After a strong result against Holcombe’s 2nd XI last week, Aldershot & Farnham men’s 1st XI (A&F) hosted a struggling Marden Russets team at Heath End.

In the reverse fixture A&F dominated, but Marden were in the midst of a relegation battle and fighting for survival, making them a dangerous prospect.

A&F were again missing key players, but managed to get together a squad of 12 to face the bare 11 of Marden, so fitness was going to be important, with fatigue likely to hamper both sides.

Despite the limited numbers, coach Ian Jennings highlighted in his pre-match briefing the need to start quickly and put the visitors to bed early to prevent them having something to hold on to.

But A&F couldn’t get going early and mistakes riddled the team from back to front, as the press was ineffective, players were holding on to the ball too long, and passes were going astray.

A&F have always played an attacking style of hockey and like to commit players forward. But the multiple turnovers in the final third were making Marden a real threat on the break, as they posted a forward high.

Through this they created the first big chance of the game. Stealing the ball in their own territory, Marden went long to the forward, who held it up well. He found a willing support runner, who rounded Hamish Hall in goal but could only lash the volleyed attempt on goal wide.

Usually a scare like that would jolt A&F into life, but still they struggled for any fluidity. Marden were taking full advantage and starting to string moves together through the A&F press. With the confidence flowing, Marden pinged the ball around and a neat passing move got them into the A&F D, where a simple square pass and finish into an empty net put the visitors 1-0 up.

Still a response from A&F was not forthcoming. Even when Marden lost a player to the sin bin for a poor tackle, A&F could not create anything of note. They were also still susceptible to the counter, as only poor finishing prevented Marden going 2-0 up as they countered again and once more went around Hall. But Hall forced the forward wide enough that he was unable to finish from a tight angle.

It was not until the dying embers of the first half that A&F finally created a chance, as Chris Boot’s through ball found Stu Morhall in the opposition D, but his square ball could not find an A&F forward and the half ended 1-0 to Marden.

Building from that chance, A&F started the second half playing their best stuff of the afternoon. They hit the ground running and were battling back into the game. Some good work down the right drew a poor tackle and a penalty corner. Although the initial drag flick and follow up were saved, Jonny Groves was alert to finish at the third attempt and haul A&F level at 1-1.

The goal seemed to cause A&F to regress, however, as they fell back into another rut. After how the game had gone to that point, it was somewhat inevitable that Marden would eventually capitalise on a breakaway. A poor touch while playing out from the back gave the Marden forward a free run on Hall. He was rounded for a third time and the forward duly finished into an empty net to put Marden 2-1 up.

A&F made some changes in personnel and positions late on to try to salvage a draw. They found some joy as Conor Wilkinson was promoted forward. His drive into the D gave A&F another chance from a penalty corner. The attempt was saved and cleared by Marden, who took the ball into the corner to see out the remaining moments and take an unexpected three points.

A&F coach Ian Jennings said: “It was a hugely disappointing result not just in the scoreline but the performance too. With so many quality players unavailable, and because of what they bring to the group, it was just one step too far.

“I’ve never in seven years seen so many of the guys playing so poorly and looking so flat. It’s certainly something that we are going to have to address this week in order to ensure the season doesn’t fizzle out into insignificance. We have been on an incredible journey together and none of us want it to end in anything but finishing the best we can.”

Next week Aldershot & Farnham travel to Oxted.

Kevin McCafferty