Following on from The Soash’s victorious charge into the semi-final of the Senior Teck Cup with an opposition assisted 6-3 win the week before, Merton returned to the “crucial Christmas period” to hopefully plunder 6 points from the two teams at the foot of the table and tiptoe our way towards the Premier Division summit. With Jose Mourinho apparently losing the dressing room amid reports of player unrest, Anstey was hoping all of the boys would pull together for the collective effort.
With Bruiser, Kyle, Danny Alex and Jox away, the 1s had indeed lost some quality but, as has been a theme this season, we had strength in depth and didn’t expect to miss the lads that were away. Jack Massey returned to the fold to bolster the strike force, Ed Mac, Kiran and Gary all returned from 2s action and a bit of South American flavour was added between the sticks as Guido Scaravill made his first appearance of the season.
We set up with the following:
Matt Kiran Broughy Eddie
Quinno Anst Massey
Subs: Ed Mac Aron Gary
What looked on paper to be another winnable game meant I tried to rotate the squad a bit, this time Aron Barksdale missing out, Kiran replacing him at CB. Ed Mac and Gary had to make do with a slot on the bench despite some strong showings for the twos.
Merton did not play well for most of the first 45 playing into a stiff wind. We seemed second to most balls and couldn’t seem to build any sustained pressure with our normal passing game. When Massey did manage to get down to the byline a couple of times his normal good delivery failed him. When he did manage to put the perfect ball Anstey managed to miss the goal from about a yard out. The pitch wasn’t great and I’d ran really really far to get there. But it should have been 1-0.
Louis was looking the most likely of anyone to force an opening with some of his trademark barnstorming runs but Merton didn’t really look like breaking the deadlock.
Then, disaster struck. The centre mid who in all honesty had run the show for most of the half found himself in some space 30 yards out. He took a pot shot which was a decent effort but a keeper of Guido’s quality would always be expected to save. But Merton’s answer to Carlos Roa was wearing his flip flops and slipped at the crucial moment, allowing the ball to find the top corner.
With Merton struggling at half time we shuffled the pack, with Gary coming on for Anstey, Ed Mac on for Quinno (Matt pushing to the right wing) and Aron coming in to the back four in place of Broughy. Like any Merton player asked to come off this season, Broughy took this news squarely on the chin. Not only did he utter the rallying cry of “What game is he watching?” (a serious question, just making sure the gaffer was watching the right game. There was a thrilling 3-2 going on on the adjacent pitch and a nervy 1-0 going into the last 10 over on the far pitch) he also rushed over to the other side of the pitch to do a stint at lino. This is the type of teamwork the lads needed to see and to further make his point he set about generating as much noise as he could from the other side, where Merton had no representation. At one point he even threw his shinpads on the ground to try and generate some extra noise for the lads. Just like when Diego Costa saw there was a wasp flying round Mourinho's head and was trying to save his gaffer.
Anyway, back to the action and Quinno and Anstey discussed ways we could try to get Merton back into the game and the title race. Dom and Harry had started to impose their footprint onto the game, as Parkside buckled down with 10 men behind the ball.
Then, with Massey bearing down on the keeper he bravely tried to get a toe to the ball but did a triple twist with a pike as he was sent flying and came crashing down to earth. With the enforced change, Anstey decided to throw caution to the wind a went 3-5-2 with Quinno joining Louis up front and Eddie and Matt at wing back. The change in formation, mainly introducing another man in an advanced position almost made immediate dividends and seemed to give Merton much more space and joy down both flanks. Minutes after the change, Eddie hared down the left onto a silky through ball from Dom. Eddie could have taken the shot on himself but tried to square to Quinno who’s first time shot was well saved by the advancing keeper.
After this forward foray, Eddie looked absolutely spent so Broughy retrieved his shinpads and came on at CB, with Anstey coming on as well for Kiran, switching Ed Mac to the left wing back spot. Now we all know about Ed Mac’s engine and it couldn’t have been in evidence more than for our equalising goal. When coupling that with his ice cool temperament (no surprise to anyone who has seen him in front of goal on a Wednesday night) it was a beautiful goal and the biggest one of the season so far. Some neat passing found the ball at Dom’s feet, which is where we always want the ball to be really and he slid another sumptuous ball through for the onrushing Warrior, who calmly slotted the ball past the keeper for a brilliant team and solo goal, if that makes sense.
We decided to keep the pressure on as in truth 1 point was no good for us. We smelled blood and wanted all 3. Enter Matt Poyesden, who received the ball from Webber in a crossing position to the right of the area, Matt however, had other ideas. He gave the keeper the eyes (quite impressive considering how far out he was) and unleashed an unstoppable shot into the near corner. Genius*
*It was definitely an attempted cross.
Merton had got their noses in front and changes to the system needed to be made. Merton reverted to a 4-5-1 with Anstey and Ed Mac filling in at full back, Quinno slotting into a central midfield role and Louis leading the line on his own. Unfortunately Gary was the sacrificial lamb and made way for Eddie to take up a position on the left wing. This was an error, I should probably have left Gary on up top and taken Louis off but I’d just masterminded tactical changes which had worked perfectly to get us back in the game. You can’t get them all right!
Dom was now playing beautifully and was dictating play. Another lofted ball over for Louis had meant that Louis was charging down on the keeper. The kamikaze keeper came flying out and hit Louis full on. What was he thinking? He bounced straight off but had halted the big man’s run enough to allow a defender to clear. A clear penalty and red card but as Louis looked like he hadn’t even noticed, the referee didn’t flinch either and waved away the protests.
Dom actually then had a poor first touch. Seems weird I know but I think he was just bored and wanted to put a challenge in as he won the ball back strongly and played a beautiful ball over the top to Matt who put his head down which apparently makes him run faster and full of confidence from his earlier goal, smashed it in off the far post to seal victory.
Man of the Match was a landslide victory for Dom, the second half was majestic. Merton 1s had lifted themselves up into third, with only Kingston Albion and TFT ahead of them.