Bogged down. Merton 1's title charge gets stuck in the mud.
Merton Social came into the weekend on the back of 2 wins and a more confident mood was in the air. Bruiser was back from his bottomless brunch, Alex and Kyle had had their house warming shindigs so were hopefully feeling more secure, the biggest problem for Merton in the build up to the game was the fact that Harry and Danny were both carrying knocks from previous week's which made selection of the squad slightly more tricky. Both declared themselves fit late in the week which was a boost ahead of a game against an AMY team who we have struggled against in the past. A couple of poor results for AMY this year though renewed Merton's belief they could get something from the game, possibly all 3 points, a result that would take them above AMY on points and still with 2 games in hand.
Then Alex forgot the balls. He also then got upset because I was annoyed with him. In fairness it was my fault. Thankfully Massey had driven and was at the ground nice and early so looked up a local Sports Direct and got 4 new match balls, something we actually needed anyway. And they weren't Sondico.
We did in the end all arrive at the ground nice and early. Louis was sat outside on a couch when we got there, which I've only just realised now was a pretty surreal vision. Imagine him here.
We got changed, did an extensive warm up, discussed our gameplan, notes the pitch was a complete swamp, gave a couple of team talks and Harry booted one of the balls into the nearby allotments.
Unfortunately Danny's foot was still not right (get an X-Ray) so he was unable to play which meant we started with the following team:
Eddie Aron Broughy Alex
Massey Bruiser Kyle
We kicked off with AMY starting confidently passing the ball around, but thankfully mainly amongst their back 4. Their playmaker in midfield was about 7 foot tall and was usually at the centre of their play going forward which also saw them trying to utilise their two wingers who looked dangerous from th outset. Merton however defended resiliently and didn't offer up any chances in the early stages. When Merton did get the ball we looked to implement our own gameplan which was to get the ball to Anstey's feet as much as possible so he could play the ball to the onrushing Harry, Dom or Bruiser who could in turn release Massey and Kyle in behind. This was working well and Merton's first chance of the game fell to Massey who was absolutely murdering their full back for pace. Anstey was well placed in the middle but Massey opted to take the shot on, the ball fizzing over from about 15 yards out. The pass was on but we've seen Massey score from there before.
The next time Massey did get in behind he put the ball through a tiny gap attempting to find Anstey who agonisingly fell short of reaching the ball on the slide. Think Gascoigne '96.
Kyle was also enjoying considerable freedom down the left and the combination of Alex hitting Anstey's feet, then bruiser releasing him was working really well. The culture of Kyle's left foot is documented in Merton folklore but he was struggling to find the final ball.
The back four were coping admirably in horrible conditions and Merton's shape, organisation and commitment was absolutely superb. On the rare occasion Ethon was tested he dealt with the threat well. The two team's contrasting styles was fascinating for the football purist. Merton's slick passing inhibited by the shabby pitch, while AMY also struggled to punch holes through the Merton defence with some strong running particularly from their wingers.
In the end, the opening goal was rather simple. Merton won a free kick on the halfway line. Aron and Broughy were enjoying the opportunity for a breather which Bruiser and Anstey were muttering to each other about. "You've got to offer yourself there" etc etc. After not receiving any offers from the centre backs and Eddie probably thinking about the offer he has on a nice one-bed in Westferry, Dom pumped the ball long towards the penalty area. Anstey who had preached before the game about playing it to his feet, got up well and nodded down to Massey who finished well first time past the onrushing keeper. 1-0 Merton and probably so far a just reward for their play in the opening 20 minutes.
AMY were showing no signs of capitulating and were resurgent. A good low shot smashing the foot of the post and going wide. They were playing a really high defensive line that was well drilled but precarious, allowing us to exploit our wingers pace.
Soon after and it was so nearly 2-0. The final ball that had so far evaded Kyle materialised beautifully from the left winger and it was perfect. The ball was met by Anstey on the half volley from 10 yards out for what he thought was a certain goal. The goalkeeper though had somehow flung up a right arm and deflected the ball over the bar for a miraculous save.
Half-time and 1-0 Merton. Probably deserved but AMY looked dangerous themselves. Our defence had stood strong and a titanic battle was occurring in midfield. One that no doubt Danny would have loved had he been fit. Bruiser was filling the number 10 role well and had kept their playmaker quiet while imprinting himself offensively on the game well too.
We started the second half strongly with Massey again penetrating AMY’s defences (hope his Mrs doesn’t read the match report). He was bundled over by one man and chopped down by another for a clear penalty. The ref decided this hadn’t happened and waved away the protests. Would most likely have been 2-0 Merton and a big advantage but 5 minutes later and AMY were level in disappointing fashion. A ball to the back post from a free kick and a free header. Frustrating way to concede but Merton hit back instantly.
Kyle threw the ball in from the left and Anstey won a free kick on the edge of the area. Bruiser then curled a delicious effort into the top corner giving the keeper no chance. Stunning. It was great to hit back straight away and what we hoped would build a platform for victory. This was the perfect time to freshen things up with Kiran coming on at right back for Alec, Eddie coming to the left wing and Kyle slotting back in to left back. Solidity was the name of the game for Merton now while trying to trouble them on the break. We were defending like champions and Broughy had a semi after caking himself in mud again. Harry and Dom were battling in midfield and even slung in some naughty challenges to try and break up play. We were playing the 2-1 up gameplan to the absolute letter. However we were undone by a bit of brilliance.
The right winger for AMY who had threatened all day found himself on the edge of the area and fired an unstoppable shot past Ethon at his near post. The cliché is the keeper shouldn’t be beaten here but it really was a hell of a strike. 2-2 and around 20 mins left.
In truth now our hard work all over the pitch was starting to take its toll. AMY were bossing this phase of the game and if one team looked more likely to grab the winner it looked like it would be them. Their tactic now seemed to be to give the right winger the ball at every opportunity with him driving at the defence with purpose. A combination of some last ditch defending and the pitch which now resembled a frat party mud wrestling contest thwarted him though and the efforts AMY did manage to have did not find the target.
Merton still threatened on the odd occasion at the other end. Massey slipped in Louis who didn’t quite read the through ball and Bruiser was on a one-man mission to take on the backline himself. Anstey came on for the last 10 to try and supply an additional presence up front with Louis switching to the left and Eddie coming off after a brilliant 80 minutes in two different positions.
The switch almost produced and should have produced the winner with 5 minutes left. Massey was in behind on the right again and squared the ball perfectly for Anstey, who really really really could not miss. There were zero mitigating factors and no excuses and he should have stuck it in and made it 3-2 but somehow lifted the ball over the bar from 5 yards out. The game finished 2-2. A frustrating end to a great team performance that could have yielded a valuable 3 points.
Summarising the result is difficult. It is hugely disappointing to have dropped 5 points against this team considering they’re not really in the mix at the top end of the table. One theme that seems to be running through the camp is that AMY are a better team than us and that a draw against them is a good result. This is a funny drum to be banging from the point of view of the guy who should have sealed us 3 points but we are a really good side and should believe in ourselves more. I don’t think this performance should be seen as a good point away from home against a good side. I’m tempted to label this our best team performance of the season but I think we have the quality to be beating sides like this. We should however try to take the positives and the fact the 7 different players received Man of the Match votes shows the level that we all played at as a team. Massey won and I think this was well deserved because of his continual desire to get in behind the AMY defence and deserved his goal and should have had another assist. We have a difficult run of fixtures in the build up to Christmas starting with Petersham Pumas next week. Let’s take our level of commitment from this week into next but also try and arrive with the confidence that we have the quality to beat them. We have done so before in the cup and were robbed on another occasion. That was two years ago and we are a much stronger team now. Let’s kick on.