On a warm, sunny afternoon in the middle of August, SJFC made the long trip to Letchworth to kick off the new season. Having made themselves at home in the changing rooms and praying namaaz on the pitch, SJFC began their preparations for the first match under the stewardship of newly appointed assistant coach Hussein Pirbhai Jr.
After an intense warm up under the sun and finding out that Bruno had already scored a hat trick, the gaffer began a rousing pre-match team talk, filled with tactical intelligence. “Tuchel-ball” he called it – a new 3-5-2 system to give some control in the midfield and width on the pitch. Despite some being played out of their usual position, SJFC did not look fazed and the match kicked off.
SJFC started the game strongly, pressing from the front with striker Amirali Merali having two close chances in the first few moments of the game. The home team settled in and from their first cross-field ball, the winger brought it down and shot past the keeper to put Letchworth 1-0 ahead. Not long after, a one-two outside the box and a shot from distance doubled the lead for the home side.
Now 2-0 down, SJFC started to settle into the game a bit more and control the tempo. After some long balls from the back led to some close chances, centre back Yaseen Valjy played a delicious pass over the top of the defence which Abbas Rattansi brought down and fired at the keeper, only for Amirali to put it into the empty net. 2-1, game on.
SJFC continued to push, with Rattansi having a great opportunity from the right of the box, only to put it into the side netting. The defence solidified, given confidence by the calming presence of Tauseef Kanji in goal, who collected every cross that came in. Chances for Letchworth were few and far between and the score remained 2-1 at the interval.
Following some substitutions, SJFC kicked off the second half, working hard to find an equaliser, but falling short on many occasions. The game was getting stretched as time passed, and Letchworth began creating chances on the break, hitting the post and forcing the reliable Tauseef into some excellent saves, time after time. The closest SJFC came was a shot outside the box from Murtaza Merali, which was only inches wide, and a one-on-one for Yaseen, who forced the excellent home keeper into a save.
The lack of pre-season and match fitness began to show as the game wore on, with the away team running on empty tanks. Late in the half the gaffer instructed the team to go back to a 4-3-3, with SJFC pushing up the pitch to try and find that one last chance. Right at the end, Letchworth broke and found themselves in a 3-on-2 situation, but couldn’t find the net after Mo Karim sprinted back to clear the ball off the line. Sadly, this was the last play of the game and the ref called for full time, with the score finishing 2-1 to Letchworth.
It was a spirited performance for SJFC, who had worked hard throughout the match. But having not had a pre-season, a lack of fitness showed, along with many players picking up knocks during the game. The new season looks bright for SJFC, who played some good football. But that will need to be backed up by hard work off the pitch to get fitness up, which will hopefully lead to some good results over the next few games.