By JP Kesseler
London Falcons 8 - Brighton Bandits 0
G.F.S.N. Cup - Quarter Finals • Sunday, 25th November, 2007 • London

Out of all the overused and often misjudged footballing clichés “It was a game of two halves” is normally right at the top of the pile, waiting for the inevitable groans it elicits from readers bored with lazy reporting and unimaginative writing. Apologies then from this particular hack, but I’m lost as to what could more aptly describe one of the most puzzling performances from a team I’ve seen, as the London Falcons put in two abjectly different showings in either half while putting 8 past the hapless Brighton Bandits, to book their place in February‘s semi-final.

The match, being held at Charlton Athletics training ground - the latest impressive and pro-active move by the club who have seemingly taken the national lead in the FA’s One Game One Community campaign - was the first competitive match between the clubs, and since honours were even with both teams winning one friendly each many were expecting a close and cagey affair.

After the official team photos were taken with match sponsors LGBT West London Convention in association with Out West, both teams retreated to their halves for kick-off and it was just the start the Falcons were looking for.

Immediately from the start it was one way traffic and it didn’t take long for the Falcons to take the lead in a somewhat ironic fashion. In the previous rounds scare against the Birmingham Blaze they had fallen behind thanks to a dipping volley from outside the area, and it was almost a carbon copy from Captain Ian Kehoe, playing in his usual defensive-midfield role, which resulted in the ball resting in the back of the Brighton net, after setting himself up well for his shot after only 5 minutes on the clock.

Incredibly, 6 minutes later Kehoe once again scored with a long-range dipping volley. This time slightly to the left of the goal, the ball sailed over the helpless Brighton keeper into the same spot as the first and Kehoe’s muted celebration belied the majestic nature of both goals.

It was 7 minutes - only 18 minutes into the game - after the second goal when Kehoe got the third and his hat-trick, the quickest hat-trick in any gfsn league or cup game ever. This time after some nice work on the left from Alex B and James Edeki the ball was passed inside to Kehoe who played a well timed 1-2 with Tom Price. Through on goal he attempted to slide the ball past the keeper, who was rushing to close down the angle, but a fantastic reflex stop deflected the ball onto the post and Kehoe rushed toward the ball at connected with a powerful volley to complete his treble, just before Tony Kerr was set to tap it in.
Shell-shocked Brighton were completely lost and barely 3 minutes later Tom Price was on hand to make it 4. Edeki refused to let what seemed to be a lost cause go and dispossessed the Brighton keeper of the ball, lobbed from an acute angle and was unlucky to see the ball hit the crossbar. However Price was more than happy to tap the ball in for the easiest goal he’ll score all season.

It took another 12 minutes for the next goal and it was Edeki who slotted the ball to the keeper’s right to add to his impressive tally for the season so far. A well-judged through ball from Price was latched onto with Edeki’s usual deadly accuracy. 5-0.

Price had an easy chance to put away a sitter to double his individual tally and make it 6 but tamely scuffed it straight into the keepers arms. Not two minutes later he received another chance, but this time he was able to convert. With a much more difficult opportunity he perfectly placed the ball into the left of the goal, beyond the keepers despairing dive.
With the last touch of the first half the Falcons scored yet again and this time it was Kehoe’s defensive midfield partner Richard Cowell who got his name on the score-sheet. Having missed an easy header earlier in the game from a corner he made no mistake at the second opportunity. Aiming a powerful header downwards it bounced up into the goal and the referee whistled during the celebrations to signal the end of the first half.

It truly was an incredible first half performance. The ball was being passed around with pace, accuracy and confidence. Playing patterns were anything but predictable, cutting passes through the middle of the pitch were being mixed with long ball play, good work down the wings and the movement off the ball that meant Brighton could never really realistically know where the next incision to it’s defence was gong to be made. The defence was tight and calm on the ball. There was no player who hadn’t played well and it was as good a half of football a gay team has played.

All of this made the second half all the more confusing and ultimately, disappointing.
Brighton came out with a much altered game-plan, one designed to frustrate the Falcons by getting bodies behind the ball and closing down quickly while attempting to catch them out on the counter-attack. As for the Falcons, while no official changes were made, the team tactics and shape fell apart.

Seemingly forgetting the fantastic work as a team which had benefited them so well in the first half, it looked as if a want to score themselves had blinded the majority of the team and instead of keeping their shape, being patient on the ball and other things which had worked so well in the first half, they bombed forward en masse.

With no real depth or space due to the lack of discipline chances were few and far between in the second half and Brighton managed to get themselves into a contest they were never in before and create a few good opportunities to get themselves on the score sheet.

Gaps were appearing in the Falcons defence and after 65 minutes Brighton managed to get their first shot on target. After being left 2 on 2 at the back the central defensive partnership of Dan Walton and Rob Hyde was penetrated for the first time and only a smart save from Cub College’s October player of the Month Aaron Jameson prevented Brighton getting a goal back.

Edeki, who had excelled in the space given to him in the first half, was being hampered by his own team-mates positioning and movement. Unable to effectively distribute the ball thanks to the crowded conditions he was forced to trying to create opportunities for himself and it was a superb flick with his right boot that sent the ball over the head of the last defender which gave him a chance to hit the ball of the volley and only a great stop at the near post kept the score at 7.

Knowing the game as a contest was effectively over and concerned at the dis-jointed start to the second half Manager Craig Randall made four substitutions putting on Gary Britnell, Kevin Latham, Lewis Marshall and Tony Carpenter for Edeki, Kerr, Price and Jaime Okaro respectively.

To a certain degree the changes worked. Latham adapted well on the right wing, Carpenter’s tackling was on song and Marshall and Britnell changed the attacking pattern which had become slightly repetitive in the second half.

Unfortunately the positional discipline and lack of patience that had run through the team remained and the match continued in the same dis-jointed and playground like way it had been going.

Despite the quality of the football having fallen through the floor good chances were still appearing and were similarily wasted, Britnell being the worst offender with two seemingly easy chances going begging.

Occasionally some class play did occur and Bryce was desperately unlucky not to score after the run of the match. Picking up the ball on the left-wing he jinked past 3 different Brighton players and powerfully shot past the keeper only to see the ball headed off the line.

Approaching full-time it appeared the score was going to end as it had in the first half, it took a sublime curling shot from sub Marshall to add to the first half total. Price, who at this point had been subbed back on (the gfsn and gnl cup use rolling subs, something which surely has to end) layed the ball off to Marshall who was on the edge of the D. A first time chip flew into the top corner and celebrations were wild for what was the 8th of the game.
The referee called time on the game 5 minutes later and as the players and management shook hands a strange feeling was running through the team and supporters. The players had come off at the end of the first-half elated for obvious reasons. As they left the pitch at the end of the game to mood was decidedly different. Whilst still happy with the result and spot in the semi-final there was an acknowledgement that an opportunity to create something special had been missed. While 8-0 is an incredibly impressive scoreline, it undoubtedly could, and should, have been more.

The disappointment of the second half put aside, there were numerous positives. Rob Hyde was mercurial in defence, Kehoe’s shooting boots are well and truly back, Edeki working as the lone front man is paying dividends and Alex B was simply outstanding. The number of headers Brighton won in the entire game can be counted on one hand.

So after the dust has settled the basic facts are that the Falcons dream of a national League and Cup double is still alive and well, and news that holders and pre-tournament favourites Bournemouth were knocked out by Manchester in their quarter-final clash can only add to already high expectations. Unbeaten in the league and having demolished Brighton in such a relaxed fashion they are now the team to beat and the remaining teams in the cup, Manchester, Yorkshire and Leicester will all be hoping to miss out on being paired with the Falcons come the semi-final draw.

images by James Dyke