Ah “The Magic of the Cup”… isn’t that what they always say? Over the years, we’ve seen some wonderful cup games and some brilliant goals. The Penalty shootout against Hook was a brilliant game and our extra time win against Dynamo Kingston last term was as dramatic as it was nerve-racking. One thing’s for sure, everyone loves a cup game and the potential for a fairy-tale ending. Sadly for Merton Social, that fairy-tale was somewhat Grimm.
Unfortunately in Football, there’s little chance of Karma as the beautiful game tends to reward the ugly. Maradona won the World Cup after his infamous hand of god and Suarez won the Champions League after sinking his teeth into more footballers than Leilani Dowling and Danielle Lloyd combined. That trend certainly continued on Saturday as we witnessed a poor man’s Stephen Hunt score the winner for KGC, when he should have almost certainly seen Red for one of the most shocking attempts at a challenge I’ve seen in all my days of amateur football.
I can see the readers now thinking, “you’re just bitter that you lost, yada yada yada” so please let me dispel and disperse any thoughts that these are the ramblings of a blinkered fool – KGC fully deserved the win and we wish them well in the next round and had Merton sneaked a win late in the second half I’d probably have said the same. Tolu-esque chances were certainly squandered by the visitors who lacked a cutting edge and composure that their position in the league table would suggest. So the result was indeed deserved. It was the manner in which the team toward the opposite end of the table surrendered the game – and the inability of the referee to make a bold decision – that granted the victors the spoils.
It all started so well for Merton – who were able to field one of the strongest sides we’ve had for a long time. Kyle Hart dropped down from the firsts to bolster the Left Wing in the absence of Jon Wilson, who was still recovering from a jarred shoulder. Andy Brown came in for his second start of the season and Daryl West returned to the midfield after missing the county cup defeat two weeks previous. We looked strong.
We also looked hungry and of the two teams on the pitch Merton started the brightest, giving KGC a tough test for most the first half. Our back four were dealing really well with everything KGC they had to offer and because of Merton’s high pressure the visitors were unable to get the ball down and had to resort to Allardyce tactics, which was futile up against the titans of Terry and Joe! Contrasting that, their ginger centre back was really struggling to get the ball under control and smartly, Merton targeted this. much to Daryl’s dismay as we often opted to send the ball left to Kyle - who was putting their CB under constant pressure to give him the chance to panic or slip up – which he duly obliged on a number of occasions.
After missing the last couple of games through sucking off vicars and running double marathons, Sam had started on the bench. It was always the intention to get him on in the first half - but he got action sooner than expected when Gavin Larkin had to make way. Fortunately the ginger Brock Lesner hadn’t pulled his spine again, but as the ball came to Larkin on the attack he was pushed off balance and twisted his ankle as he fell. Gavlar had been very solid, but a change needed to be made meaning Sam had to come on at Right Back, not his usual position but one he relished in what would prove to be a sprinting/heading competition! At that point, the KGC gaffer decided to pull a move straight out of the Harry Redknapp playbook and switched their best player from the right wing to the left to try and catch Sam off guard, but our fitness coach managed to keep him quiet for the rest of the half as Sammy tucked him firmly into his shorts pocket.
Both sets of midfielders were trying to get their foot on the ball but struggling. The KGC skipper dropped into the “Gerrard 2015 role” which is somewhere between the two centre-backs and the keeper to try and get his foot on it. All that did was make KGC go long more often and force Merton up the pitch.
We were starting to have joy high up and a decent pass was flicked on by Fryer, Kyle ran through on goal. His delicate lob over the keeper fell agonisingly over the bar. Many blamed the small goal as a regular sized frame would probably have seen the ball come off the underside and go in, but sadly our child sized goal was unable to help us. Sadly, unable to find a break through, both teams went in at the break 0-0 – with Merton unanimously on top.
The Referee blew for the second half and within seconds a long ball from the KGC defence saw a deep-lying Andy Brown track his runner and make a tackle. Unfortunately, in doing so he’d crocked his ankle too. Larkin stepped back in to the fray and switched with Sam to come into the midfield. Andy had been excellent in the first half and his exit from the game really helped KGC to turn the tide. We were pressing high and KGC took the decision to drop deep and create space in behind for a counter attack as they pushed their wingers onto the shoulder of our defence and kept lumping that long ball over the top into the channels. A good tactic? Potentially. We’ve always been complimentary about how KGC play. Favouring playing the ball to feet more often than in the air. But they adapted to our pressure in the first half by placing their wingers on the last man and lace-ing it in behind the fullbacks.
To be honest, it was working a treat, on almost three identical occasions their winger got in behind and squared the ball across the goal, only for Lee Hughes to nod, sidefoot and then smash the ball wide. The most notable coming from less than a yard out in an Akinbiyi style effort that even to this moment I have no idea how it didn’t go in!
As KGC carried on going long, Merton did too and the midfield were completely bypassed. So Morton made the call to go 4-4-2 and bring on Chris with 35 minutes left on the clock. Chris was his usual sprightly self and started running channels off the back of the last man while will was dropping deep to cover.
The controversial moment came on the half hour mark. As per the trend, it was a hopeful ball over the top that their little Irish midfielder ran on to. He’d been more of a prick than a thorn in our side. Not really contributing to anything positive, but had been causing problems with his height – or lack thereof. You get this from time to time with small players, they’re not going to win anything in the air so it’s easier for them to throw a stray elbow or give you a kick in shins to put you off. Usually referee’s spot this early, and despite it being flagged to the referee and him actually agreeing, no free kicks were given against the lad at all that afternoon. Now it’s irritating, but it’s a part of the game and we accept that. However, when Scott came to collect the ball, and got there a good few seconds before the little Irish lad, he jumped off the ground and lunged in studs firmly showing into the keepers body. It was cowardly, it was pathetic and it was something that I would expect any manager to lambast their player for. No chance of getting the ball, a big chance of causing serious injury to the keeper. Thankfully, Scott was just winded and no damage was really done. But the Merton lads all awaited the red card and prepared to make a change to get back into the game. Amazingly, the ref didn’t give a red. Nor did he give a yellow. In fact, the referee didn’t even give a free kick. He stopped the play and gave a drop ball which was returned to our keeper. Astonishing.
I think the disappointing thing was the reaction from Merton. Only Terry and Morton rushed to Scott’s defence, the rest of the team were silent. In games gone by, when a player gets hit – you rush in there and you get revenge, however I can’t remember a tackle on the lad for the rest of the game. A poor showing from poor Scott’s mates. Equally disappointing was the blatant disregard from KGC for our players safety. Their striker saying “get up mate, there’s not a scratch on you”, their centreback saying “the ball was there to be won” and their skipper calling it a “50-50”. The problem with humans is, the vast majority on the planet are idiots and just repeat the verbal diarrhoea they hear on tv from nonsense pundits and commentators like Townsend, Tyldsley and Savage. It saddens me that I’ve witnessed this on Merton Turf. It really does. I hope you all remember this moment for our away game later in the season…
In a cruel twist of fate, it was that very same criminal that proved to be KGC’s saviour. Another long ball wasn’t dealt and Morton had to sprint back from the opposition half to make a tackle forcing a corner. That corner was cleared as far as our least favourite Irishman since Larry Murphy who was unmarked on the penalty spot. He turned and hit a tame shot from 12 yards straight down the middle through a body of players and sadly Scott had no chance. He then celebrated like he’d won the FA cup, akin to the moment he scored with a flukey cross and celebrated back in September. It was the equivalent of Stephen Hunt scoring the winner for reading after booting Petr Cech in the head.
Our reaction was alright to this and we pushed high up the field to try and find an equaliser but just couldn’t get a shot on target.
Another controversial moment came 5 minutes from the end, when – and this may come as a shock to you – ANOTHER long ball came over into the channel. This time Larkin went shoulder to shoulder with their winger who fell to the floor in dramatic style. Now, there was contact – Larkin definitely had his hands on the bloke, but the way the winger fell was cringeworthy. It was like Suarez vs Stoke. Just threw himself on the floor. A penalty was awarded much to Larkin’s disbelief and he began to protest. Giving a bit of credit to the referee, Larkin should definitely have gone in the book for telling the referee to “F*ck Off” but after not even giving a foul for a bit of ABH earlier in the game, I think the referee had little choice.
Thankfully for Merton, it was KGC’s skipper that wanted to take it. We’d seen his passing all game so knew he was a bit wayward in his control and in what is the worst penalty I’ve seen in my time as a player – their skipper sent it not only wide, but way over the bar and into the trees.
The referee hadn’t really given us anything all game, and when Kyle’s legs gave way under pressure from their fullback in the last minute. The referee told us this would be the last attack. Taylor stepped over the free kick and curled it to the back post where the KGC centre-back got the faintest of headers to clear the ball as far as the penalty spot. Up stepped Joe Cox to smash the ball home low but the referee spotted this and decided to blow the whistle just as joe struck the ball into the bottom corner. The referee just couldn’t be bothered to go to extra time. An absolute joke.
Now, at the final whistle. Everyone on the pitch knew that KGC deserved the victory and we would have been very lucky to go to extra time, but when decisions go against you - especially so many of them, it’s tough to take.
All the best to KGC and their players ahead of the next round. Whilst we’re annoyed at the manner of the defeat, we certainly know they were value for it and hope they can go all the way. We’re a nice club like that.
Man of the Match
The man of the match was definitely The Referee, Brian Clark. He’d played a key part in the goal, the penalty, the non-equaliser and the non-sending off. He’d even gone so far as to give a foul throw against us for what was a perfectly good one. He’d given us nothing for the kicks to the shins or the elbows to the back of the head and penalised Merton for everything bar the one thing we actually should have been cautioned for. However, giving him the MoM award would take away from the good work done by the defence and in particular Terry Denness, who’d spent most of the day trying to organise the back line to deal with the barrage of long balls bypassing the midfield. I felt for the big lad as he’d commanded the area well and had a great first half in particular. Well played mate, you didn’t deserve to be on the losing side!