Bottom of the table Knox has struggled during their first season in the Premier League. Their recent form has been (L-L-L-D-L) but they had beaten North Sydney earlier in the season, so had a chance against the league leaders in this latest round of the competition.
Willoughby (L-W-W-W-W) had a different kind of pressure today; if they won, they would win the league with three games left to play. Willoughby was already eleven points clear of second place North Sydney and were clearly having a great season.
Thirty minutes before the game, Dalleys were out of their tracksuits warming-up as a tight-knit, close group of players. They were keen to get on the field and sort this season out. Knox didn’t get out of their seats until ten minutes before game time on this cold, grey afternoon with an icy wind. Knox gave me the impression that they were not looking forward to this match.
Knox kicked-off and right from the start Willoughby had Knox under pressure, moving the game right up in to Knox’s half. Dalleys’ midfield were constantly winning the ball and setting-up opportunities for their strikers with great passes in towards the Knox goal. They were also encouraging their front men to take speculative chances, pushing the off-side trap constantly.
Knox were battling hard and defending well, but they had their heads down, concentrating on a very short horizon, whereas Dalleys were heads-up, passing the ball in to space, constantly creating opportunities.
Knox’s secret weapon is their goalie. He is very good. Sadly, that’s because he has had lots of practice this season! But he was working hard and saved several certain opportunities from Willoughby. By my reckoning, Willoughby had five solid shots on goal in the first twenty three minutes, all of which had been saved.
Willoughby Dalleys breakthrough came after twenty five minutes, bringing the ball down the left hand side of the pitch, crossed in to the six yard box and finished off by their striker. This was followed up less than two minutes later with a second goal with a shot ricocheting off the right post and in to the goal.
Knox had to regroup fast otherwise there was a very real risk of a slaughter at the hands of the league champions. Dalleys almost had a third goal against Knox when the Knox goalie had to come a long way off his line to clear a ball which he kicked straight to a Willoughby player on the half way line who chipped it back in to the goal, narrowly missing the right post.
Just before half time the Knox goalie was tested again with another cracking shot on goal, forcing their goalie to go to full stretch out to his right pushing the ball just out past his post.
Half time the score was 2:0 to Willoughby but it could easily have been four or five nil if it hadn’t been for some hard work from Knox.
Knox started the second half well, putting a lot of pressure on to Willoughby and making the Dalleys goalie work hard for a brief spell. A feature of the second half was the volume and intensity of the Dalleys goalie who was screeching orders at his defenders as soon as Knox had any glimmer of possession.
Twenty minutes in to the second half Dalleys took possession of the ball, slowed the game down, moved the ball around confidently, playing for space, working their triangles and building-up to a good shot on goal sliding the ball under the Knox goalie who was at full stretch to his right, putting Dalleys three-nil up, surely sealing the match, the league and the season.
Dalleys are an interesting team to watch; to me, they do not look like they have a series of set plays. They seem to change from a frenetic mad-house of moves, to a confident slow series of plays and then on to a tough, shoulder-bearing dribbling play. One moment their striker is testing the offside trap and then they fall back to a different style of play altogether. And they seem to effortlessly transition from one type of play to another without the need to call the change; they all just know it is occurring somehow.
Dalleys defence was virtually impenetrable, giving the goalie time to watch the plays and bark out orders to his troops, but their key to success today has been their midfield, stopping any moves from Knox, working the ball forward, creating space and setting up countless opportunities for their strikers.
Fighting right up until the final whistle, Knox defended well against an unstoppable force that is Willoughby Dalleys this year. At the final whistle the score was 3:0 to Willoughby and that gives them the game and league this season.