29th January 2022: A bad start to the game gives the Aztecs a bad start to the season.
The Aztecs took nine to Wolverhampton, with these being the faces to represent Southampton in the first game of the FA National Futsal Series Tier 1. Eight teams will battle it out over seven games to become national champions.
Nerves were tight at the start of this contest. The Aztecs had not played a Northern team in a competitive match before, and although the team watched plenty of game footage in the build-up to the match, nothing trumps actual match experience. Southampton felt they knew how Bolton would play and what their tendencies would be, but could they stop them?
Kayleigh Tonks drew the first save of many to come from Joy Lowe only fifty seconds into the game, being set up by her sister to shoot from close range, resulting in a corner. From that corner, Lowe was to save again, this time from Bekah Tonks, and then saving once more as she raced Kayleigh to the loose ball. A minute later, and it was panic stations at the back, as a mix-up between Sayler and Moody gave away the ball to Bolton, but the team recovered well, preventing Zara Musker from getting a shot away.
The first Bolton goal came just three minutes into the game. Laura Tobin took on Rebecca Moody, and tried to flick the ball through. The ball hit Moody on the arm, and the referees judged it as handball. The following free-kick was a disguised shot, with Zara Musker's shot hitting both Bekah Tonks and Lauren Sayler on the way through. The response was quick, with Nicki Curtis playing a great ball to Bekah Tonks, whose volley was hit wide at the far post.
Four minutes into the game, Bolton annoyingly scored their second goal with their second shot. Laura Tobin played the ball wide to Sophie Sumner who entered the D. Sayler came out to confront her and blocked the attempted nutmeg. The ball took the most unfortunate ricochets off both Sumner and Sayler again, and fell to Sumner to hit home, taking a hit off Kayleigh Tonks' leg, whose desperate attempt to save on the line was in vain.
Having come back from scores such as this many times before, Southampton continued to try to recover the score. Two opportunities involving Nicki Curtis and Kayleigh Tonks failed to materialise, as the Bolton defence recovered well to prevent the final ball connecting. Bekah Tonks also dragged a shot wide, striking with her left foot. The Aztecs had another attack denied, as Bekah Tonks' ball to her sister was poked wide for a corner. The resulting corner gave the ball straight to Billie Jean Davies, who carried the ball all the way from one D to the other, faster than Southampton could recover, beating Sayler 1v1 to make it 3-0 after only six minutes played.
Southampton held their nerve and kept coming forward. The team were not deterred by the goals, as the amount of chances being created were enough proof to warrant the confidence exhibited in attack. Lauren Sayler came out of goal and combined well, reaching the Bolton D, only to have her shot saved by Lowe. Kayleigh Tonks pounced on the rebound, and Lowe saved again, gaining another attempt once more, only to hit this rebound wide of the post. Surely a goal would come? There's no way Joy Lowe could keep making saves like this all game?
Divina Alo Ilolo entered the game, and her impact was noticed right away, intercepting the ball for Kayleigh Tonks to attempt to lob Lowe who was out of her goal, shooting just wide. Bolton had their own long shot go wide moments later, when Lauren Sayler came up for a corner. Nine minutes in, and Southampton called a timeout, switching from a low block to a high block. It nearly had an immediate effect, as Sayler played a great ball to Kayleigh at the far post, whose shot cannoned off the post. With the goal begging, Bekah Tonks' shot was hit off target.
Bolton's best chance to make it 4-0 was a ball to the far post, putting through Sophie Sumner, whose shot was hit high and wide. The man-to-man high press meant Southampton would win the ball higher, with the gamble becoming more susceptible to diagonal balls. Alo Ilolo nearly hit a banger, receiving Sayler's throw, juggling the ball and setting up a volley, which was struck wide.
The two teams began to cancel each other out more, as chances were becoming few and far between. With six minutes remaining, Nicki Curtis nearly lobbed Joy Lowe, with the shot going wide. Bolton had another good chance to increase the lead, when Laura Tobin played in Fiona Dransfield at the far post, whose tap-in went wide, which potentially may have been due to Sayler coming out and putting her off. Brindle had a shot hit wide to the right of Sayler's goal. Senter later stole the ball in the middle and tried to lob Lowe with a scoop from her own half, hitting just wide to the left. Lowe became involved in the attack, carried the ball over the halfway line, but the shot didn't trouble Sayler in the end. Lowe had more to do with three minutes remaining, following a combination between the Tonks sisters, with Bekah firing hard at the goal, and Lowe coming up strong again. A good move between Tobin, Dransfield, and Brindle created another shot for Bolton, which Sayler saved comfortably.
Ninety seconds remaining, and what was perhaps the best chance for Southampton came when Davies tripped on the ball, giving it away to Kayleigh Tonks, who was just had Lowe to beat. In the blink of an eye, Lowe was out, making a save with the feet, and creating a Bolton counter, with the shot from Davies being blocked by Bekah Tonks. Southampton followed it up with a great move created by Bekah Tonks, combining with Curtis, to set up Kayleigh, for yet another close range shot to be saved by Lowe, marking the last attack of a frustrating half for the Aztecs.
With it all to do in the second half, could the Aztecs pull it back as they had done so many times before? The team had created enough chances to be in the game, yet had not found the back of the net.
A minute into the second half and the Aztecs created a good chance, falling to Heath, who couldn't connect with the cross. Another chance for Southampton, following a great move from Moody, both Tonks, and Sayler, but the cross was cleared by Brindle. Moody tried to get the rebound, but was swarmed by Bolton players. Bolton's first chance was a long shot from Musker when Sayler was out of goal, with the shot being deflected wide by Moody. The resulting corner worked a shot for Musker, which was hit over the bar. Bolton created another chance thirty seconds later, with Sayler saving from Tobin like a defender making a tackle.
Southampton were throwing the kitchen sink, as Moody fired a top corner shot from distance. Lowe parried away, and made a second save as the ball fell to Kayleigh Tonks. At the other end, Tobin forced another close range save from Sayler. Southampton's next best chance came six minutes into the half as Bekah Tonks played a defence splitting pass to her sister, who hit wide of the goal. Four more minutes would elapse until Southampton's next chance, when Curtis scooped the ball down the line to Kayleigh Tonks, who controlled well, faked Brindle, but had her shot blocked yet again by Joy Lowe. Alo Ilolo had another chance for Southampton, pressing well to steal Kaylee Senter's intercepted pass, taking the ball off Davies, wriggling free, but Joy Lowe was out quick to block the shot. The open goal now begging for Divina to finish from the rebound, but the angle was too tight, and the ball came back off the post.
Bolton were defending deep, rather comfortably, absorbing the Southampton possession. It would take something special to break through, such as Rebekah Tonks' defence splitting pass to Kaylee Senter at the far post, who sadly couldn't connect with it, especially in the face of the onrushing Lowe. Bolton went up the other end, and Musker fired in a shot with venom with Sayler parried out. Alo Ilolo poked away the rebound, and then for her troubles, threw herself into block Musker's second shot, this time taking it in the face from point blank range. Seconds later, Divina was to deny Musker again with a great sliding block.
Three and a half minutes to go, and Southampton are still going. Moody played Sayler who ran down the right wing, using great skill to go past Tobin. The cross came in to Heath, whose first scuffed shot came back off the defender, allowing for a second shot, which was saved by Lowe. The rebound fell to Rebekah Tonks, who thought better than to try and shoot through Lowe who had recovered well and was set for the shot, choosing to play to Sayler, who laid off for Moody, whose shot was blocked by Davies. Bolton responded straight away. Brindle played to Musker, who held the ball well, setting up Tobin for the shot. Kayleigh Tonks blocked from Tobin, and the rebound fell to Brindle who shot powerfully wide from close range.
Lowe gave Southampton a sniff of a goal. Sayler carried forward, played in Bekah Tonks, who set up Kayleigh for a shot, which slipped through Lowe, who recovered well to prevent the ball going over the line. Two and half minutes to play, and Bolton finished off the game, making it 4-0. Brindle's shot from distance was palmed wide by Sayler. Southampton fell asleep from the resulting corner, Musker entering the D without being tracked, whose shot took a deflection off Kayleigh Tonks to find the back of the net. Four goals, three deflections, and a goalkeeper who was a brick wall. Sometimes, it just doesn't go your way.
Even at 4-0, Lowe wasn't letting up, making a double save from close range against Kayleigh Tonks with only ninety seconds left. The frustration was visible on the faces and in the body language of the Southampton players. Not a bad performance overall. If a game is assessed on the frequency and quality of chances, Southampton were definitely in this game, and an argument could be made to say maybe a point or three wouldn't have been unwarranted. The damage was done early with three very preventable goals in six minutes, creating a mountain to climb against what is a good team with a top goalkeeper. The early goals, and concession of the first goal, continues to plague this team. Resilience and talent are not in question, but can the problems be addressed? In the national league, you need every advantage you can get, and these are two big disadvantages that are being given out too easily.
The team now has two weeks to prepare for the next fixture against University of Liverpool, which is a twelve o'clock kick-off on Saturday the 12th of February, at Hartpury College in Gloucester. This may be the first time in a competitive match that Southampton have had the least distance to travel to a game. Let's see if it equates to any kind of advantage on the court.
Divina Alo Ilolo was voted as player of the match, putting her body on the line for the team. Blocks, tackles, interceptions, and bundles of energy and determination, Divina is a great asset to the Aztecs team.
Hard to watch back, but here are the goals from the game.
The scores from the day of games.
Worcester 1 v 5 Birmingham WLV
Southampton Aztecs 0 v 4 Bolton
Manchester 2 v 3 London Helvecia
University of Liverpool 2 v 3 Bloomsbury
Below is the table after the first game day. The Aztecs were the only Southern team to not win this opening game against Northern opponents. Two weeks to prepare for the next game, which is against University of Liverpool on the 5th of February, for a 12:00 at Hartpury College in Gloucester. Will we see you there?
What are your predictions for the season?