By – Sour
“IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too”
So starts Rudyard Kipling’s masterpiece on Victorian stoicism “If”. That poem was written a dozen years after Oldham LC was founded and 113 before NuTLC’s creation, and provides a lovely metaphor for Saturday’s game.
The Knights putting out for the first time this season an almost full line-up, featured Woodrow in goal rather than in his usual more advanced role, following the unavailability of McIlwee and the continued absence of Michael with his broken arm.
For a few of the squad it was a first trip to that elevated part of Lancashire, and on the trip down they scoffed at the notion of “Oldham Cold”, but on arrival they soon accepted that it was a peculiar knife edged temperature that sliced through jackets, underamour and morale with like a samurai sword through room temperature cheddar.
The match day 13 featuring the now standard 5 longpoles, included no debutantes for the first time this season, but did feature Litchman making his return to lacrosse after an unspecified period of inactivity, that reportedly started on the Sunday (morning) at Blues. Oldham were resplendent in their new (since the 2008/09 season) black kit with yellow flashes and came out looking the part. The Tynesiders however, always look sharp in their glorious silver, warmed up with an intensity and purpose that were to be features of the whole game.
After impeccably observing the pre-game minute’s silence both sides seemed to be as coiled springs waiting for the whistle. Higginbottom won the first draw, which was an indication of things to come for the rest of the game enjoyed his best day yet at the X, but his inability to pick up the loose ball from the face and turn wins into quick possessions was a frustration.
The first quarter settled into a sensible lacrosse pattern – the two sides took roughly equal shares of possession, played six on six, had shots, and scored a sensible number of goals. It finished 2-1 to the Knights (Lacey and Wheeldon), and Oldham realised they were in for a bit of game.
The realisation that Newcastle had turned up meaning business and weren’t just there to make up the numbers brought a change in the Oldham team. They upped their physicality and against a less confident side it may have been worthwhile ploy. In the end it was their undoing as they gave up penalty after penalty for the remaining three quarters allowing the Knights to push the score up with smooth ball movement and good finishing. The number of penalties also
The second and third quarters followed a somewhat less usual pattern with the Knights dominating possession and racking up big numbers against the Oldham man-down unit. The 8-2 score at half-time showed the dominance of the men in silver – but conceding a shorthanded goal was particularly annoying as Oldham forced a turnover and broke the length of the field to score a well worked fast break.
The third finished 11-3, Oldham’s goal coming from an outside rip that beat Woodrow all ends up, while Newcastle continued to put away chances created by moving the ball to exploit the Oldham 5 zone.
The fourth followed in a similar vein to the third, but as Oldham’s discipline improved they had the opportunities to test Woodrow with more shots as he was partially blinded by the low sun. However he proved up to the challenge, only conceding one on another fast break. Oldham moved to a six zone in an attempt to stymie the Knights passing game, but with a big lead already in place the boys from Broadway took their time and looked after the ball. As the Lancastrians started to apply more pressure, the Knights again forced the early slide and shared the rock to great effect with Ford notching up his fifth shortly before coming off with a back injury.
The final score of 14-4 was on the balance of play a fair result and post-game the Oldham team were complimentary and conceded that they’d been beaten by the better team on the day.
As the Knights headed back over the Pennines and northward once more they reflected on what was without doubt the most complete performance ever by a NuTLC side. The defence held strong and protected Woodrow with strong timely slides, they worked well on groundballs and were never shy clearing the ball as evidenced by Standiford’s brace, and Webbe’s first ever league goal. They may have got their names on the score sheet, but Ellwood and Warwick in close D and Davenport splitting time with at LSM were all outstanding and the defence is becoming the real star unit for the Knights.
The midfield line of Higginbottom, Lacey and Stewart, with Litchman slotting in effectively out of his preferred attack role, controlled the face-off, shared the ball around, and turned some good clears into excellent transition opportunities. Stewart in particular seems to be growing in to his shortstick role enforced due to the surfeit of big sticks the Knights have. If Lacey can sort out his shooting, and Litchman regain his once legendary conditioning this unit looks to be one to build on. With Higginbottom gaining experience at the X every week, not giving up a single quick loss this week and with Oliver, Beattie and one other mystery player to come in it looks to be going from strength to strength.
In attack Ford recovered his Midas touch, banishing memories of the Leeds game with a composed display of sneaky finishing and brave dodging. Doc Webb controlled the pace of the game and came up with two crucially timed goals as Oldham twice looked to build a run. Wheeldon despite his Friday night excess provided a similar role to Webb with great control and excellent option selection, and probably collected around half a dozen assists to go with his brace.
Returning to Kipling the Knights kept their heads as Oldham became frustrated through the middle phase of the game. No-one in silver in black felt the urge to scream for penalties or complain to the referees who did well to keep a lid on the potentially explosive atmosphere. It was a mature performance and showed the class act that this squad can be and most importantly are. With the next game being a home tie against Liverpool in the cup, the Knights can continue to show what they’re about with a strong showing and will be as “Keen as Craig” to avenge their single goal loss from October when the Merseysiders make the trip on November 27.
“If” wanders on for a couple of dozen lines exhorting the reader to be a good sort, but regardless of that, it is the last lines that have made it such a worth metaphor this week.
“Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And – which is more – you'll be a Man my son”
On Saturday the Knights showed themselves to be men.
B: Oldham – taken in good humour see photo for evidence
Webb M 2G
Season Scorers to date
Andy Ford 12
Mark Webb 8
John Wheeldon 6
Nick Lacey 5
Kyle Standiford 3
Andy Higginbottom 2
Sam Ridgeway 1
Liam Thomas 1
Robin Webb 1
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