I will admit that these were not the most conducive conditions for a decent football match. Hurricane Katrina had resurfaced in the Earlsfield area at around midday, and there was a swirling wind which meant it would be necessary to keep the ball on the floor.
All the Merton boys arrived on time, and we set about putting up the nets and warming up in good spirits.
Bearing in mind the match was scheduled to kick off at 1.30pm, by 1.20pm only 5 opposition players had arrived. St Martins are famed to trying to win games with only 8 or 9 players, but to try and beat us with 5 players was taking the pi55.
We delayed as long as we could and just as we were about to call the game off, a 7th player arrived so we went for it. The ref suggested only doing 30 minutes each, to which Gaffer-for-the-day Taylor stupidly agreed. I mean they had 7 players and we have a full quota, what could possibly go wrong?
Scott was in goal, with CB partnership of Joe and Tel restored after a week’s rest. Taylor took up a familiar position at LB and loanee Kiran was RB. Gary and Alex were tasked with controlling the middle of the park. An attacking 3 of Wilson, Fryer and Elwell were supporting Chris up top. After having missed much of the season with an injury and the little matter of getting married, John Abbey was on the bench, raring to go at any point.
As we kicked off an 8th player arrived for St Martins.
For the first 20 minutes the ball did not bounce in our half once, we pinned them in and although we controlled the game, we had actually helped them as they set up with 4 at the back and 3 in midfield trying to close us down.
Chris had the best chance to open the scoring. Wilson whipped a superb cross into the middle, and Chris got across his defender, but could not get a firm touch on the ball and the chance was gone.
However after Merton squandered a number of opportunities to open the scoring, nerves crept into the game. Our composed and neat passing was replaced with Hollywood long balls, which rarely found their intended target, and we handed possession and momentum to the Crazy 8 of St Martins. At this point John Abbey entered the fray in a defensive midfield position, to wrestle back some possession for Merton, with Webber moving into the #10 and Fryer moving to play striker. This seemed to work, and Merton again had a host of chances which went begging. Fryer, Webber and even John Abbey had chances to make the net bulge, but apparently shooting boots had been left at home this week.
I forget how many times Jon Wilson skinned his marker on the left wing. Both Kiran and Taylor were contributing at the attacking end of the pitch. The last 10 minutes of the first half were full of corners for us, but we did not go for anything with any real conviction, which was frustrating as Elwell's deliveries were glorious. The half time whistle went and immediately Taylor was starting to regret the decision to only play 30 minute halves. Should we have been 9-0 up by now???
The halftime team talk wasn’t too hard. Get back to the neat passing we had used in the first 20 minutes, cut out the highlight reel long balls, and FFS put the ball in the back of the net. Simples! With the wind against us, it was obvious that St Martins would be hooning the ball into the air at every opportunity.
Fryer made way in a straight swap for Chris, to get some fresh legs back on the pitch.
Merton again started with urgency, however, unsurprisingly, we could not find the breakthrough which had eluded us in the first half. St Martins’ only out was a long ball, helped by the wind. That is precisely how the deadlock was broken
After an attacking set piece from Merton, the ball was smashed long into the Merton half.
To spare some blushes, lets just say there was a “defensive mix up”, and the attacker was able to nick the ball and pop it into the net.
To say this was undeserved may be the understatement of the season; however when you don’t deal with the long ball, mistakes can be costly, even against 8 men.
We now had 15mins to get ourselves back in the game, and to be fair we set about this in fine fashion.
Taylor curled in two fine crosses, the first Gary could only head into the side netting, and the second Fryer decided that using his head was way too easy and attempted to shoulder the ball across the line. It didn’t work!
After Wilson spun the full back around so many times that his underwear was inside out, he fired a great ball across the face of goal. Elwell had buried a similar chance just a couple of games earlier, but today his timing let him down, and he volleyed narrowly wide.
Gary Webber is nothing if not a charitable fella.
The ball fell to Kiran on the edge of the box, who jinked inside and unleashed a shot, which was arrowing into the bottom corner of the goal.
Gary felt that the 8 men of St Martins deserved a break, so he selflessly threw himself in front of the ball, much like Superman stopping a moving bullet.
Danger averted and we remained 1-0 down.
Fortunately our best passage of play resulted in our first goal.
Fryer had returned on the right wing. Kiran flew past a couple of defenders, pulled the ball back to Alex who had a nice 1-2 with Gary. The ball was played out to Fryer, who hit a fantastic cross to the back post and Wilson came in and headed the ball into the net.
Jubilation, mixed with utter embarrassment.
By now St Martin has increased their numbers to 9.
However to help their cause we were wasting chance after chance.
Fortunately for us their keeper is an idiot and when he could have picked the ball up in his own box, he decided to smash the ball long. But he sliced his clearance behind himself and Jon Wilson popped the ball into an empty net.
A sigh of relief, so great was let out by all 12 Merton men that it nearly blew a tree over.
I'd like to say blushes spared but I’m not sure I can make that statement.
We shut up shop and saw out the final few minutes with ease.
As we made our way back to the changing rooms for a well earned cold shower, we all agreed to put this one behind us.
Taylor knows that the decision to play two 30 minute halves was a mistake, however this does not change the fact that we could have easily walked away with a 5+ goal difference. Against better teams we will be punished if we miss that many opportunities to score.
There are only 3 positives the Gaffer can take from the game:-
1. We won
2. Believe it or not, it helped our goal difference
3. We get the chance to smash them next weekend!
Man of the Match
Really??? We struggled to beat 8/9 men.
In good conscience I don’t think I can really name a man of the match, and in all seriousness, after that performance, would you really want it?