten games, a run with only one narrow 2-1 defeat. It was a case of what might have been had we started the season better, as, including the friendly win, we had beaten 3 of the top 4 teams since Christmas. However, this was a new team, and it was the development of both the players in the team, both individually and as a group, which made this a really special season for everyone involved with the team. New friendships were forged between the boys but, most importantly, the team gave them all the opportunity to participate in, and enjoy, football at under 18 level.
The final tally for the season in all matches was:- Played 23, Won 10, Drew 4, Lost 9, Goals For 77, Goals Against 58.
Brian Strange, U18’s Manager