Winner: Rolan Hazuki
Summary in a Sentence: A second half demolition job neutralising a timid Team Callum capped off a superb, all-rounded performance from Team Rolan.
It was a whisker away from not even being a Team Picker Cup game, but in the end with a bulky fixture list looking to be played out by January – something even optimists are finding hard to see happening – decisive action was needed to force the tie to go ahead. Good thing it did too – as this was perhaps the best TPC match we’ve had in a long while. Whilst the scoreline suggests it was one-sided the game had just about the right mix of passion, vigour, tactical theorising and technical execution. I’d even put my head on the block to say that this was my favourite TPC game of all time.
The stage was set for a classic tussle between the hardened TPC veteran Callum Gigg against the young upstart Rolan Hazuki, who has been present as a player in all TPC tournaments but now has decided to play master rather than puppet. The strings would need to be handled well however as Callum is certainly no Punch or Judy – his impressive debut finishing in third place back in 2012 an indication of his ability to get the results when needed, with even the current champ Gareth O’Neill a notch on his TPC bedpost.
The first pick was out of the ordinary as not one of the recognised goalkeepers was picked; a growing trend in TPC that attack is becoming the best line of defence. When completed, one would say that on paper that Team Rolan looked the stronger but both teams had the right blend of all the positions to make the game competitive.
“Play for the Welsh armband” the patriotic Callum cried with a resounding, but a familiar controlled, Celtic hwyl. However if Team Callum were being driven by a warm nationalistic fervour, Team Rolan appeared to operate through a colder form of logic. So much so, that I have to admit that Team Rolan were arguably the most functional team I have ever seen in a TPC game; demonstrating an efficiency in all areas of the pitch including flexibility and rigidity when necessary, ruthlessness when in attack and patience when under the cosh.
Billy wasn’t too busy throughout but he showed his metal when he needed to, especially when his one handed stretch save stopped an almost certain goal. In defence, El Capitan Rolan formed a strong partnership with Paul which proved to cause Team Callum a world of problems when the danger loomed. The freedom shown to the forward four was just what they needed to form a burgeoning attack, which gorged on the empty space left by the hesitant Team Callum midfield and defence. Dave Germon was enjoying a central role injecting extra invention into the attack when it looked like it’s going stale, meanwhile Gareth and Calum (Sayer) worked the flanks like the wingers of the old – menacing, fast, terrifying. Then completing this destructive diamond was Dead-eyed Dan, who not only carried the ball from midfield to attack with relative ease but was also finding the bottom corner with precision and pose. I always say in 5-a-side it’s not always about finding the best players, but more about finding the right players for the right positions and for me Team Rolan have Achievement Unlocked: Most Functional Team Ever.
On the other side, Team Callum were not the toothless beast I’ve painted them to be. They too had a bite which came from exploiting the back line and a game plan. When Callum and Greg were running the back and feeling pressured, they employed Tom to sit in between them in the middle – an area of the pitch where he naturally naturally thrives when pushing up. With the defence bolstered this inadvertently invited unwanted pressure, although it did force the back line up which was a gift for Chris and Pugh to exploit. Mike provided backup by opening up space and allowing the others to make inviting runs. Chris, ruthless and tenacious as ever, played to his moniker of ‘Mr Rebound’ as he chased every parried shot and scored from a loose ball. He also scored a wonderful headed goal from a corner which was to be important to bring the scores closer at half time to 5-3.
Team Callum also showed an element of defiance to their opponents who could be accused of being a bit heavy handed in their challenges. When Chris shouted “I’m going in with my shoulders!” in the game’s final third it was a retaliation to what had been a rough ride from a set of arguably bully-boy tactics. Greg was the personification of this strength over adversity as his nasty collision with Calum left him with a large bump on his forehead but he continued as if he’d been hit by a feather. His first and only thought was to give the ball back to me as the keeper – Vinny Jones eat your heart out.
The game was effectively over as the second half began to unfold. Team Callum got off to a terrible start conceding two further goals – one of which a Gareth one-on-one keeper nutmeg he’ll be most proud of – and as the game plan switched to a more attacking formation, the ball supply to the attack was tapering off, with Chris becoming more frustrated with little to do. Team Rolan, knowing the game was won, continued to feed their hunger for goals and finished the game with a cushion of six goals.
The Welsh armband inspired a spirited charge, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the might of Rolan’s well-oiled unit. In the next round Rolan will struggle to find a better team than he did this time – especially when the goal machine who helped him fire will be his opponent in the Quarter Finals. Dan will also be out to avenge his early exit from last year’s TPC, so expect sparks to fly for this intriguing match-up.