While the international competitions don’t seem to be that close and interesting anymore, which I have to blame the French for, the lower leagues still seem to have an edge to them. Imperial’s first ever league game in the autumn was against Warwick and, despite a clear loss, gave the team hope for the rest of the season. They worked hard and what followed was complete domination over local rival UCL and Oxford University, which put the Eagles in a position where they would still be able to fight for the top spot in the competition and enter the play-offs if they were to beat their nemesis.
The Warwick line up was similar to the one from the autumn game, which made their tactics predictable. If Imperial wanted to claim the two league points for themselves, they would have to find a way to condemn the big German shooter in the back row and stop the playmaker from setting up the pivot in attack, who was also of considerable size. On the other side of the court the experienced and admittedly frightening central Europeans were always going to make it more difficult to pass the middle block with individual actions than in our previous games, which meant that, finally, there would be a suitable opportunity to try some of the new and well planned schemes like “Wurst” and “Dagmar”.
Typically, the Eagles failed to implement any of the tactical masterpieces that would have changed the flow of the first half. Either they spoiled all their good attacking work by leaving massive gaps in defence or wasted all their defensive efforts in attack by conceding avoidable turnovers, which lead to a 5-goal lead for the guests at half time.
Consequently, the half-time talk was simple and merely a repetition of what was said before the game, but even a team that cleverly named one of their attacking schemes after the German word for sausage and shouts French phrases revolving around sheep at each other for motivation, needs to regroup and realign once in a while.
At the start of the second half, the game took a new turn. Imperial defended well and attacked smartly, stretching the guests’ defence with smooth combinations to set up the shooters on the wing. In addition to that, the Eagles’ goalkeeper finally figured out the complex shooting pattern of the Warwick team, which cleverly alternated between ‘throw’ and ‘throw harder’, and made the shooter look like a delusional, arthritic West-German trying to tear down the Berlin Wall by throwing marbles at it.
With only 7 minutes to go Imperial had a 2-goal lead, which was well deserved at that time, but Warwick came back strong and showed why they are leading the league. Their defence got more aggressive and IC was lacking the routine to bring home the advantage. In some rather hectic closing seconds, Warwick converted a final counter attack that would take the game past Imperial.
All in all it was a very frustrating loss to suffer and a massive blow to the Eagles’ title hopes, but a necessary lesson has been learned and, hopefully, the hard work and fine performances over the season will be crowned with silverware at the University Championships in Manchester next weekend.