Unusually for one of the year's flagship fixtures, the KDFL had not given into the TV big bucks and to the fans' relief Merton's home fixture against Colliers Wood United (formerly Esher) remained in the traditional Saturday afternoon slot.
In the last two seasons, these fixtures have seen the victors go on to win the title, so despite both teams occupying mid table, we expected a tough examination.
Trouble had hit Merton's squad late in the week when Captain Winters pulled out through injury. Luckily, thanks to Merton's extra reserves, we were able to call on Jack Massey, who despite not making the original squad cancelled his golf and brunch plans (genuinely) in order to play. Not only that and despite coming from St Albans, Massey was still the first player to arrive, by some distance, at Fishponds and quickly set about compiling a pitch report. "Shit" would probably just about cover it.
Unfortunately we have reached the "monsoon" months of the year. No, not the season where Quinno refreshes his wardrobe, but where a mere mm of rain causes Fishponds to be unplayable. Good for the fish I'm sure, but it was the ponds collecting in one half of the pitch which were causing the problem. Both teams had reached a similar conclusion, that the pitch was terrible but we'd both come all the way for a game of football and wanted to play. What this situation was crying out for was a man of integrity, a decision maker, a man of incontrovertible authority, a man of unimpeachable seniority,
Enter the referee. I would put his name in here, but fear the following match report may be used as evidence by his libel lawyers at a future date. Can you defame someone if you don't refer to them directly. Who did a law degree? Bruiser, what you reckon? Oh it's your Mrs' mates' uncles' neighbours' plumbers' birthday? No worries I'm sure it'll be fine. I'll refer to him as Mr Ref.
Anyway Mr Ref deemed the pitch unplayable. To try and change his mind, Gary and the Esher boys grabbed a brush and tried to spread the water across the surface to make the pitch at least look a bit more playable. The ref was still umming and aahing, but the CW team was already undermining him by getting fully changed and warming up on the pitch. We decided that we'd better do the same and went and got changed and did a quick warm up. Kyle also got his cock out in front of the ref which made him laugh. I don't think Mr Ref ever actually made a decision but that wasn't going to stop the two teams and we lined up anyway. Eventually he relented and the game went ahead.
We lined up with:
Eddie Aron Broughy Alex
Boozing on touchline:
Merton kicked off and were immediately in the ascendancy for once. Dom and Harry were easily outplaying the the opposition's midfield 3, allowing Kyle and Quinno to push on and support Anstey and Massey. A lot of joy was coming from playing the ball into Emile Anstey who would lay the ball off to the on rushing Harry or Dom who would in turn release Massey in behind the defence. A simple but effective game plan, especially as the CW defence didn't seem particularly bothered about following Anstey as he dropped deep, giving him all the time in the world to pick a pass. Massey, supposedly not fit was absolutely gassing their defence every time and Massey getting in behind led to Merton's first chance. In behind the full back, he played the ball across goal towards Anstey and Harry bombing on from midfield. The ball fell to the latter who smashed the ball first time and just over the bar. Good signs for Keith Hipwood's Red and Black army. Merton then repeated the exact same trick, Massey being released down the flank before cutting the ball back to Harry, who having adjusted his aim, positioned the ball in his cross hairs and rifled the ball home. 1-0 and a deserved lead.
At this point, I’d like to stop talking about Massey but he was at the centre of everything Merton did going forward. Anstey and Quinn could have done better with final passes in behind but when they did get it right Massey easily outstripped the defence. One one occasion, he got through on the keeper and lobbed him brilliantly, only for the ball to land on top of the bar. On another, he tore past the right back with Anstey completely unmarked in the middle ready for a tap in but the defender scythed Massey down. Mr Ref blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. Cue uproar.
Merton, as they should have done, stayed out of the fray and waited for it all calm down, Quinno readying himself to take the spot kick. However, all ten players in blue plus the keeper had surrounded Mr Ref and screamed in his face that it wasn’t a foul. At this point the referee approached Massey and asked him if it was a penalty. Massey replied that it didn’t matter whether he thought it was a penalty as that’s what he had given (for future reference Massey just f*cking nod your head and say yes). Mr Ref then, unbelievably, pointed for a goal kick. I have never seen anything like it. We protested respectfully rather than screaming in his face but it was falling on deaf ears. He eventually changed his mind again and gave us a corner, clearly trying to placate us but the damage had been done. Anstey headed narrowly over from the corner but the sense of injustice was hard to shake for the next few minutes.
At the back, Broughy and Aron looked like pigs in shit as they flung themselves around in the mud. Broughy earning a 8.2 with a triple twist and a pike into the biggest puddle. These heroics meant that Ethon went relatively untroubled until half time. There was one more notable moment where Anstey won his first one on one sprint for about 10 years, beating the CW centre half to the ball and going through on goal. Mitigating factors being he was about 35, massive and he actually recovered to block Anstey’s shot.
Half time, 1-0 and Merton yet again were making things harder than they needed to be but we had identified the opposition’s weakness and the plan was to try and get Massey in behind as much as possible. Louis replaced Anstey to supply another threat up top, Kiran replaced Eddie at right back and Gary came on to play number 10, with Massey going to the wing and Kyle switching to left back with Alex having a breather. I do love a tinker.
The gameplan bore fruit almost straight away. Quinno cut in from the right and shot/crossed to the back post where Massey had peeled off. It was a near- impossible angle but he managed to cushion a volley back across goal and into the far corner. It looked from the touchline like a brilliant finish from a tight angle but after the game he revealed that it had rather fortuitously gone through defender’s and then the keeper’s legs. Still a top goal and finally the breathing space that Merton needed to go and play their own confident game. Dom Hague was ascerting himself more and more and constantly probed the back line. Louis was at his bullish best too.
Slightly frustratingly this also led to CW’s strongest period of the game. I think Merton’s full backs were sensing a chance of getting amongst the goals and had started bombing on themselves which was leaving us slightly exposed at the back. Ethon was also clearly bored by a lack of action so was playing a game with himself where he’d wait until the last possible moment to clear the ball, which led to him being charged down by the strikers two or three times. Fair play to the lad it can’t be enjoyable playing behind such great defenders. Having said that Ethon, put your foot through it nice and early yer?
Despite successfully overturning a penalty via the KDFL’s new Decision Review System, Colliers Wood were becoming increasingly irate at Mr Ref. Having successfully bullied him into that decision in the first half they set about arguing with every single decision that Merton received. Mr Ref finally tried to grab some sort of control and started dishing out the yellow cards. The keeper, who had been one of the main antagonists in the penalty decision, was screaming at the ref at every juncture which led to one yellow, before quickly becoming two yellows and a sending off. The skipper had to don the gloves but Mr Ref infuriated the opposition touchline even more by blowing the whistle to restart the game even before he’d got the gloves on. This led to the CW gaffer to be sent off, so he came round to our touchline and chatted to Danny for the rest of the game, probably about anger management recommendations, but possibly about his early bath, which hopefully Danny hadn’t got to first.
Massey had finally run himself into the ground and needed a breather, so Eddie replaced him on the wing. Shortly afterwards Quinno had also had enough so Anstey came back on to play in behind Louis to try and see out the game with Gary going out to the right wing. Gary pushed out to the right wing and also switched over to the right wing.
Anstey was in acres of space for the rest of the game as there was a huge gap between midfield and defence. Merton really should have gone on to score five or six. Anstey played Louis through but he was thwarted by the pitch which by now was as bad as I can remember it and unfortunately it was in Merton’s attacking half. Dom played a one two with Anstey that he did manage to get out of his feet and shot just over the bar.
Eddie was also looking dangerous and was played in behind by Anstey. He then squared brilliantly to Louis whose shot was blocked. A hapless defender then came back and hammered the ball against a post and in. Eddie led a campaign after the game to award the goal to Louis, clearly looking for the assist himself but it was an OG all day long.
Albert had finished his fourth beer on the touchline and had started kicking off on the oppo gaffer so Gary went off with 5 minutes to go to try and calm him down, Alex replacing him.
3-0 Merton and that’s how it stayed. Broughy nearly ended The Curse of 10 years without a goal but he headed wide completely unmarked at the back stick. After the game Albert got the lads a beer in down the pub, what a legend.
Man of the Match was closer than it has been recently, Massey receiving a sizeable chunk of the votes for his runs in behind but Mr Dependable Dom Hague ran the show and clinched another MOM. We’re starting to pick up a head of steam now, although the standard of our recent opposition has not been great so we need to start again next week with our biggest game of the season so far against AMY FC who we’ve had a mixed set of results against in the past and also beat us 3-0 this season. Let’s all be bang on it this Saturday.