Hopes are high despite pre-season finale loss
Harpenden’s final pre-season training match against Bishop’s Stortford promised to be a tough test for a relatively inexperienced squad at this level.
Stortford, themselves fielding a fairly young team, were only relegated from East Premier Division B last season, two leagues above Harpenden’s current standing.
The game started in frenetic fashion, with end-to-end attacking play from both teams. Although Harpenden looked good going forward, they too often turned over possession cheaply.
Stortford’s counter-attacking play was swift and clinical. Despite excellent defensive covering play from the new full back pairing of Tom Bunbury and Wouter van Driel, Harpenden found themselves 3-0 down within 15 minutes of the start.
Harpenden were in danger of being taken apart but instead the whole team lifted their game. Characterised by the tremendous work-rate of the veteran midfield trio of David Falk, Todd Baines and skipper Russell Timms, Harpenden starved Stortford of possession in the middle of the park, and began to apply consistent pressure themselves.
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The second quarter became a succession of Harpenden short corners. From one of these newcomer Reece Baker-Kiff, who tormented Stortford all afternoon with his direct running and superb stick skills, centred to create a goal-scoring opportunity for Falk, who drove the ball home.
Harpenden quickly added a second as van Driel scored from a powerful direct strike at a short corner. Despite further scares, Stortford made it through to half time still in the lead.
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Most of the second half followed the pattern established towards the end of the first: Harpenden dominance in midfield serving as a platform for attack after attack.
Although the supply of short corners continued, Harpenden were unable to convert as they had in the first half. Perhaps their best chance came when Baker-Kiff drove into the circle after an excellent run from midfield. he Stortford keeper made a good low save to his right, and the defence scrambled the ball to safety.
With time running out and the game becoming increasingly open, Stortford once again exploited turnover ball in their own half to catch Harpenden on the break. The final score of 4-2 to Stortford was poor reward for a spirited fight-back.
With a crop of younger players coming through to the side, Harpenden can look forward with confidence to the new league season. This starts for them at Woollams at 12pm on Saturday, September 20 against Upminster.