The Panthers endured squalling wind and driving Sussex rain to pick up a 1-0 win over Brighton and keep up the pressure on GFSN league leaders Yorkshire Terriers.
From the very outset the 50+ mile an hour winds made the ball very difficult to control for both teams. Brighton won the toss and sensibly opted to play with the wind at their backs. That, combined with the home team's strong passing game, immediately gave the central midfield of Charlie, Steve and Mike work to do. Early attempts to break through were ironically hampered by the wind which made the ball fly further than Brighton expected. The wind particularly helped out the Panthers defence on the left side of the pitch, as it helped Joe, Rob and Jonathan clear the ball repeatedly. So much so, that for around 15 minutes, the teams did little else other than take throw-ins on the Panthers' flank.
When the ball was broken out of the windswept touchline, there were a number of moments of drama where Brighton forced goalkeeper Fozzy off his line to make some drastic saves. Indeed, Brighton came close to drawing first blood after a strike was played past Fozzy and painstakingly rolled towards the goalline. Only a phenomenal goal line clearance from right winger Marlow prevented the Panthers going 1-0 down. Heroic defensive performances like that rightly earned Tom the Player of the Match title.
The drama continued for the Panthers as left winger Joe tweaked his ankle and had to leave the pitch, with Rob Alsop coming on to replace him. Despite the adversity, and the elements, the Panthers decided that attack is the best form of defence, and did their best to play the ball forward into the wind. That perseverence paid off, as Mike got onto the end of a ball played through the middle and took a wild shot on goal. He cannily aimed wide of the goal, allowing the crosswind to take the ball round the keeper and into the top corner.
Half time came with the Panthers leading 1-0, as both teams tried gamely to keep warm! The second half saw Brighton make many brave attempts to get back into the game, but with the wind now against them it made for tough going. Credit where it is due to the Panthers defence, particularly Carl, Tom and the two Robs who continually chased down the Brighton attack, and delivered several superb clearances. Charlie too in central midfield threw himself around with reckless abandon to cut off Brighton's attempts to play the ball through. Scott came on mid-way through the second half to further bolster the Panthers midfield. And at the other end, Chris Miles came close to getting on the scoresheet on a couple of occasions!
Later in the half, Pete came on for Mike up front, and Rob Alsop made way for Kevin, and both tried gamely to get on the end of some long balls played out from the back. The name of the game for the Panthers at that point, however, was survival, and despite some miscommunication in the Panthers defence which nearly left Brighton clear through on goal, the visitors were able to hang on and close out the match with a 1-0 win.
While the Panthers were obviously glad to leave with the away win, the wind and rain made it a very chaotic match, and both teams played in excellent spirit. Over drinks later in the evening, both teams agreed to a friendly rematch in more clement conditions to see whether the result would be different when we're not playing in a hurricane! In the meantime, however, the result takes the Panthers to second in group A of the GFSN league - nicely setting up our away clash with league leaders Yorkshire in two weeks' time!