There weren’t many occasions last season when we could enter a game full of confidence having won our last match. But not today! Having despatched Lower Green the previous week, another win would mean that we were on a roll.
However this is the cup, and anything can happen in a cup game.
Today’s opponents were Hook Venturers, lower league opposition, who’d had an iffy start to the season, which meant this could definitely be a banana skin.
The Gaffer was determined to keep as many of his match winning team together as possible, so Dunning and Taylor returned as fullbacks, with Denness and first teamer Nick Ball partnering at centre back. Ever present Scotty was in the sticks, and Wilson and Elwell took up their positions on the flanks. Morton was joined in the centre of midfield by the returning Alex Hall. A huge forward line of Louis Mayne and Will Fryer started up top.
It was a beautiful day, and the pitch looked superb, which is a nice surprise as the previous season it was a mud bath. The game started and Merton struggled to get a foothold in the game. Passes were not accurate, voices were silent and there was a serious lack of energy.
Hook experienced far more possession than Merton in the opening exchanges, particularly in the middle of the park, where two wobbly midfielders were winning every ball.
Hook’s one and only tactic was to hit the ball long to two rapid wingers. On most occasions the long ball was intercepted by Nick or Tel, but every now and then one would get through, which meant that Scott had to be alert. Hook’s best opportunity came when Taylor misjudged the ball skidding off the wet turf which left a hole in behind, and the nippy little fella strode in and hit his shot just wide of the far left post.
In the first 20 minutes, the only Merton player who looked up for the game was Dunning, who was dominating his winger, and linking up brilliantly with Elwell on the right flank. It was a real disappointment when the full back had to leave the game after 20 minutes, when he felt a tweak in his calf. Gav took his place, and as you’d expect from Gav, he got stuck in straight away.
It wasn’t until we hit the 30 minute mark that Merton created anything worthwhile. However it was a superb move. Morton, Fryer and Mayne were involved in a great piece of pass-and-move football, which resulted in Jon Wilson narrowly missing the target.
At this point Merton started to look like they might get something from the game. Wilson and Elwell were now heavily involved, Hall was making some crunching tackles and Morton was sidestepping around midfielders for fun.
Fryer began to drop a little deeper to create more space for Louis to run into.
Nick and Terry both looked really composed in defence, and Larkin and Taylor were able to press the ball higher up the pitch and link up with their respective wingers.
As the halftime whistle blew, it was (finally) Merton that was in the ascendancy; however this had been anything but a vintage performance. We’d been let off the hook on a couple of occasions, and squandered some chances of our own with sloppy play in and around the opposition box.
The halftime team talk was easy – play football! Then another moment of pure genius. Elwell unveiled yet another box of oranges, the fruit of the Gods.
Each piece had been delicately sliced, as if pencil, ruler and protractor were used to individually measure each piece. The Gaffer attempted to let the team know about a couple of tactical changes, whilst mumbling with a mouth full of Orange. None of us are totally sure what he said, but it was something like “way ay man, Andy Larkin and Sammy come on, haway lads”.
So the team reshuffled with Taylor moving to left wing and Larkin Jnr slotting in behind him. Sam took up an unfamiliar role as DM, to allow Alex and Jon W to have 5 mins on the sideline.
What a difference an orange makes! Energy, pace, enthusiasm.
We think that Elwell may have spiked the oranges with a little extra juice (wink, wink).
This was epitomised by Sam, who added a presence in the midfield. It was Sam who had the first genuine chance of the second.
Taylor took on his fullback on the left flank. As we arrived at the opposition box, he heard a call from Sam, who was steaming through unmarked. Taylor slotted the ball into the path of Sam, who couldn’t quite sort his feet and sent the ball whizzing past the far right post. Progress.
Merton were now well on top, and the only thing they had to contend with was a huge hoof out of defence, but this was being snapped up by Terry and Nick who were miserly in the way they allowed the oppo no chance to escape their own half.
The next chance fell to Taylor.
The ball was slotted through to Louis, who powered past the centre back. On the left side of the box, on his favoured left foot, he smashed the ball past the keeper, but instead of making the net bulge, the ball cannoned off the post, with the keeper still sprawled out on the floor.
Taylor ran on to the loose ball, and rather than taking a touch and picking his spot, he took the shot on first time, but didn’t catch the ball well and sent his shot high and wide, rather than into the open net. It wasn’t easy to score, but the deadlock should have been broken.
There were then moments you would not believe unless you witnessed them.
From a corner, the ball was pumped into the box. Fryer’s header was saved, Morton’s shot was blocked, Louis’ rebound was saved, then Jon Wilson smashed the ball towards goal from the edge of the box. The shot beat the keeper, but somehow the overweight captain got himself back on the line and blocked the shot.
Ever get the feeling it won’t be your day???
As if this goal mouth scramble wasn’t enough, the EXACT same thing happened only 2 minutes later. This one resulted in Louis dislocating, then relocating his shoulder (gross!).
At this point the Merton defence was pretty much standing around checking their social media pages. The long balls had dried up for the oppo and with Merton on top, Wilson and Alex returned to the action.
Fryer was now playing much further up the field with Louis, and this was causing the opposition defence some serious problems.
Although Fryer, Morton and Louis all had chances to win the match, the ball didn’t find its way into the net, so extra time ensued.
Directly from the kick off, Louis roasted their centre back, whose fitness was obviously deserting him. He leathered the ball towards the near post and brought a fine save from the goalkeeper. Fryer couldn’t stop in time to pop the rebound in, and Morton’s shot was somehow blocked on the line.
Unsurprisingly a few long balls were hoofed over the top, but the opposition’s fitness was lacking and any half chances came to nothing.
Louis was again in the thick of it, as he received the ball on the edge of the box. A drop of the shoulder later and he was on his left foot 15 yards from goal. He unleashed a missile, which looked like it was about to rip the net off the back of the goal. The opposition’s 80 year old keeper leapt to his right, and managed to superbly palm the ball out for a corner.
However heads didn’t drop, there is a renewed confidence in the 2s these days.
Into the second half of extra time and Hook were hanging on for dear life.
They were lucky to have 11 men on the pitch as the right back fouled Taylor, then Morton, then did his best to try and break Jon Wilson’s ankle. He seemed happy to give away numerous free kicks, however Merton’s finishing on the day wasn’t the best, and the scores remained level.
So for the first time in the 2s history, a cup game would be decided by penalties.
Morton won the toss and elected to go second.
Hook scored their first two penalties, with Scott diving the right way, but unable to keep them out.
Louis and Jon’s penalties were never in doubt. Hook’s third penalty was not good, Scott dived the right way but it somehow bobbled underneath the keeper. Pure luck. Merton’s third was taken by Will Fryer, and hearts were in mouths as the keeper got his hand to the ball, but Fryer had put too much power into his penalty, and the net rippled. Hook’s fourth penalty was taken by a former Ewell Saxon, he has pace and a trick, but he cannot cross and cannot shoot. He tapped the ball towards Scott, who fell on the ball dramatically, but didn’t fool any of into thinking it was a good penner. Up stepped Elwell, to take Merton penalty number 4. A beauty, keeper didn’t even get close. Advantage Merton! So it was all or nothing for the final penalty taker, who could barely even make it from the halfway line to the penalty spot. He mustered every ounce of energy to hammer the ball against the crossbar and out into the lush green grass. Scenes of jubilation would have been seen, if we weren’t so tired from playing 120 minutes in searing heat.
So Merton 2s are into round 2 of the cup.
The first half was rubbish, but for the rest of the game, Merton totally dominated, and on another day we would have strolled away with 5 or 6 goals.
Terry was so elated to win that he hoovered a two course meal and free coke before any of us had even sat down at the table in the North Star.
Man of the Match
We had some super performances.
Dunning started brilliantly, and would have been in the mix if injury hadn’t knocked him out of the game. Terry and Nick were absolutely colossal, won every tackle and header, and were composed enough to bring the ball out of defence and start some promising attacks.
Taylor had a really productive day on the left flank, and Sam brought some much needed energy to a sluggish team performance.
Elwell brought some much needed oranges and just for that could be awarded man of the match. Wilson is becoming the scourge of right backs around the league, and Fryer put in a great shift, looking like the striker who hit double figures a few seasons back. Louis had a belter and was unlucky not to win the game for the 2s, and the Larkin brothers brought some much needed Middlesbrough steel to the pitch. Scott continued his fine penalty saving form and his kicking was much improved. But this week’s Man of the Match goes to Simon Morton.
The Gaffer put in a fine centre midfield performance, reacting to the possession that the opposition held, to put in some excellent tackles. In the second half and throughout extra time Morton was at the heart of all the great forward play, and after 120 minutes of hard fought football, he looked like he could carry on for another 90 minutes. Great game mate!