Winner: James Pugh
Summary in a Sentence: A replay in challenging weather conditions favours a clinical Team Pugh for him to his first ever TPC victory over a spirited but nervy Team Chris.
As the dust settles on what was an extraordinary saga in the Team Picker Cup we need to look back to fully process what has happened. Two weeks ago the tie was unfortunately abandoned due to the injury of Pishtewan, who is scheduled to play to winner of this qualifying match. Both captains agreed to replay the fixture on the following week and play the reminder of the game in the regular TTFE format. It was also ultimately decided that the game would start off afresh with Team Pugh’s 4-2 advantage wiped to zero – a decision which could have come back to haunt TTFE’s Mr Nice Guy.
As the sides were assembled, Chris decided to shake things up from the last game by picking Joe first – not his keeper of choice from the last fixture – whilst Pugh opted for Billy and Dan on his first pick. The sides looked very balanced with each one looking strong in defence, having plenty of pace and good attacking options. Plus with no Pishty and Big G, whose consistent winning records almost make them factors themselves in picking a successful team, it really felt like an even playing field.
As always a particular factor at the Team Picker Cup is the exposure to the elements and how each team prepares for them. Once the rain became unexpectedly heavy five minutes after kick off game plans were effectively thrown out of the window (thanks Met Office!). Pesky puddles which appeared across the pitch made the passing game difficult, whilst the bounce and run of the ball dictated long balls would need pinpoint precision. Options were limited as became a game for the runners, rather than the passers. Play was even abandoned at one point due to a particularly bad shower and the keepers – Billy and Joe – shown on a number of occasions why this weather is hell for those in gloves, with a number of slips and misjudgements of the ball.
Team Pugh took an early lead as the rain lashed down but Team Chris did enough to keep up with his competitor, keeping the game competitive until half time when only a single goal kept Pugh in front. After half time Team Chris started brightly but the pressure of always being behind perhaps created an imbalance between attack and defence, with extra initiative to push forward meaning the back was left exposed; particularly on the counter attack. Team Pugh on the other hand looked more balanced by soaking up the pressure when necessary and attacking fiercely when Team Chris looked vulnerable in defence. Each player played a key role in their dominance; Mike always loves this weather for his meandering runs, Dan was reliable in getting the ball forward, Tom provided aerial coverage. Greg and Callum happily got involved at times whilst Pugh surveyed behind his attack and chipped in – again, when necessary.
Two key observations of Team Chris which led to their downfall was perhaps the lack of clinical finishing up front and the losing of the ball when in midfield. Whilst Team Pugh thrived running up the field, Team Chris often found it hard to get the ball to the attack and were often caught napping in the middle of the pitch, cheaply giving away possession to their opponents. When Team Pugh started to pull away with a three goal cushion, bravado said ‘never die’ whilst reason said ‘Houston, we have a problem’. Chris – TTFE’s Mister Bravado – now was listening to his head rather than his heart.
The game finished with a bitter end as Chris vented his frustration at how things were going and towards the final whistle, which was blown by the game’s referee, Karl Manley. This was the first ever TPC game to be officiated and Karl endured a long evening of rain, ranting and possibly regret as players cried foul and handball throughout. He had a good game overall and I hope that after his decision not to officiate next week, the experience wasn’t too traumatic!
So well done to James Pugh – finally a winner at the TPC on the third time of asking. After such a tricky tie, can he go all the way? Pishty now awaits in the quarter finals. Meanwhile a crushing defeat for Chris means he will not be able to better last year’s performance in the semi finals and will have to accept an early exit. Will we have any peace and quiet from him while the tournament moves on – unlikely!