Tuesday 20 May 2008

Reading 1 v Avondale 1 - London Premiership 15 May 2008

From the South London Correspondent:

Reading I 10 - Avondale I 12 (London League, 15 May 2008)

Rocky and I braved the journey westwards from Putney to Reading on this late spring evening. My faithful companion watched the traffic from the comfort of the passenger seat in our luxurious old Citroen with his ears twitching to the Doobie Brothers cassette. The don’t make them like they used to!

Reading, in parts, and the Central Pool in particular have all the aesthetic charm of a slag heap, but we were in good spirits when we arrived, buoyed by the memory of the two previous Avondale games in the London League. We were looking forward to our first view of Reading this season and I found myself doodling happily as I sat nibbling and sharing my Marmite sandwiched with Rocky. Avondale seemed to have a very mixed team and it took me a few seconds to recognise four or five second team regulars, or as they style themselves “Real Avondale”, in the team. A trip to Reading is a serious commitment for a Thursday evening (I hope my editor is reading this!) and clearly one or two of the stronger Avondale players had received better offers tonight.

Reading are missing some of the youthful players that I remember from a few seasons ago, on my last visit, but as I watched them warm up I recognised a couple of their very handy shooters. With a mixed Avondale team this might be a competitive game.

Avondale lost the toss and began defending the shallow end. I find myself tutting and muttering to myself more and more these days as senility beckons, but really, the standard of facilities for Waterpolo in England is lamentable and Rocky and I exchanged a few choice words about the state of the shallow end. Avondale’s evergreen keeper barely had his trunks wet as the game started. Mind you, watching the old boy warming up he didn’t look particularly sharp and the support of the pool floor appeared welcome.

I had forgotten how entertaining Avondale’s “Beast from the East” is to watch – and clearly judging by the fact that most of the Avondale team were now venturing no further than the half way line, they were enjoying the show as much as Rocky and I. The game was but a few minutes old before he had scored three outstanding goals. His backhand is a particularly dangerous weapon and based on the fact that the keeper’s first move in response is to retrieve the ball from the back of the net I suspect that there’s little warning of the impending missile from the recipients perspective. Avondale somewhat cruised through the first chukka, leading by tow at the close, but Reading posted their intentions clearly with one excellent long range shot into the top of the cavernous shallow end goal and a second well worked effort aided by some slack Avondale defending.

The advantage of playing into the deep end became evident in the second quarter. Reading were the better side and with some good break away play and an organised attack evened the scores at half time. Despite their consistently good play and Avondale’s lack of penetration in the duck pond of a shallow end the highlight of the half was a lightning fast move in the form of a simple pass from the Avondale keeper two thirds of the length of the pool to the breaking Hungarian. Blink and you would miss it, as with a magician’s slight of hand the ball apparently took on a life of it’s own and a split second later it appeared in the goal above the keepers head without him having time to so much as blink. The Beast From the East was taking the plaudits, but the teams swapped ends with seven goals each. Rocky knows when there’s a game to watch and he was perched on the seat beside me eyes and ears alert.

For a change there was what appeared to be real concentration at the Avondale end during the break. I noticed again that Mark Bind has emerged as the player with the ability to see what is important and to communicate that to the team. He was animated and the team were attentive. Despite the extravagant contribution from TBFTE, in the absence of their other leading goal scorers Avondale were not going to simply outgun the opposition tonight.

The team responded well to the entreaties of their de-facto coach and played a very solid quarter. I’ve noticed both Eakins and Brooks finding “Binder” with the long cross pass and when it’s delivered on target he misses few. Avondale’s old keeper managed to block out a couple of strong shots with the effective use of his face, he’s probably getting too slow to avoid them now. This resistance, coupled with a much tighter defence frustrated Reading and Avondale eased into a three goal advantage for the final quarter.

But, the game was far from dead and Rocky paid scant attention to the remaining Marmite sandwich crumbs beneath his seat, rapt with the entertainment as the whistle started the final quarter. He knew that three goals might not be enough given how dominant Reading had been during the second quarter, playing into the deep end. Again, the home team started well with immediate pressure on the Avondale goal. But somehow they could not turn the advantage into goals and the minutes slipped by. Avondale were getting no change in the shallow end and their Captain, the indomitable King Louis, was unable to use the bottom of the pool as effectively as the defenders. Reading pulled a goal back but Avondale stayed strong and over four minutes into the quarter Binder took another good cross pass wide on the left and bounced the ball high into the net, effectively sealing the win. Reading pulled another back but it was too late and the visitors ran out worthy winners in a very entertaining contest.

As the teams headed for their mandatory post match re-hydration, Rocky and I trotted out into the cool night satisfied with the reward for our long journey.

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