With gaffer Anstey away the pressure was on for the Soash to do the business against a team that had a 100% record from their first 5 league games of the season. This was a big game and with the 12.20 meet set, everyone decided to arrive in and around the 13.00 mark with stand-in gaffer Danny getting caught in traffic collecting the nets, Kyle sending a location pin that sent Masssey 3 miles from the Kimber Road pitches, and Merton’s no nonsense defender Richard Brough found wandering aimlessly around the Earlsfield environs attempting to follow the ersatz pin, laid by the jovial Geordie. Eventually everyone found the pitches and the Merton boys were in a buoyant mood in the changing rooms as DJ Hart pumped out some specially recorded chilled house tunes for the boot room sessions.
The boys were in good spirits as they warmed up in typical fashion with match balls being pinged over and wide, lashing multiple balls at Nick to warm him up. Kyle then took us through the now classic routine – with the addition of the grapple and sprint fast becoming the lads’ favourite exercise.
Winters gave a stirring team talk, peppered with caveats concerning team selection dictated to him by the absent gaffer Anstey, who had eyes and ears on the game from his Cotswold cottage. At least we were sticking with a formation we were all comfortable with, with the boys referencing the ill-conceived and executed narrow diamond they had been forced to play a few weeks ago. Anyway the line-up:
Aron Broughy Bruiser Kyle
After a quick boot inspection from the referee and a reminder that he should’ve given Jack a penalty a couple of weeks back against AMY the boys were ready.
Despite the lack of team talk and limited warm up the Soash were out of the traps quickly – getting the ball down and playing some quick passing moves through the defence and into midfield. The Albion had previously stuck 5 past us in the cup and there were a few words of caution about their physical presence and effectiveness from long balls and set pieces. They did cause us a couple of scares in the first five despite Merton playing the better football. Their hefty right back looked to launch the ball forward into the mixer at every opportunity for their big men to attack. One of his well-aimed hoofs resulted in a rare piece of miscommunication from Broughy and Wrighty nearly lead to a mix up but thankfully it was cleared. Wrighty also made a fine standing save from a miscued back pass deflecting the ball from the striker’s shot with his chest and smothering.
The chances in the first twenty minutes were limited as Merton’s defence got to grips with the forward balls. With Winters back in midfield there was an added bite to the challenges and the midfielders were battling well and winning more than their fair share of balls in the air, Dom in particular winning a number of powerful headers forward. Merton were playing the better football with everyone focused on the task (making no mention of the holes in Kyle’s boots as the ball slipped from under his ‘cultured’ left foot for a throw-in on no less than 2 occasions, Al eagerly taking notes on the side-line/gantry).
The first chance of the game for Merton came on the 15 minute mark from a Kieran Quinn delivery from the right. He shaped it beautifully to the back post and Dom at full stretch could only glance the header on target. A comfortable save for the keeper. This was followed up by another header on target as Quinn delivered yet another fine ball into the box, this time from a corner. Massey was giving their right back some real problems as he repeatedly breezed past him. The right back just could not deal with Jack’s pace (despite the very late boozy late Friday night Jack admitted to after the game!)
Louis was stretching the defence well and putting himself about but was given a breather on the 30 minute mark replaced by Merton’s very own gangster/doctor. Joseph wasted no time and made a real impact with his runs in behind the Albion defensive line. It was from this injection of pace that created the first real chance of the match, the ball was laid back across the box after a swift counter and on a plate for the on-rushing Parkin, it was a gilt-edge chance, a real gimme for the Merton #8. He met the ball well (too well?!) but alas hit it straight at the keeper.
However, Merton heads were not in hands for long as they looked to make their domination count. Massey managed to control well in the area and hit a half volley from an acute angle but the keeper pulled off an unlikely save and pushed it onto the post. The momentum was with the Soash and they were ready to deliver the peoples’ elbow to the Albion defence. The midfield battle was won with Dom, Danny and Harry first to every ball and generally munching everything in their paths. A quick throw from Hart and a cushioned return, executed with ‘aplomb’ from Dom - a velvet touch from a velvet player - Hart whipped in an undefendable cross with his wand of a left foot and the hapless Albion defender, spellbound, had literally no choice but to sink to his knees and divert a header into his own net (a Collier special!).
At the half time whistle the Albion players were visibly rattled as Merton had absolutely bossed them, with and without the ball. Kyle had even managed to inadvertently elbow their tricky centre forward in the face meaning the Albion were weakened up top. At half time there was some confusion about substitutions, as Danny got a taste of the intense pressure of management that Anstey takes in his stride, but the consensus was to keep it the same as; while the Soash were in the ascendency, it was a tight game. Ever gracious Al agreed, despite being told to warm up he magnanimously allowed Hart to play on.
Merton started the second half well and nicked the ball back from centre and looked to go about adding to their lead. However, the half was marred by a horrific incident that left its mark on the body and mind of the Merton collective. Several refereeing decisions had indicated that the ref may indeed not have been watching the game as Broughy had screeched at him minutes into the half. To add further proof to this, in a cruel twist of fate as Broughy aimed to clear his lines the Albion centre forward came in very late and inflicted on poor Richard a snap of the most vicious kind. Wailing like a banshee Broughy fell to the ground and a panic-stricken Merton feared the worse. The high-pitched wailing subsided and the big man gingerly rose to his feet, after some water was administered, and he somehow managed to play on. Joking aside it was a ridiculous and dangerous tackle and we send Broughy our best wishes for a speedy recovery. The centre-forward who had made his mark on Broughy then made his mark on the game. Taking advantage of the weakened, previously water-tight, defence, he nipped in behind Broughy from a huge goal kick and lofted the ball over Wrighty. Merton, rather than letting their heads drop, used the sense of injustice from the assault on their player and their goal, to fire themselves up. Brave, but clearly injured, Broughy was replaced by Matt, with A-Ron shuffling over to centre back.
Merton went straight back to the business-like way they had played for the whole game and created a number of openings, with Quinno’s deliveries from set plays starting to become a real feature of the Merton attack. Another bow to the collective arrow of Merton’s multi-talented squad. The goal, inevitably came from another delivery from another wand of a left foot (no not Al’s, although he had replaced Kyle at left back on the hour mark). From a corner from the left, Quinn delivered a sumptuous ball to the back post and Parkin leapt like a salmon. Time seemed to slow as Harry hung in the air for several seconds like Michael Jordan in Space Jam, before powerfully meeting the ball with his head, angling the ball down into the ground and over the keeper’s flapping hand, off the underside of the bar and in. Alan Shearer eat your heart out. Parkin had made amends for his previous miss and deserved the goal for continuing to get in and around the penalty area.
In the last 30 minutes Merton saw out the game with some stoic defending and heroic goalkeeping, keeping the Albion at bay. One save from Wrighty in particular deserves a mention as he spectacularly tipped a dipping shot onto the crossbar to keep Soash’s lead intact. One for the cameras. We also had the small case of the was it/wasn’t it third goal. Massey shot tamely from the right hand side and their keeper completely f*cked it (technical term) that saw him lumbering back into the goal like a punch drunk bison. The ball did/didn’t cross the line – with the Merton fans screaming for a goal and decrying the lack of goal line technology at grassroots football.
Further highlights to note was the rediscovery of a V8 engine on the left wing, for the first time since Hart and McLean’s binge eating tour of the USA. Kyle literally turned into Road Runner meep meeping past the right back (capping off a miserable afternoon for the Albion defender) and fizzing two very dangerous crosses low into the box. Alas no Merton players were able to keep up with the pure speed of Merton’s very own Gareth Bale, and failed to meet the inviting deliveries into the box.
The full time whistle sparked scenes of jubilation, with gaffer-for-the-day Winters with his chest puffed, even further than usual! It was a great victory for the Soash. No-one had a bad game. Everyone was ‘on it’ from the start and it took real determination and heart to secure victory against a street-wise if limited opponent, albeit a team that had not dropped a point up until now. Particularly impressive was the way Merton came straight back from the equalising goal. Every player asserted themselves throughout, taking responsibility in the absence of their influential leader. This game is a real marker for Merton and with an impressive 5 wins now chalked up and getting to grips with the league Merton could mix it with the big boys at the top of the table come the season end.
Stat of the match from Dom Hague: 0 offside decisions given
Proverb of the day: in a bet there is a fool and a thief (sorry Matt!).
This is a brilliant result that sounds thoroughly deserved. As the main recipient of blame for the early season capitulation vs MC United (diamond-gate) I am only too happy to reap the collective credit for this result in my absence. Thanks to Danny for taking the reins for the day. He did a miserable job collecting money so please bring double next week if you didn’t pay. Man of the match is still outstanding as well. We are now 5 games unbeaten since Lyne Youth (who are still on their incredible run of about 17 games won in a row), we’re sitting 2nd in the table and face a break from league action on Saturday where we play LM United in the Cup. Dreams of a league and cup double very much on the cards for the Soash. Let’s aim to keep this unbeaten run going till Christmas.