Mere hours after last week’s humbling 8-1 defeat to Jesmond Tutu, the Hardly Athletic squad staged a coup in Spy Bar (not our sponsor - other bars on Osborne Road are available) over chicken wings and beer. Right back Dylan Farugia was stripped of the captaincy after just one competitive match. Absent from this meeting, Farugia was informed of the change in direction through the Facebook group chat and took the decision in good grace.
In a similar manner to Theresa May’s ascent to leader of the Conservative Party, strong and stable centre back Callum Jackson fought off zero competitors to be named as the new captain. Hopefully, Jackson will prove to be more of a vocal leader and will be less likely to bottle a one-on-one challenge than the MP for Maidenhead.
Jackson’s commanding leadership was felt immediately, as eight players from a possible twenty-two attended Sunday’s training session. The opportunity to watch Ashley Williams attempt to defend against Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette during Super Sunday was clearly the much more appealing option. Nonetheless, Athletic fielded a squad of nineteen for Wednesday’s fixture against Sevilla Depression, which included a new-look starting eleven.
Due to my unwavering commitment to this fine newspaper and its rather inconvenient Wednesday meetings, I arrived at the ground thirty minutes late. The score was level at 0-0 and I’m told that the team had been playing quite well. The midfield held possession nicely and the defence stood firm. There was, however, very little threat in the final third.
To nobody’s surprise, Sevilla took the lead and the first half ended 1-0 – a disappointing score line for Athletic, but a significant improvement from the previous week.
After a rousing and insightful team talk, the second half started, and everything began to fall apart. The flood of rolling substitutes provided relief for the communal lack of fitness, but halted the chance of Athletic keeping any sort of rhythm. In spite of this, replacement right- winger Jeremy ‘Scarface’ Bridge hugged the white lines and was a nuisance in his spell off the bench.
As Athletic’s formation collapsed, Sevilla ran riot. A dominant second half performance resulted in three very simple goals. Athletic’s low point (apart from conceding four goals, obviously) came when goalkeeper Danny Aspinall picked up a regulation pass back on his penalty spot. He blames the ‘blinding’ position of the sun. I blame him. Fortunately, Sevilla were not able to convert the indirect free kick. The effort was blocked by an eleven man wall spread across the goal line – a questionable but surprisingly effective tactic.
Nevertheless, there were a few positives to take from the defeat. Although he forgot one of his boots, centre forward Raff Marioni did at least manage a shot on goal during the ninety minutes – a significant improvement from last week’s outing. Additionally, the revised starting eleven gave a promising first half performance. If fitness levels improve, Athletic may begin to compete over the whole ninety minutes.
After two league games, Hardly Athletic sit bottom of Division Three, with zero points and a goal difference of minus eleven – a truly worrying situation. Following Ronald Koeman’s recent sacking at Everton, I may now be the worst performing ginger-haired manager in English football. At least Koeman was given £140 million to spend.