9th April 2022: A flying start for the Aztecs turns into a disastrous defeat.
The only change to the squad from the previous game against Birmingham was Divina Alo Ilolo dropping out with a recurring injury, and Charlotte Broughton coming in.
The Aztecs were looking forward to this one. A new opponent, and a chance to compete against another of the league's strongest teams. Manchester are likely to finish near the top and, just like the last two opponents, are viewed as genuine title contenders.
Only a short drive of two hours for this game from Southampton. The Aztecs are beginning to adopt Hartpury as a second home. This just goes to show the relative distances teams have to play, which is a testament to all those involved, with their sacrifice and dedication. Well, it is the national league.
The Aztecs were keep to avoid the typical terrible start. The idea was to hit the ground running, and not dig a hole at the beginning. There must be something about playing against blue teams while in red shirts at Hartpury, because just like against Liverpool, Southampton took the lead through lucky number thirteen, Laura Ingram. Manchester began the game with the kick off, played it backwards, and following a high Southampton press, relinquished possession to Rebekah Tonks, who laid off the ball for Ingram, who tucked it away in the bottom left corner from outside the D. What a start!
What were Southampton to do? This was unchartered territory. Manchester's first half chance of the game came ninety seconds in, but the through ball was well cleared by the onrushing Sayler from the goal. The high press was maintained, and both teams struggled to get over the halfway line when in possession. Two and a half minutes in, Bekah Tonks snatched at a half chance, when perhaps the ball could have been taken closer to the goal. Southampton began to take a hold of possession in the game, something they hadn't done much of since their time in the Southern division. Then a move involving all four outfield players saw Southampton nearly double the score line, playing the ball around like pinball, showing great one touch stuff, only for Ingram's shot to go over the bar.
Some more pressing, and Manchester broke through with nearly four minutes played, when Simonin got close, making Sayler produce an excellent diving save down to her left. Kayleigh Tonks had a chance of her own, stealing the ball and toe poking it at Harkness for a routine save. Manchester launched a counter down the right, leading to a shot from a tight angle saved by Sayler, the then launched a Southampton counter down the left to Rebekah Tonks, who played the ball across goal to Kayleigh Tonks, who was shepherded out well by Beckford.
From the resulting kick-in, Manchester carved open Southampton and would have produced an outstanding goal, but thankfully Harkness shot over, keeping the score at 1-0. Sayler tried to take advantage of Harkness' recovery to goal, feeding R. Tonks, who was tackled well by Harkness on her way back to the goal.
The game was becoming more end to end. Counter after counter. Southampton's next best chance was seven minutes into the first half. A long Sayler throw was chested down by Heath to R. Tonks, whose shot was well saved by Harkness. Another chance for Southampton fell to Heath, starting from a kick-in deep in the Southampton half. Moody to Maidment, a few rotations, and Maidment combined with Curtis to get the ball to Heath, whose turn and shot rolled wide of the far post.
At the ten minute mark, Southampton looking good, and quite likely to get that second goal. And then it was 1-1. Parker's kick-in from the left found Turner on the right, who had got away from Maidment, and fired home from close range. Not capitalising on chances and letting the opposition back into the game is a sporting story as old as time.
Ninety seconds later, it went from bad to worse. Manchester won the ball from a Southampton throw, Castellini laid off a pass to Simonin, and she finished well from close range to put the northern side ahead. A minute later, and it could have been three, when Beckford's shot was saved by Sayler down to her right. Southampton had a great chance to equalise. K. Tonks passed a kick-in to Moody, who clipped a ball through to Ingram, but her shot went agonisingly wide of the near post.
Frustrated and annoyed, a little panic emerged in Southampton's game. Rushed and forced passes, heavy touches and other manifestations that you would expect from a team desperately trying to claw back the game in the dying moments of the game. Yet here, there was plenty of time to go. This was likely a symptom of fear, that a game that was going so well was now going so wrong, and the team was desperate to get back on top. It was that desperation that, paradoxically, prevented it from happening.
Five minutes to go in the first half, and the Aztecs were handed a gift. Harkness caught the ball and stepped out of her area while releasing the ball, resulting in a direct free-kick to Southampton. A prime moment to score, as these situations have been taken advantage of well by the Aztecs in the past. The positioning of this free-kick was similar to the goal against University of Liverpool, also at Hartpury, also featuring a team in red versus a team in blue. The similarities of the situation stopped there, as Ingram's shot was deflected wide for a corner.
The short spike in Southampton momentum abruptly ended with four minutes to go. Manchester were awarded a foul on the right after Rebekah Tonks was adjudged to have made a foul. The shot was blocked and went out over the touchline at a similar position to the free-kick for a Manchester kick-in. This was fired across goal and initially blocked, but then scrambled over the line by Castellini to make it 3-1 to Manchester.
The Aztecs dug in and fought, but were now looking scrappy and desperate. Another chance came with ninety seconds remaining when R. Tonks fed Curtis, whose placed shot was comfortably saved by Harkness. A timeout, and then for the final minute, some rotations and good passing from Southampton, but Manchester had hunkered down well, and prevented any final chances before the half-time buzzer.
All to do, and with plenty of ability to do it, it was time for Southampton to show some of that Comeback Queens energy that was on display in full force during the Southern campaign, of which we have seen little while competing in the national division. It's there, bubbling under the surface.
Southampton continued the high press, and the game was a scrappy end-to-end affair, without any real chances in the first few minutes. It was just over three minutes in when either team could claim a proper scoring opportunity. Simonin laying off Beckford to the left, whose hard shot was parried over by the firm hands of Sayler. The first chance for the Aztecs came four and a half minutes in. K. Tonks broke up the Manchester attack, gave the ball to R. Tonks, who carried it forward and put Heath through on goal, but Beckford recovered well to block the shot. Another half chance for K. Tonks only moments later, as the game became more end-to-end. The ball was poked away from a Manchester attack and was claimed by K. Tonks, who had the entire Manchester half between her and Beckford in a 1v1. Beckford delayed well and forced K. Tonks to shoot wide.
Thirty seconds later and it was Kayleigh again on the counter for the Aztecs, who managed to poke a shot through at Harkness, who saved well from close range. Even Moody was now getting in on the act, who was given the ball from a Heath kick-in, and shot wide with her left foot. Chances were coming as the reds were getting closer and closer to goal.
Seven minutes into the half and Manchester had a good chance denied by Sayler. Harkness threw to Kemp, who combined with Castellini for the one-two, but Sayler came out and was equal to the close range shot. Eight minutes in and Manchester had their next big chance. Beckford laid off left on the counter to Kemp, and Sayler parried wide to her left for a corner. Another good save from the American stopper.
With nine minutes played, Southampton were on the attack. Maidment was entering the D on the dribble, and appeared to have been fouled by a combination of Turner and Beckford. With two payers ahead of the ball and one on the ground, Manchester sprung into a 2v1 counter against Ingram. Parker and Kemp broke away, and Parker finished to make it 4-1.
And then the ball was in the back of the net again. 5-1 to Manchester. Harkness threw long to Beckford on the left, who held up well to layoff to Kemp, who finished from close range. The Aztecs were now falling apart. Southampton looked out of ideas. Simonin had a shot wide of the near post, and Beckford passed just wide of the right, while Southampton looked dejected.
It was one-way traffic, and the sixth goal came just nine minutes into the half, making it three goals in two minutes for Manchester. Kemp kick-in to Simonin, back to Beckford, and out to Kemp again, who dribbled forward and shot low to Sayler's right, who had Castellini creeping in as a distraction. Southampton's next good chance fell to Kayleigh Tonks from a Laura Ingram pass, whose close range shot was saved well by Harkness. Rebecca Moody then had a decent shot sent wide from a corner.
The game continued for a good five minutes without any clear cut scoring chances With three minutes remaining, Curtis laid off for K. Tonks, whose well struck shot was parried over by Harkness. Sayler came up for the resulting corner and hit a shot wide left of the goal. The Aztecs looked like they would see the game out with only six conceded, as they kept pushing for more goals to try and make the score more respectable.
With only ninety seconds remaining, Manchester grabbed their seventh. An Aztecs attack broke down. Parker stole the ball from Curtis, released Kemp, who squared it across goal for the unmarked Beckford to fire home. The goal replay had barely finished when Manchester made it eight. A lack of rotation ahead of the ball, and an under hit pass from Maidment to K. Tons was stolen by Kemp, who rushed to goal, and smashed it beyond Sayler. It could have been nine when a Kemp shot from the right was well saved by Sayler. Beckford had another chance, but her shot was hit softly and easily scooped up by the American keeper.
Southampton did have the ball in the net for 8-2, when R. Tonks and Moody attacked on a breakaway, but were just half a second too slow to beat the buzzer. 8-1 was the final score, and the feeling was one of numbness. Maybe the feeling was worse than the performance, but what is undeniable is that the Aztecs have been guilty of switching off for a couple minutes at a time, and having those moments punished. As we've been finding out a lot against these top teams, any mistake is routinely punished by these efficient futsal playing machines. The Aztecs are in the game, and often on top for long periods of the match, but then briefly switch off and concede a handful of goals, almost as if the team is blacking out and the opposition carried on without them. It's a disappointing result, but this is not a disappointing bunch, and the team will continue to fight.
The top scorer in our Southern campaign, Kayleigh Tonks, was voted by her peers as player of the match. Kayleigh's contribution to the team is growing each week, as she adds more and more to the defensive side of the game, while still being an attacking force.
Watch the highlights back here.
View the whole match below.
The scores from the day of games.
Worcester 8 v 2 Bloomsbury
Bolton 2 v 4 London Helvecia
Southampton Aztecs 1 v 8 Manchester
University of Liverpool 2 v 4 Birmingham WLV
This is how the table stands with two games to go before playoffs.
Enjoy the photos below!
With the great work that the league are doing, and the excellent people within the clubs up and down the country, it's great to see that we're starting to have an effect, and hopefully being a force for good in the world. We know we have fans that tune in to watch from around the world, as well as a few that make appearances in person. We really want futsal to grow and become a more prominent sport in England, and we really want there to be more opportunities for female players to play and compete. Thanks for coming to see us, thanks for watching our games, thanks for checking us out on social media, and thanks for buying merchandise.
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Our next game is at Wolverhampton University on Monday the 18th of April. It's a 15:15 kick off and will be on BT Sport. Don't miss your chance to win a Southampton Aztecs shirt by predicting the score on social media.