The lads entertained Houghton with one of our biggest ever squads available, as 18 players reported for duty.
Houghton also had a good squad, with a significant number of ex-St Ives stalwarts, as well as a healthy number of supporters that had all made the effort to encourage and at times deride their team!
We fielded a very strong team to start with, with local "Houghtoner" Roy Shaw captaining the troops in the regular solid defence, alongside Gavin, Kev and Nigel, with Kieran impressing again in goal.
We started brightly and soon found our rhythm.
Despite the slightly bobbly surface, we were moving the ball around crisply. Sedge and Simon were regularly on the ball in the middle, pulling the strings despite being overloaded at times and Kev A and Darren Welch (making his first start after a number of strong recent sub appearances) were both working really hard and causing significant problems for the opposition. Up front, Howard and Midge continued their telepathic relationship which has been a joy to behold this season. Houghton were a strong team, but with a combination of great play and ruthless finishing we raced into a 4-0 half-time lead!
Some great play saw Kev freed down the right and he delivered a pin-point cross for Howard to guide home *1-0.
A foul on the left led to a free kick which Simon guided magnificently into the box. The accurate delivery found Darren - who had timed his run to perfection to nod in a terrific header over the stranded keeper. *2-0
Two soon became three after a powerful shot from Midge was well-saved but only into the path of Kevin Anderson who coolly slotted in the re-bound. *3-0. We were spreading the goals around this week. Some clever and intricate interplay in the middle saw Midge freed but he still had a lot to do, as he twisted and turned into the box before slipping another laser accuracy finish into the bottom right corner of the goal. *4-0. It could have been 5 or 6 in truth, as Sedge could have bagged a couple on another day, dragging two efforts narrowly wide. Houghton had not done much wrong but it was a very powerful first half display full of great football, commitment, energy, speed and quality.
With so many to choose from, we made significant changes at half time. Stu Smith came on for a good display at right back, Rory slotted in for a solid left wing performance, Andy Jolley replaced Nigel at Centre back effectively and Chris Keeble replaced Sedge. It was a lucky escape for Sedge, as Keeble took one hell of a battering throughout his second half tenure and had to be replaced after 25 mins after an energetic but painful experience. Sadly for Chris he interspersed some great football with a spell as a crash test dummy and I am sure he is nursing a few aches and pains now!
We also had the chance to welcome back Glen and Paul Sulley into the fold. Both of them slotted straight back into it after lengthy spells (both more than a year) away and it was great to see them back in the banter with the lads. It felt like they had never been away which is a credit to them both!
Inevitably, it was a little less fluent in the second half with so many changes but credit to Houghton too as they never gave in. Houghton mustered a number of good chances but either last ditch defending, (from Stu, Gav, Glen or Kev H) the woodwork, or great saves from Kieren largely kept them at bay. They did get one in the net following a good cross from the left, as well as hitting the post with a penalty but there was no doubt that we were worthy winners on the day.
There were a few questioning whether another Houghtoner Stu Smith was in fact a "double agent" after he "accidentally" handled for the penalty but the rest of his display was faultless - using the ball with accuracy and reliability as always.
Final score was 4-1. This was a great team performance in the first half but also a terrific squad performance across the 90 minutes with everyone genuinely playing well, enjoying themselves, encouraging each-other and contributing to the victory. Special mention to Fraser too, who willingly offered to run the line for the full 90 to make it easier to give everyone a game. It was a classy gesture and one that was really appreciated. He excelled on the line too! Clarky was the ref and he handled the Game brilliantly from start to finish as well as looking fitter too.
It was a great turnout in the bar from both teams, with a super lunch provided by Roy (who had been sharp as a tack and solid as a rock during his on-field display). We had some laughs with the Houghton boys during the game and in the bar and it was another great win, taking the tally to 6 wins and 1 defeat for the season so far. Until next week....