On Saturday 2nd March, the Guernsey FA (GFA) Under 16 Academy travelled to England to play against AFC Wimbledon, with this fixture having been identified as an appropriate challenge in the pathway to supporting the development of the players in this group.
The day began with an early start for the players, with the squad meeting at Guernsey airport at 6.00am for the first flight to Gatwick and then the onward coach journey to the Malden based training ground of AFC Wimbledon. The travelling aspect in itself represents a different challenge to the players as it is outside of the norm for this age group, although it does provide an insight into what players can expect should they one day progress to play for Guernsey FC.
Once at the training ground the players had just under an hour until kick off so preparation was immediate. As a group they led their own initial warm up and then discussed the hopes and expectations for the game with the coaches.
The match kicked-off at 10:30am, with GFA Under 16’s in the all-white, First Central Group sponsored 125th Anniversary kit against the yellow and blue of AFC Wimbledon. The game started with a high tempo as both teams tried to work out their opposite number but gradually the GFA Under 16’s began to gain confidence and control possession in the early stages as they moved the ball well and settled into their style of play.
The GFA Under 16’s created a few early chances but were met by some solid goalkeeping, before eventually finding the breakthrough when Alex Scott and Keene Domaille combined neatly and precisely to find space into the penalty area where Scott crossed to Ben Stevens to finish clinically.
The work rate of both teams was clear to see with neither team allowing the opposition to settle and allow the other any time on the ball. The GFA Under 16’s began to find success through their short passing in midfield and with the width coming from both full backs and the wingers, they were able to create another good opportunity, this time with Simon Arnold using his speed to find space and then quick footwork to round the goalkeeper who could do nothing but bring the winger down in the penalty area. The referee awarded the penalty, which was taken by Domaille who struck the kick well but was denied by a fantastic save.
At the opposite end the GFA Under 16’s continued to defend well as a unit, with centre back pairing Seb Vance and Jake Elmy communicating fantastically well. Goalkeeper Jim Hibbs was called into action by efforts from range, which he dealt with comfortably and his distribution was superb all day.
The second half brought changes for the GFA Under 16’s as all squad members were involved and it started strongly with Charlie Le Page unleashing a fierce left foot shot from twenty five yards that extended the lead when the keeper could do nothing to prevent the shot finishing in the net. The GFA Under 16’s continued to control possession but did not always turn this into scoring opportunities against a well-disciplined and organised team.
With ten minutes to go AFC Wimbledon pushed on and maintained their impressive work rate, finding themselves in the penalty box on several occasions. Only strong defending kept them at bay but eventually some neat footwork from the winger met with a late tackle from Le Page and the referee had the easy job of awarding a penalty. The Wimbledon striker sent Hibbs the wrong way to make the game 2-1.
A somewhat nervy final ten minutes was played out until the final whistle blew, with the GFA Under 16’s claiming a deserved 2-1 victory.
GFA Under 16 Head Coach, Stewart Moyles reflected on the day when commenting:
‘AFC Wimbledon were superb hosts and both teams mixed and chatted as they went back to the dressing rooms, illustrating the spirit in which the match had been played. Once cleaned and changed, the Guernsey team ensured the dressing room was spotless, not coach initiated I might add, and made their way back to the coach. An hour later the squad arrived at Gatwick airport to check in for the flight home.
This experience that the GFA has been able to offer the Under 16 Academy this season has been of a high standard, and provided such a valuable experience to these young players. To come out of their comfort zone and challenge themselves in multiple ways builds resilience and squad cohesion in a way like no other can. It is important to again acknowledge the continued support that First Central Group is providing to the Under 16 Academy because without this generous and much appreciated support the GFA would not be able to provide these young players with such experiences and opportunities.’
Rachael Cumberland-Dodd, on behalf of First Central Group added that:
‘First Central Insurance and Technology Group offer their warmest congratulations to the GFA team on an impressive and well-deserved win. It’s a privilege to able to support such dedicated young players and we look forward to supporting them over the coming year. Well done to everyone involved for such a tremendous result.’
Those in the GFA Under 16 Academy squad will now be seeking selection for the match day squad that will host Jersey on Sunday 24th March in the annual Under 16 Nigel Gavey Memorial match. That match is to be played at The Track, with a 1.00pm kick-off.