It’s been a steady start to 2024 for the Branch footy team, with two 1-1 draws in very different circumstances. The tail end of 2023 saw a couple of disappointing defeats which plunged us back into the relegation battle, albeit with a number of key players ruled out due to Christmas festivities, so it was important to pick up some points to stop the rot.
A few well-earned pints after a deserved draw against the league leaders.
January’s fixtures opened with a bitterly cold six-pointer against our old rivals Fraud FC. Games against these lads are always eventful, and while there’s a lot of respect and friendly banter with them off the pitch, neither side give any quarter once we cross the white lines. While the Fraudsters found themselves bottom of the table, they tend to be competitive in every game and have some talented ball players, as well as an imposing goalkeeper who seems to attract the ball like a magnet, so we knew we were in for a tough game.
Sunderland had the better of the first half and took the lead through a great strike from midfield dynamo Adam Cansfield. Fraud FC came back strongly in the second half, however, and were awarded a dubious penalty for handball. Their star midfielder confidently dispatched it into the bottom corner, but was forced to retake due to encroachment. Sunderland keeper Andy Jordan won the battle of wits and kept the ball out, and it looked like we’d be able to see out a crucial three points. As usually seems to be the case against this opposition there was a sting in the tail, and Fraud FC capitalised on a scramble in the box to grab a late equaliser that they just about deserved.
Things wouldn’t get any easier, with the next game a daunting clash against runaway leaders The Nutmegs. They boasted a formidable record of nine wins and two draws from twelve games, scoring an impressive 46 goals and conceding just six. The reverse fixture earlier in the season also finished 6-0 to them. Gulp.
Perhaps it was a desire to clear off the Christmas cobwebs, or to channel out the frustrations from the defeats against the Mags and Ipswich, but Sunderland started this one like a team with a point to prove.
The Nutmegs’ quality was clear to see from the off, but our defence stood firm, with much-needed covering from the midfield to stifle their attacks. A great ball over the top from Sam Andrews caught their defence off guard, and Alistair Wilson buried a half volley with a fine finish.
We expected the opposition to turn on the pressure, and it felt that they still had a few gears to use if needed. A well-worked move capitalised on a rare lapse from our defence to give them an equaliser about five minutes later. It had been an impressive performance from Sunderland regardless, and we knew that the right tactic at half time was to stay in the game as best we could and try to hit them on the counter.
Despite a lot of second half pressure there were few clear-cut chances for either side in the rest of the game. The Nutmegs didn’t take the result well, with a few of their players branding us cheats when our lads got smashed in the knee off the ball. It was great to see that we could get under the skin of a quality team like that, and if we can turn in that level of performance against the lesser teams then the wins surely won’t be far away.
Just about keeping our heads above water.