A herculean effort from the Brits take the league leaders to the wire
Olympique Caesar Augusta (2) 3
Británicos (0) 2
Parque Ebro 19/01/20 20:15
Beattie, Wells, Rooney, Borque, Ferns, De Vicente, Morris, Wolfenden, Shaw, Pernas (Y)
The cold front had doubled down on the windy city of Zaragoza as the Exiles asked themselves the obvious questions; why did we move to Spain when Scotland is warmer? A late kick-off against the league leaders on the face of it could fill a team with trepidation, but the Exiles felt confident. The return of Pernas would bring some style to the midfield and cushion the blow of losing the ever determined Gilman to a back injury. Martin, Clapson and Piernas joined Keane on the unavailable list.
The game started with Olympique in full cry. Attacking with three fast moving forwards who worked together in concert. Almost immediately the Brits were under sustained pressure. Beattie marshalled the defence with resolute determination as the midfield seemed to find it difficult to track back with enough speed. Ferns had to come deeper and deeper until the Exiles were playing with an effective three man defence to resist the expressive and energetic attacking drive. Wells and Rooney had to dig deep to use all the tools in their defensive armoury, even down to the unspoken pages of the ancient lore of the black arts. Borque also became a focus of opposition fury as he tackled with steel and stood firm to their spittle fuelled reactions. Despite their dominance in the flow of play, the opposition seemed more rattled and quicker to combust with rage at the referee.
As the midfield started to rediscover their legs and the Brits emerged out of their defensive third it seemed that they could find cracks in the defensive armour of the leaders. Their goalkeeper was nimble and agile but seemed unwilling to catch, preferring to punch clear and giving the Brits an opportunity to target follow up opportunities. Olympique certainly called upon Beattie to make some impressive saves but arguably it was the Brits who first threatened goal when Borque was almost able to turn in a throw that found its way through a crowded box.
The game seemed to be balancing itself out as the opposition struck. A speedy ball hit across the box on the floor was read and intercepted by Wells to prevent the striker latching on behind him. Sadly, the ball was placed into his own goal as the interception found Beattie committed. It was unfortunate that so much hard work had been undone by such a bad piece of luck. The opposition did not celebrate with much gusto, recognising it was a freak but of luck for them.
The Brits pushed forward with their efforts. De Vicente continued to cause difficulties down the right and Morris placed their defenders under constant pressure. Pernas made his way on to the field in place of Borque and enjoyed some of the freedom of the wing with Ferns in the centre. The injection of pace and direct creativity put the opposition on the back foot and they resorted to constant back chat and some cynical time wasting to break up play. The Brits pushed the Olympique players into a more defensive pattern and they started to emerge from their torrid spell under the kosh. With the half coming to a close it seemed the Brits might just snatch an equalizer but a fast breaking counter attack saw Olympique break as a unit and double their lead.
It did not feel like an insurmountable challenge to get something out of the game. The team had played with style whilst under pressure and moving forward. They had weathered their early storm and kept pace with the opposition. There was no reason why they could not dictate spells of the game and put the leaders under sustained pressure.
The second half started in a tense style, both teams looking a little more cautious but also resolute. As it looked like the Brits were once more beginning to place the opposition on the back foot, a Wolfenden pass fell short and once again the Brits fell foul to a self inflicted error.
It could certainly be argued that at this point Olympique Ceaser Augusta could feel they could relax and take their foot off the gas feeling the job was done. They did not. Smelling a collapse they pressed harder to punish the Brits and make the victory complete and there followed a few moments of fear that the match might just become a hefty defeat. Curiously, it seemed to unleash a cavalier swagger in the Brits. For not the first time in their short history, the Brits launched into a period of play that showed power, passion and energy. Showing slick passing and inventive drive when chasing what seemed like a last cause of a scoreline. Shaw bombing down the line with pace and wrong footing the defenders, Pernas taking the centre of the park by the scruff of the neck and filling the opposition with uncertainty. Wolfenden harassed on the other flank as Ferns started to overlap with him. It was a Ferns who ran through the Olympique midfield and exchanged a one two with De Vicente unlocking the defence who seemed destined to open the Brit scoring. The opposition keeper came out to close him down and blocked the shot to keep the Brits at bay.
As the pressure built the opposition became more tense and uneasy and started to lose focus. Ferns took a throw which Borque was unlucky not to convert at the back post but Morris was there to lash the ball home and drive doubt into the Olympique ranks.
The leaders attempted to break out with force once again to re-establish their lead but the Brits were now playing with drive and verve. Breaking up attacks but now also releasing the ball, recycling into attack with purpose and suddenly the opposition found themselves in trouble. They pulled back their defensive line and the Brits had more of the ball and more of the play.
As the minutes ebbed away the Brits twice came close to pulling a further goal back until Morris received a full blow to the face in the area. The referee awarded a penalty and the Olympique team were furious. The delay was considerable before Pernas was allowed to take the spot kick. The opposition keeper actually saved well but Pernas was able to convert the rebound and the leaders were now in full crisis. They argued every decision, reacted angrily to every tackle, went in rashly on the Brits, took forever to return the ball when it went out of play. Passions finally boiled over when Ferns clashed with an attacker on the edge of the Brit box. The solid challenge was legitimate but the sound of two shin pads coming together and an Olympique player going down produced a furious reaction from the players. Wells stepped between Ferns and three opposition players and appealed for calm. Tensions spilled over in various conversations and pushing across the pitch, the referee's grip on the game seemed to slip away for a few moments. Yellow cards were issued to various Olympique players and Pernas for their reactions. The resultant freekick was blocked by the wall and the game powered on.
As the game entered into the closing stages Olympique lost interest in goal and actually headed to the corner on more than one occasion. Wolfenden delivered a thundering challenge that drew admiration from all on the pitch and the Brits agonizingly crept forward with a series of throw-ins as Olympique launched the ball into orbit on repeated occasions. It became obvious the Brits had one last chance to snatch a point but the keeper collapsed on to the ball and stayed on the ground gratefully. He took his time before releasing the ball, winning a yellow card for wasting time before the referee then blew for time.
Despite the stormy nature of the contest, the victors were sporting after the whistle and tensions were dispensed. A solid and fascinating contest which pushed them to the final whistle. Perhaps they might have been less gracious if they had been pegged back to a draw. The Brits can be pleased in their performance, despite defeat they had been competitive. This will be useful to build on as the next couple of ties are against high flying opposition.
Many thanks to Ana Sofia Aznar González for her excellent reportage photographs that feature in this report
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