31/10/2014

In sharp contrast to the sunshine at Falmer the week before the Under 8s and their faithful hordes travelled to Woodingdean's blasted heath under glowering skies and laden with brollies and raincoats.


As well as the rain we came expecting a deluge of goals, but the keepers from both sides were on tip top form and we saw a hard fought low-scoring match. Lots of great skills and exciting football from both sides, but very little on the scoresheet to separate the sides at the end. In particular the Woodingdean keeper deserves huge praise for some great stops, as does the success of the sweeper-keepers that have already become such a distinctive part of Villa's game.


Villa's players have settled into a couple of smaller squads - chosen at random - who play alternate halves across two games. Watching these four halves shows the amazing development they're already making, as individuals but also in their team play.


Along with some lovely forward play and moments of dazzling skills we're starting to see some great defensive work, with lots of very positive chat and a real sense of the players organising themselves on the pitch. Their coach Chris Day is a firm advocate of letting the boys learning to make their own decisions on the pitch and this is really starting to pay dividends.


The emergence of the sweeper-keeper is surely the best example of this. What is often the most difficult position to fill at this level has become the first choice for several of the players, attracted by the opportunity to spend as much of the game in the opposition half as they do in their own. The Villa fans have quickly grown used to the sight of the green jersey in the opposition goalmouth, but the Woodingdean ref was open-mouthed the first time the keeper flew past him on the half way line.


For the first time in several weeks the Villa goalkeeper didn't score - not because they weren't in there having a go but because of the high quality of keeping they faced. But Callum and Stan once again showed how much they love playing like this, as they begin to take this position to a new dimension.


But as much as the goalkeeping antics grab the attention of onlookers my Man of the Match this week is Spike. His defensive duties are a vital part of the sweeper-keeper mix and he put on a sterling display at the back, thwarting numerous attacking efforts and giving his keepers the freedom they relish.


The emergence of this positional awareness, and the unbounded footballing joy that is the sweeper-keeper, is a ray of sunshine that will continue to lift the gloom as October turns into November.