If it is true that the early bird catches the worm and that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, then Merton birdied this presentable par 5 to crowbar themselves into fifth place.
Anstey requested that the squad meet earlier due to some sluggish starts in previous weeks. Nearly everyone arrived in and around the requested 12.30 and Merton got to work using their available preparation time by smashing balls at the empty net because Ethon had gone to Tesco. Before long, Ethon showed up and Merton continued to smash the ball at the goal. Some might say this was time wasted, but watching a supposedly injured Matt Poysden practising free kicks and finding the top corner with ease visibly buoyed the group. A new string to merton's already stringy bow? We shall see.
The oppo were not quite so meticulous in their preparation. They arrived 5 mins before KO with their management duo (combined age must've been triple figures) in the starting line up due to some latecomers stuck in traffic. Although it may appear Merton had strength in depth with 14 players, 6 or 7 of these had reported injuries to Anstey in the week leading up to the game, all of which had mysteriously cleared up as kick off and team selection approached. Merton started with:
Matt Aron Nick Kyle
Merton, thankfully, started the game briskly. We had earmarked their danger man in midfield from a previous cup tie. Believe it or not he was a grumpy little shit called Eddie, helpfully distinguishable by long flowing locks. Captain Winters, perhaps confused by the situation, took an immediate disliking to this guy and stuck some quorny challenges in early doors which clearly ruffled the Barnslake No10. Danny's brusqueness was nicely complimented by Dom's composed interplay. Like Stefan effenberg in his pomp. This midfield dominance meant plenty of opportunities for Merton's front four to go and play in the Barnslake final third. Jox and Anstey were linking up well and Moffatt and our Eddie looked dangerous on the wings, ably supported by Kyle and Matt getting well forward. One thing was lacking and that was a quality final ball with Merton wasting a few chances to get the ball into the box, letting Barnslake off the hook. This gradually improved and after Moffat put Jox in behind the struggling Barnslake back line, Jox turned sharply and slipped the reverse ball into Anstey's path. The gaffer's prowess from 12 yards has been well documented but he made no mistake this time, turning the ball home first time. 1-0 Merton. Meanwhile at the other end, Ethon set about chasing a butterfly.
Aron and Nick had very little to do defensively but were passing the ball well at the back and supplying good possession further forward. As is often the case Merton looked at their best on both wings, Eddie and Moffatt twisting their full backs this way and that. It was after doing just that that Merton scores their second. Moffatt committed the defender and slipped in Anstey on the left side of the box. With Boycott ringing in his ears Anstey slid the ball into the corridor of uncertainty. Jox, clearly not a cricket fan, couldn't quite reach it. Luckily Eddie was following in at the back stick for what seemed certain to be his second goal of the season. He claimed later that he was intentionally squaring the ball back to Jox to turn home but from where I was standing it looked a bit bouncy and shinny to be on purpose. Regardless Jox was rewarded for being in the right place as he and the defender somehow forced the ball over the line for 2-0.
And 2 became 3 shortly afterwards. Merton had made a point before the game of pressing high and putting the defenders under lots of pressure. This tactic worked as Dom closed down quickly and intercepted a pass in the centre circle. The ball ricocheted straight into Jox's path, who despite looking in an offsidish position, pinned his ears back and headed for the penalty area. Jox was clearly knackered after his night shift, one hour's kip and moaning about not getting paid enough as instead of advancing on the keeper he took aim from 30 yards and smashed it into the corner of the net. Lovely finish. The game was briefly delayed as the keeper threw his toys out the pram because the ball was too light. I have never heard anything so pathetic on a football field.
Merton could have and should have had another couple before half time. Moffatt squared to Anstey on the edge of the area who's shot was saved by the still blubbering keeper. Jox and Eddie both should have stuck the ball in the net but it didn't matter as they had been dubiously flagged offside.
Eddie then stuck his hand up for dick of the day as Dom charged forward from midfield. Anstey, who had been running more channels than Jox (😳) was played in but knew Eddie was scuttling in behind him so let the ball run. Eddie took a touch then steered it beyond the keeper. However the ref had already blown because Eddie had shouted "Leave It!!!" Numpty.
Half time and 3-0 if anything flattered Barnslake. I clearly need to find a new "3-0 up at half time" team talk. We wanted to stick another few goals past a clearly understrength opposition. Alex came on at left back for Kyle and played really well, although Eddie made me mention that his first contribution since being sent off last week was being nutmegged. Gary came on to play just behind Jox and Quinno was instructed to come on to the right wing for Eddie. Quinno mustn't have heard as he spent the majority of the second half drifting around next to Gary in the middle. There was one moment on the edge of the box when the two of them played some football the Chucklebrothers would have been proud of, exchanging the ball about 4 times before neither of them got a shot off. We eventually gave up and shifted Gary out to the right. In fairness to Quinno he probably came closest to adding to the scoresheet with a deft chip that drifted wide. It was so clear that we were in the ascendancy that Eddies' Mrs was allowed to make a substitution, bringing on Eddie for Matt at right back. To Matt’s dismay, Merton received a free kick on the edge of the area, in the exact spot hr had been banging them in pre-game. Andy stepped up and stung the keeper’s palms with a rasping effort.
Other than that it was a quiet second half. Ethon did pull off one top drawer save to stop Barnslake opening their account on the rebound after they had hit the bar but in truth, Merton are unlikely to get an easier 3 points all season. Man of the match was Dom after a masterful display. Aron secured quite a few votes. Just shows how highly his teammates rate him when he clocks up votes even when he doesn't have much to do. It was disappointing not to score more but we have to be happy with 3 points and a clean sheet. Couple more wins and we're back in the mix at the right end of the table. It seems a lot of you consider AMY to be a good team, I’d just like to point out that we’d go above them if we win our game in hand. MTID.