Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Match day and only 9 players turn up

davidscwnewAt the weekend everything was looking good – the weather had cleared up and our game was on. But then, as I was preparing to leave the house, I was informed that three players had gone away for the half-term holidays without bothering to tell me.

So I had a problem. And sure enough, within the hour I had only nine players present, and was being asked what time the others were turning up. “Well, this is it, lads, this is the team… we’ve been let down”, I replied.

We’d beaten our opponents 1-0 earlier in the season, but a repeat performance seemed unlikely… not that I told my players that.

We gathered for our team talk and I assured them that they could still perform with only nine men. It’s not the first time this sort of setback has happened, and in the past I’ve used different tactics – one being to tell them to pretend we’d had two players sent off. But nothing had worked because, simply, they wanted to be told that everything would be okay and they wouldn’t be easily beaten.

So this time I took a simple, honest approach, telling them that hard work would compensate for the loss of players, and how if everyone put in an extra bit of effort we could make up the difference.

The reality was that the three who had failed to show comprised two strong covering players and a speedy trickster. So how was I going to cover that tactically?

Well, the pitch seemed particularly narrow, so my first move was to sacrifice the left-back position and tell my defenders to cover left. The defenders were sure they could manage – great.

I wanted to leave my four-man midfield as it was, so that left a lone striker up front, but we’d give it a try. It was an exciting challenge.

And I’m pleased to say the formation worked well. The opposition didn’t really take advantage of our left defence problem – they had a fast winger but he continually attacked our right-back. The only thing that let us down was support in attack – we created more chances than them but couldn’t get shots away, and when we did, there was no-one to follow up.

The game finished 0-0 but the players were magnificent and it was a great lesson in how hard work can overcome a numerical disadvantage. In many ways, it was probably the best game we have played all season.

The moral is don’t be put off by what might appear to be a major setback. It’s from such events that we usually learn most about ourselves and our players


9 Comments so far
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great lesson my teacher , thank you.


This happened to me this season, almost the exact same situation. We did not do so well in the game losing 3-0 but the players were brilliant and very happy with their performance, we had lost 5-1 to the same team earlier in the season with a full (strongest) team. We as a team learnt more about team spirit and individual players that days than in any other 11 v 11 game….

Comment by Batesy5

What an awesome coach you are, you team is very lucky, as are we. I won’t be so put off next time that happens to us. Thanks.

Comment by Stephen

Did the other team consider also playing with nine players? Would you have done that in the same situation?

Comment by Steve Walker

That was a great strategy for that situation.
When someone is sent off, or you are forced to play a man down for some reason, is a striker normally the first position to give up?

Comment by charlesty

Last Sunday our under 15 team played a team who like us are relegation strugglers. With a full team I had hoped to beat them but we started with only 8 players, and after 10 minutes a 9th came along.
We played a 4 – 3 – 1 formation. I stressed to them to always keep 4 men in defence. We actaully played quite well as we have 2 skilfull lads who continually took on their players and held the ball up. Our defenders fought for everything but we finally conceeded around the 20 minute mark, and went in 3 down at the break, actually should have been 6. We told them to not worry, just enjoy the game, we are doing very well etc.
Early in second half we scored from a pen, and with 20 mins to go from a corner got it back to 3 -2. i would have been happy with that but amazingly equalised with 5 mins to go.They piled on the pressure hit the bar and had a goal disallowed for offside and in the final minute we somehow nicked the winner. It was the ebst team display I had seen at any level. There was no great coaching involved, just a desire from the lads that as the match went on, they seen they could get something from the game. We had been working on possession and 1 touch drills in training during the week, and I feel the ability to keep possession with quick passing was one of the keys to the victory.

Comment by Johnny

Whenever this happens in my daughter`s team without a doubt every player ups there game they have less time to think, desire for the ball increases conversly the other team has a spare player or 2 you get 2 players doing one job or players become lazy

Comment by Paul

I wish that I could say that our squad fared as well as did the OP’s, but we did not. 12 players from our roster got recruited to play in a club tournament one weekend, leaving our varsity with only 9 players, including just 4 starters.

I went with a 3-4-1 formation, with our backup GK the lone striker. For four of our players, this was the only game that they played all season. Only five players were at their regular positions.

Our starting GK and sweeper managed to organize our three-FB line brilliantly. We pulled offsides traps successfully 16 times. Our keeper played the match of his season, recording 25 saves. I was very proud of our team.

Still, we tired at the end of both halves and lost 7-1. I was shocked that we scored.

Comment by Troy Stegenga

Interesting story. I have a personal experience as a player in an amateur league where our prima donna players were late. We had to start a game of 7 vs 11 against a team that was second in the league the previous season! We decided on a simple damage limitation game plan, a 4-2-0 formation while defending in our own third. On attack it was about calculated counter attacks, possibly involving individual creativity. When we won the ball and couldn’t counter-attack we advanced it to the midfield and tried knocking it about. We played for 20 minutes like that and it was 0-0 with the opposition only able to get two tame efforts on our goal and us getting one tame effort at theirs.
Then the prima donnas showed up. It was bye bye to defensive discipline. We lost by five goals that game.
Never underestimate the power of commitment to the cause..

Comment by Vosta Lee

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