The Panthers kicked off 2022 by holding on to win 3-2 away to league leaders Nottingham Tigers on Saturday, ending a 5-game losing streak in the process! A surprising result in the league leaders versus bottom-placed team encounter would have been more convincing had the Panthers not almost contrived to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory. Ultimately, however, the Bristol side held onto the win thanks to a spirited display of defending and some missed chances from Nottingham’s forwards.
The league’s tops and bottoms (ahem. - ed.) kicked off during a momentary pause in the otherwise threatening rain and the match began evenly with both teams playing with directness and pace. If there was any sluggishness from the lengthy commute from Bristol it didn’t show in the legs of Charlie, Kyle and Dean in the centre of midfield who worked the ball out to Borja and Joe on the wings.
Midway through the first half Borja put the Panthers ahead against the run of play with a thumping 30-yard shot taking a hefty deflection off the head of a Nottingham defender and beating the keeper. Bristol’s lead found itself extended not long afterwards after central defender Ross’s shot from a corner resembled more of a return pass to the corner taker Borja who cut inside and arrowed a low shot into the corner of the Nottingham goal. Borja was there again after halftime to provide the assist for the third goal with a sublime cross from the right wing which curled onto the head of forward Mike Green who directed a looping effort into the corner of the net to make it 3-0.
The Panthers adjusted well to the slightly unexpected reality of being ahead, but impetus in the game swung towards the home team as their efficient passing through midfield and fresh legs off the bench began to tell. Defending corners and set plays and running backwards towards the Panthers goal became an increasingly regular activity for the back four of Ross, JD, Tom and Other Joe who along with a characteristically reliable display from goalkeeper Foz who kept Nottingham's attacks out. However, the pace and pressure eventually paid off for Nottingham who pegged the Panthers back after a ball across goal was tapped in at the far post.
A rejigged Panthers (with Steve brought into the right side of defence) faced a Nottingham onslaught of pressure as the home side chased a second. The teams exchanged some rather industrial tackling with first Kyle and then Borja crashing to the 4G and the ball troubled the Panthers area with increasing regularity. These pauses in play ate up some valuable time in the game and it was almost the end of the match when Nottingham grabbed a second to inject some late drama to proceedings.
However, the Panthers held their nerve, and the final whistle went as the sun began to peek through the midlands clouds. The Panthers thus recorded their first win of the season with a characteristic hint of jeopardy!
There were strong performances throughout the team from strong saves and energetic keeper-sweeping from Foz, a defence which just about held up against the pace, passing and pressure of the Nottingham forwards, a central midfield three which worked hard to match the intensity of the home team and support both attack and defence, hard-running wingers and a strong display from Mike leading the line in an often isolated role. However, there was a nearly unanimous vote for Borja as player of the match after a top-class display of skill and determination was capped by two goals and an assist.