To term local Scots language, a ‘dreich day’ at Cochrane Park 3G was met with a fire in the belly approach from Hardly, who hadn’t managed to win a game since early 2019.
Despite the heroics, the game almost didn’t take shape at all, with Hardly’s opponents not having the full compliment of 11 players with just moments before the start of the game. However, a young gentlemen (name unknown) wearing an Arsenal top did appear with minutes to spare.
Sadly he wasn’t able to produce a ball from Scouting, causing somewhat embarrassment as the designated home team was forced to ask Hardly for “a couple of balls to warm up with”.
‘Warm up’ they did not either. Hardly began the game clearly on the front foot, something that was lacking in the previous weeks defeat to ACS Tigers.
"At this point, it wouldn’t be absurd to suggest that Athletic would go on to blow the lead and lose the game, this happened all too often in the past."
A change in formation saw Hardly play James Stansfield and Rob Litster as a front two in attack. This worked to devastating effect, as Stansfield was able to feed off the extra physical presence and hold up play from Litster, leading to a sublime through ball that was coolly received and dispatched into the bottom corner from Litster.
At this point, it wouldn’t be absurd to suggest that Athletic would go on to blow the lead and lose the game, this happened all too often in the past.
Yet this Hardly XI decided that this trait was about to end, lethal crosses from left-winger Mike Marsh eventually led to Stansfield receiving a perfectly weighted pass, taking out both the centre-backs in the process, to which he then slotted home to double Hardly’s lead.
Bedlam ensued. It was noted by the bench that the physio’s on the side line were that excited by the prospect of Hardly winning a game, so much so that they needed reminding (for the second time) who exactly was playing.
Half time brought a welcome refresher for both teams. The referee had other ideas however, summoning both teams back to the pitch in quicker time than Manchester United’s title chances this season.
Half time did give a chance for manager Rory Ewart to hand a debut to Parisian Omar Akram, replacing a Rob Litster who’d blown out for the day.
In a reshuffle of formation, Hardly reverted back to a 4-5-1 with Omar adding extra support in the midfield for Tom Nash and Sam Dawson, who’d worked tirelessly for 45 minutes.
Omar entered the second half with immediate effect, linking up well with lone striker Stansfield to provide an exquisite through ball to which Stansfield dispatched eloquently for his second of the day.
Alfred Larcombe had provided constant steel between the sticks in goal, giving regular stopper Ben Ashworth Kwasnik genuine competition for the No1 jersey. However, a pre-rehearsed free kick routine from Scouting saw an early shot completely catch Larcombe off guard, 3-1 and game back on.
Mike Marsh decided on 55 minutes that he wanted to get in on the goal scoring act himself, developing his game into not only a provider for the team, but finisher too, eventually scoring his first brace of the season to take the lead to 5-1.
This was unchartered territory for Hardly, winning only two games in the previous season and rarely seeing five goals to their name in a single game.
A comedown eventually arrived in the form of injuries. Litster had been the first casualty of this at half time; Paul Bley followed him with a thigh strain, forcing him off.
Stansfield, Akram and Dawson also fell victim to muscle spasms, leading to gaffer Ewart (lord help us) donning the pitch for the final 10 minutes at left back.
Retirement hadn’t done Ewart any favours, faltering with marking which led to a Scouting’s striker being clean through on goal, an excellent finish brought the deficit down to just three goals at 5-2.
Scouting for Goals would have one last hurrah in their attempts at a revival, with the ref blowing full time at 5-3, a let-off for Hardly, who’d certainly taken their foot off the gas in the final quarter as tiredness began to kick in.
A good day all-round for fans of the athletic, with particular mentions having to be given to Arun and Archie, who’d debuted extremely well at left-back and right midfield respectively. Paul Bley once again played his heart out, rarely missing a tackle at right full-back.
Angus and Tom at centre-back brought a new partnership for the third match in a row. This time both played excellent ball-playing roles, with Tom’s switch balls in particular reeking havoc throughout the afternoon.
Hardly, with this win, now move up to fifth in the table. Hardly fans should enjoy the mid-table mediocrity whilst it lasts, one thing is for sure, there will be plenty more movement for the club throughout the rest of the season.