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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away……

Ok, it was a week ago in a field not very far away at all, but we all love the Star Wars films, right? I can hear the cries of “What does this have to do with football?” ringing loudly in my ears, but bear with me. I do like a ramble.

Remember “The Empire Strikes Back”? Thought so. The action ranged from the Ice World of Hoth, to the swamps of Dagobah and finished with Luke Skywalker barely escaping with his life from the Cloud City. Hoth was a tormented world of snow and ice, with razor-like winds that would strip the flesh from the bone, ravenous, cave-dwelling carnivores and smelly beasts of burden that doubled as impromptu tents. The 1st February felt like Hoth!!! It was freezing, “too cold to snow” as my father might have said with a certain lack of logic (it is even more freezing in Antarctica and it snows there all the time…)
Then there was Dagobah. A foetid, sodden, morass of a world where dry land was anything but dry, just less damp than everywhere else. That was the state of the ground at Long Lane on the 1st February, with barely a dry bit to stand on. Wellies all round then. And thermal socks. And long johns….maybe not.

Follow me now? I was just setting the scene!

Ruby “Guzan”, Lateisha, Lily and Shannon McShane, Eleanor, Ellie, Madison, Lily Hughes and Millie braved the conditions to proudly wear the magpie garb of the Panthers on this cold and muddy day. Goalkeepers are renowned for being mad/ eccentric/ brave/ weird/ a breed apart/ other (delete as appropriate), but Ruby definitely deserved the “brave” epithet today, sitting on the turf practising her handling skills. Wood Star only brought six players along with them and none of them were sat anywhere. One-nil to the Panthers for commitment!

Kick off was at midday prompt, with Lily Hughes and Millie on the subs bench and the usual suspects in their usual places. The Panthers launched an attack from the off, winning a corner from an Ellie shot. The pressure continued, with Lily M shooting wide seconds later, but it was only two minutes in when Shannon continued her run of goals when she notched again, making it 1-0 to the Panthers. She went close again a minute later to emphasise the Panthers’ dominance in these early exchanges, but they began to over-complicate and lost their way for a little while against their six-man opposition, who were clearly playing several people out of position in order to provide a game.

Breaking down our left became the favourite tactic and the twins combined well, with an own goal narrowly avoided by Wood Star on the seventh minute, the ball going for a corner instead, from which the Panthers hit the post.

The rampant cats surely could not be denied for long, however, and Ellie made it 2-0 after nine minutes, continuing her good, goalscoring form. It was starting to look as if Wood Star needed a visa to enter the Panthers’ half and the two Panthers defenders, Eleanor and Madison, were looking almost hyperthermic as they tried to dance away the chill of inactivity.

Wood Star reinforcements showed up on the 12th minute as their seventh player arrived and took to the field, so it was at least in theory an even contest now. However, it became 3-0 just a minute after the new arrival as Lily scored from the left corner of the area, Ellie notching her second and the Panthers’ fourth just a minute later. Lateisha went off for a rest at this point and Millie came on.

The extra player made no difference to the flow of the game, which was all in favour of the Panthers as they made attack after attack on the Wood Star goal. Their fifth goal came on 17 minutes, as Lily scored her second of the match. Ellie then went off and Lily Hughes came on, but the Panthers were still dominant. The half finished with a fantastic cross from Lily McShane which Millie, with a first time strike, was unlucky in seeing the ball go wide. 5-0 at half time was a good return for the Panthers.

The second half kicked off with Wood Star making a major change, their goalkeeper of the first half coming out of goal to play centre half, switching with another outfield player who took their turn between the sticks. The flow of the game was unchanged, however, with the Panthers roaming freely and looking likely to increase their lead still further. Shots rained in on the Wood Star goal, but were mostly wide, untroubling the new ‘keeper for the most part. Further Panthers subs, with Lateisha back on for Millie and Ellie on for Madison, changed the personnel but not the game. The real game-changer at this point was the Wood Star number 6, their first half goalkeeper, who made some crunching tackles and showed where she should have been playing all along! The closest the Panthers came to scoring in this first part of the second half was when Lily Hughes went through one on one with the goalkeeper, but the latter won the fifty-fifty challenge and Lily went off injured, apparently winded by their collision. Millie returned to the game as her replacement.
Lily herself returned a couple of minutes later in place of Lateisha.

It had all been one way traffic up to this point, but with just over five minutes left, Wood Star broke, with two players bearing down on the Panthers goal and the Panthers defence ten yards behind them.

But then, what was that? Was it a bird? Was it a plane? Was it the Millenium Falcon hitting the hyperdrive button? No, it was Eleanor, almost frozen to the bone after over half an hour of largely inactive spectatorship, sprinting full tilt and not only catching the Wood Star player with the ball, but tackling her and getting the ball out for a corner. Well done Eleanor “Usain Bolt” Chapman!!!
The bad news is that Wood Star, in their first attempt on goal, from their first corner, scored direct from that corner! The ball by-passed the near post attacker and defender and by-passed Ruby too, to nestle in the far corner to make it 5-1. “It’s a funny, old game, Saint”, as Greavsie may have remarked.

That was pretty much the end of the action, though, and the score remained 5-1 to the Panthers, another good win on their record as they continue to improve.

There was no exploding Death Star or dancing Ewoks at the finish, but there were one or two players who resembled Han Solo, frozen for transportation to Jabba the Hut. I think we were all glad it was time to evacuate Hoth and find somewhere a bit warmer! The first half display from the Panthers had seen them showing a lot of their best traits, the twins linking well, Ellie hustling, bustling and making strong, surging runs, Madison and Eleanor looking assured and confident, if chilled to the bone, holding their defensive line, but there were also times when the girls crowded the ball, did not pass particularly well and, in the second half, took on the role of Imperial Stormtroopers, who, as anyone who has seen the films knows, cannot hit a barn door with a banjo, let alone a Jedi with a Blaster! What a different game it might have been had the Wood Start number 6 been centre half for the entire game. The Panthers were still the better side, but the score would certainly have been a lot closer.

The Player of the Match award was well-deserved, however. It went to one of the Panthers’ stalwarts, someone who turns up to training and matches all the time, who tries hard and does a solid team job. Well done Lateisha on winning this trophy for a while.

(“Beam me up, Panthers. Over and out”)

Gary

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