Either side of Christms, the Panthers had two GFSN league clashes, as the competition playoffs draw close. A 2-2 draw against Leicester Wildecats in December, and a 0-0 draw against London Titans in January, put the Panthers in strong contention for a second-place finish in their division.
Over the past two seasons, the Wildecats-Panthers clash has often produced a stalemate - and so it proved this season. The Panthers started the stronger of the two, and pushed ahead early after Sammy cut through and fired a goal past the Wildecats keeper to take the home side 1-0 up. Unfortunately, just before the half-time whistle, the Panthers gave away a penalty. Goalkeeper Josh got his hands to the shot, low in the left corner, but the ball richoceted off the attempted save and agonisingly crept over the line.
After the restart, Panthers got their groove back, and Sammy played on Tom Wren who slotted the ball home to put the Panthers back ahead. Leicester responded with vigour, giving the Panthers plenty of work to do in defence and midfield. However, a set piece again proved to be the Panthers undoing. Leicester won a free kick on the area, and a shot looked like it was going to sail high, only for the ball to drop in under the bar. The final whistle blew, as both team continue to search for a win over the other!
After the Christmas break, the Panthers kicked off a new decade by travelling to the big smoke to take on London Titans. Thanks to some early January rain, the pitch was distinctly on the muddy side, leaving many of the team fearing about the condition that we'd emerge in in our brand new away kit!
The first half saw both sides adjusting to the heavy conditions underfoot. The Panthers pushed forward first, and forwards Sammy and Mike managed to get through the defence a couple of times but couldn't convert those chances into meaningful shots. At the other end of the pitch, the Titans had pace pushing forward, but resilient defending and the unpredictable terrain made it difficult for the home side to press their advantage, though goalkeeper Josh had to make a couple of dramatic saves in the mud to keep the scores level! The best chance for either side arguably came when right winger Tom Marlow pushed ahead, but his shot on goal just cut wide.
The 0-0 scoreline persisted tooin the second half, though this time the Titans worked hard to put pressure on the visitors, with the midfield in particular having to make a number of timely challenges to stop the Titans attack. The Panthers, when they were able to push forward, found the boggy conditions blunter their offensive attempts, and the final whistle blew, with both teams on balance happy to have kept a clean sheet. There were strong performances from the whole Panthers squad, but after a tight vote, Charlie picked up the first man of the match award of 2020!
There is only one more match to go in the GFSN league. After all league fixtures are played, the top 4 teams will progress to a knockout playoff stage to fight it out for the GFSN Vase. The Panthers' undefeated streak through this season has meant that - barring a catastrophic defeat in the final fixture against Soho, the Panthers should qualify in a strong position for the playoffs.
That match will take place on Saturday 8 February at 2pm at Coombe Dingle Sports Complex.