British History shows us that after often after an epic, long bruising battle follows the Coronation of a new monarch. So it was fitting that Merton 1s turned up to Coronation Rec for the second round of the Teck Cup against Esher United. As usual, Anstey had asked the lads to arrive nice and early to try and get a good warm-up and preparation in. But Lady Luck has donned a few different disguises this season to thwart Merton’s warm ups and this Halloween fixture was no different This time the changing rooms were locked which meant Merton had to sit outside with egg on their faces for an hour waiting for the oppo to turn up.
It was a nice opportunity for everyone to catch up in a sober environment though. Merton’s own werewolf Quinno revealed he shaves his chest every full moon, Jox was home in bed by 4am having well and truly turned into a pumpkin and Moffy the BT customer service slayer talked us through some of his midweek woes. The lads all agreed that Mourinho had lost the plot by starting Ramires and Mikel in midfield for the early KO v Liverpool, only for Ramires to open the scoring four minutes in. However, patience was to be the order of the day for Klopp’s men as well as Merton Social.
The pitch was decent enough underfoot and a good size but despite the dewelled grass on this fine autumn day there was a slight problem, namely thousands of brown, yellow and orange leaves covering the majority of the pitch, particularly one side where you couldn’t see the touchline the entire length of the pitch. We eventually deigned to play the game, under pretty average conditions.
A-ron took us on our warm up with the instruction to not push us too hard in the confusingly warm conditions, so we had a fairly laid back warm up. Matt practised his free kicks and the rest of the lads watched in silent reverent awe.
This was the scene of a 3-1 win for the Soash earlier on this season over the same opposition. On that occasion, Ollie Hope and Jack Massey combined well with Ollie Hope and Andy Moffatt to cause serious problems for the Esher United back four so it was with this in mind that Merton repeated the dose of the 4-4-2 formation that worked so well last time. We lined up with:
Matt Aron Bruiser Alex
Anst Kiran Harry
Harry was extremely unlucky to miss out on a starting berth from the week before where he’d been Merton’s key to unlocking the Lyne Youth defence but had to settle again for a spot on the bench. Anstey had a plan though to rotate the subs regularly to try and take advantage of our big squad, which contrasted sharply with Esher United who only had 11 men some of which looked like they had seen better days.
The game began understandably because of the heat in a slightly docile fashion. Merton were probing by spraying the ball around, Esher United mainly pumping it long to their big target man, who had been a handful in the previous fixture.
Louis and Jox had started well in tandem, with both linking up well but could not quite find the finish. Louis was treating us to a masterclass in working space but was unable to really test the keeper. Jox in contrast was proving to be Merton’s tricky early outlet. Bruiser and the midfield were playing some intelligent balls into the channels for him to chase and exploit his pace. It was from this tactic that the first really presentable chance of the game fell to Merton. Jox got in behind on the right, got his head up well and found Louis on the penalty spot. Louis did the right thing and met the ball firmly first time but the keeper made a fantastic save to keep it at 0-0.
Up at the other end and Esher United had abandoned their long ball tactic because Aron had beaten the United behemoth to absolutely everything. Unfortunately they were starting to play some threatening through balls behind our defence where the number 8 (who Eddie had a great battle with in the first game) was making good sharp runs, similar to Jox for us. And it was from one of these that they took the lead completely against the run of play, the winger squaring the ball for the big man who tapped in from close range. 1-0 to United after about 25 minutes.
As is usually the case Merton woke up after going 1-0 down. We made some changes after 30 minutes, Harry coming on for Danny in midfield, Anstey on for Jox up front and Kiran coming on for Alex at left back to try and counteract their main threat. We immediately nearly equalised, Dom finding some space on the left hand side, cutting back on his right and delivering a great ball to the back post for Anstey to attempt a diving header at goal with his first touch of the game. Unfortunately he couldn’t direct it and found the keeper who made another decent save.
Merton had upped their work rate. Matt and Quinno were combining well on the right and Andy was having a good game on the left, beating men at will and finding some good probing passes. Merton were looking very good as the break approached but couldn’t find the ball in the final third. Quinno decided that he’d seen enough wasted passes and went on a jinking run beating three of four men and breaking through on goal. He gave the keeper the eyes and went for the more difficult corner but even so the ball looked in the whole way before shaving the post and going wide.
Half time and 1-0 down then for Merton but the good thing was we were not panicking. We knew we had the beating of Esher United in the first half and even though we hadn’t scored we knew the goal would come if we were patient, especially as we had the likes of Danny and Jox to inject some energy against Esher’s 11 men. We did make one slight unusual tinker, Bruiser moving to his preferred left back and Kiran to CB.
They were obviously trying to play through their danger man but Bruiser absolutely shut him down for the next 10 minutes every time the ball went near him. So much so that he switched wings! Brusier was also getting forward well going on one ridiculous run that left about four men for dead before getting to the left hand side of the area. He dinked a great ball to the back post where Anstey looked certain to score but the keeper again got a crucial hand on it to divert it away.
We decided to switch Brusier back to centre half after 15 minutes when we rotated again, this time Kiran switching to right back and Alex back on at left back. Quinno had slightly strained a muscle so had a rest, pushing Matt to the right wing and Jox on up top for Louis. Dom had mentioned at half time that he would maximise his effort for the first 15 minutes, knowing that he would be likely be getting a rest for the last 30. And it was a good job as Merton soon equalised. Jox played a good ball between the left back and centre back for Anstey who heard a scream behind him from the onrushing Dom. Anstey managed to backheel in the direction of the shout but unfortunately the keeper had got out well to cut it off. Or so he thought. He had misread the spin on the ball and fluffed it straight to Dom who took his time to walk the ball up to the goal and backheel in.
Dom got his rewarded rest and was replaced by Danny while Quinno returned for Matt on the right wing. Unfortunately for Merton, the winning goal was proving as equally elusive as the equaliser. Decent chances came and went for Anstey, Matt, Quinno, Danny, Andy and I’m sure others that I can’t remember. It sounds like an odd excuse but it was pretty difficult to get a clean strike on the ball when you’re wading through f*cking leaves. Esher United were dead on their feet but thanks to their keeper and Merton’s profligacy they managed to reach full time at 1-1. They looked crestfallen as it meant their 11 men had to battle on for another 30 minutes.
Merton knew fresh legs would be so important now, so Louis came back on for Anstey, Matt came back on for Andy who’d played the full 90 and Dom came back on for Harry. And finally, after so fucking long, Merton took the lead. A scrappy goal, a small step towards victory for Merton but a giant leap for Kiran Collier as he scored his first goal for the 1st team having been on target for the 3s and the 2s and of course at the wrong end twice so far this season. Corner came in from Quinno, Dom got a touch at the front post and Kiran was Johnny on the spot to force the ball home.
Annoying this was in the first couple of minutes of extra time, so Merton still had to see out the remaining 28 minutes. Harry came back on in the middle for Jox whose toys were in danger of falling out of the pram. “What have I got to do the stay on?” implored the Doc. Luckily for everyone concerned, Louis pulled up shortly afterwards and Jox and his pram full of toys got another run out. I’d played 60 minutes but felt like about 300.
There was a nervous moment when Esher United found the back of the net. It looked from the touchline like the player had just headed in but every Merton player on the pitch complained to the referee and luckily he had also seen the infraction and disallowed the goal.
Some poor sportsmanship from Esher as Merton put the ball out so we could replace the injured Danny only for them not to return the ball to us as we had done for them earlier in extra time led to a tetchy last 10. But Merton, eventually, saw out the game.
It would have been galling to draw against this opposition in the league but luckily this was the Cup so our missed chances didn’t matter as much as they could have done. Alex played really well when he came back on at left back. Andy and Quinno threatened constantly on the wings and Bruiser enjoyed a bottomless brunch of headers and tackles at the back. But there could be only one man who was in line for the MOTM decision. Have barely mentioned his name throughout the entire report of the game but that was a measure of how composed, assured, (a lot of shift+F7 here), secure, confident and solid he was. And this all in the face of a tricky opponent who had excellent feet for a big man. Aron Jackson Teck a bow. First time in my tenure one player has received every single vote.