Merton returned to league action this week after a bye in the cup the week before. Great to be in the next round but it meant another break in what has already been a stop-start season. This weekend saw us travel to Esher United, who had started the season strongly, beating last season's champions and sitting second in the table so it was a large game. A big game if you will.
Concerns about fitness were abated however when 17 1s players declared themselves available including Massey basically coming directly from the airport after 2.5 weeks in Florida. This meant we were able to name 3 subs, hand 2 players to the 2nd team and give Kyle the week off to recover from injury. Secretly he was delighted as it meant he could help Alex move into their new studio flat in Vauxhall. All in all it meant that I fretted over team selection all week, carefully considering each player's claim to start the game and weighing up the various tactical ramifications to each player's inclusion. The only easy decision was to leave myself on the bench having not played for Merton since February.
I needn't have worried as at 1.55pm we only had 11 players at the ground. Half annoyed at the lateness and half excited to potentially be starting, I was half relieved, half dismayed to see Jox sprinting over from the car park and put some kit on. This got him the nod to start ahead of Harry who had John-Wayned it over to the changing rooms to have a shit. Last piece of the jigsaw was Bruiser who turned up as the team lined up on the pitch to sing the national anthem and perform the obligatory sponsors' handshake. Bruiser's Mrs had punched him in the face the night before and they's spent the morning making-up. So as he was late and down some testosterone he started on the bench.
Team (someone in the pub said they wanted this in the match report):
Aron Broughy Kiran Eddie
Merton, as is custom, started on the back foot, Esher testing Merton's flanks with some probing balls in behind the full backs and winning a few early corners and free kicks in dangerous positions. There were a few hairy moments but Merton dealt with them well, Broughy and Kiran sweeping up behind the full backs and some solid set piece defending, Eddie heading off the line at one point and Wrighty dealing with anything in the six yard box, usually with a solid punch. Pivotal to Esher's tactics was their right back who I would slag off for being overweight were it not for the fact that he was a lovely bloke and had the touch of an angel. Bruiser and myself marvelled at the technique shown by the big man (a man after our own hearts) before the penny dropped and I moved Massey (our quickest player) out to the left and Moffatt out to the right wing. The obvious tactic being to knock the ball past him and run. Massey decided to try a few things of his own first with mixed results. First was the introduction of the toe poke with the standing foot culminating in an air shot with the other, the second was to pass the ball straight to the man, rather than to knock it round him. Third time lucky though and Massey managed to find some space down the left and put a great ball across the area to Jox, who having had some encouragement from the touchline to stay in the middle of the pitch on the last man did so and arrived first to the ball to divert it into the far corner. A great move by Merton finished off really well by the Doc.
The goal seemed to settle us down into our game and we continued to look dangerous, particularly on the counter but some of our attacks were slightly rushed. Dom and Danny were exerting their usual steady influence and Merton were passing the ball nicely around the back with broughy and Kiran rarely troubled for the rest of the half. Ollie and Jox were pressing the ball high up the pitch and also combining really well. Ollie managed to skip through for what seemed certain to be his second goal of the season. Ollie was feeling confident and had obviously been playing Smackdown vs Raw on Saturday morning as he went for his finishing move off the top rope and hit the ball as hard as he possibly could. Unfortunately he was just too pumped up and the ball ended up back near the Wandle.
Shortly afterwards though and Merton had doubled their lead. Again it was Ollie and Jox combining and Jox slotted the ball past the keeper via an unspecified number of deflections. 2-0 which probably flattered us on the balance of play but our superior quality had showed in the final third.
And 3-0 definitely flattered us. Due to the strength of our bench we had made a couple of changes after about 30 mins and brought bruiser on for Massey and Harry on for Ollie, a slight shift in formation with Harry just behind bruiser and Jox on the wing. Both subs continued the high press and this enabled bruiser to get into a position on the right hand side. In his words after the game he "saw the keeper off his line" but in reality he crossed the ball and it found its way into the far corner. Absolutely not having that he meant it. I think he admitted it later.
Halftime at 3-0 and it was a pleasure to update Webber who had been anxiously texting all half. Moffatt came off for Massey at half time and the message was to kill the game off early. It was a testament to our solidity that I haven't really mentioned the back four yet. They were soaking up the pressure with such ease that I didn't really want to disturb them with subs so tried to keep changing it in the final third and keeping fresh legs coming on. Jox and dom had a spell off and this lead to bruiser breaking down the left and a classic 2 on 1 emerged with moffatt tearing down the middle of the park. Bruiser couldn't quite find the pass though and the ball was cleared.
In fairness to Esher wedid have to do some defending of our own with some vital blocks from Kiran and I think there was another goalline clearance from Eddie. Wrighty looked in control of anything Esher were mustering making some decent saves and coming through playerrs to punch really well. The midfiled battle was hotting up too, Dom taking a nasty elbow to the face and Danny meting out some justice like only he knows how. Was good to see several of the lads committing themselves to tackles and yes. Eddie got his customary nailing. We had obviosuly rattled the oppo as they were arguing with the referee, themselves and often the laws of physics when claiming to have won the ball. Massey was doing a fantastic job during one stint at lino where he wound up several different members of their team.
Merton couldn't quite find the 4th goal, Jox had one chance to complete his hatrick after running half the length of the pitch but couldn't find the finish and Massey absolutely did the right back to get in behind but couldn't find a teammate with the cross. In truth Merton had shut the game down so with 15 minutes left I decided it was safe enough to bring myself on at right back with Danny coming off and Aron moving into midfield. Absolutely nothing I could do could jeopardise the result and the 3 points. Or so I thought. Deep breath...
Having had the right winger in his pocket for most of the game Eddie appeared to be tiring slightly and was beaten to the byline. The winger fizzed a ball across goal which was dealt with AGAIN by Broughy. Unfortunately the ball rebounded into the winger's path and he poked the ball towards goal. Thinking quickly I had managed to get back onto the line but the ball bounced off my crotch into the goal after what was my first touch in football since Valentine's Day. Massey did a hilarious funny in the pub where he claimed it was the first action my dick had seen since Valentine's Day too. My dignity and respect intact as always. Luckily the completely objective and impartial Kiran and Eddie we're somehow both perfectly inline with the incident (quite impressive if you think about it) and confirmed it was indeed an own goal.
Needless to say I recovered and a couple of brilliant throw ins sealed the victory for Merton.
After the game there was a good turnout at the Wandle for Chelsea losing again and England going out of a major tournament again. Andy had his usual calamari.
Man of the match was really tight and all votes went to 3 players, with dom getting 3 votes for what was a quality performance. Probably only got 3 votes because so many have seen this type of performance so many times before. Level on 5 votes each (one person didn't vote) were Broughy and Jox. Despite jox's two goals and razor sharpness in attack, I'll give it to Broughy for a commanding performance on full debut. Didn't put a foot wrong all game. Superb performance mate. An assist each for Massey, Ollie and Moffatt so all the forward
players contributed too. Quality performance all round lads well done.