Second Place Oddity
It’s always sad when you hear of the passing of an Icon and since the last time we beat NPL in December, there have been far too many talented people leave the Earth. Pavel Srnicek, Lemmy and Guru Josh to name just a few and no matter how these people depart, it always comes as a shock to the system. I remember when my youthful hero Paul Walker was taken too soon, older members of the squad such as Scotty Fitzgerald may remember when they heard Winston Churchill had died in 1965. But to hear of Sir David Bowie’s death early on Monday Morning, well… it really was a shame.
While the whole Merton squad were in shock, Andrew Larkin was particularly shaken and took to Twitter to express his sadness at the passing of his childhood hero:
So in honour of the morally and sexually ambiguous singer who once nonced a 13-year old, this match report Sir Dave, is an homage to you…
It had been three weeks since our last game and Merton’s stiffs certainly had The Hunger for another victory over an NPL side that had done little to inspire the next generation of Lionel Messi’s. Their mundane brand of hoof’ball mixed with a large amount of elbowing, kicking and scratching made Bobby Gould’s late ‘80s Wimbledon side look like Pep’s Barcelona.
The Stripes had a few key players missing. Terry was off on part 3 of his world tour. Having missed games through trips to Malaysia, Vietnam and a postponed trip to Brussels, Terry kept up the honoured tradition by crossing the pacific for a spot of Kangaroo boxing down under. We were also without regulars Joe, Nick and Josh, who were missing due to a suspected overdose of mince pies. Chris pulled out late due to "injury", although with his Mrs away for the weekend I’m sure it was a different ‘muscle’ the striker had sprained.
Thankfully, Merton Social's record appearance holder Adam Loveday came in to marshal the defence and there was a welcome reappearance up top for Michael “As Seen on TV” Weightman who returned from his 3 month hiatus reporting on bland league 2 games and dodging dildos during deadline day...
Alliteration aside, Merton had a strong team and were confident of getting all three points and with KGC not in action til the following week, there was a chance that we could be heroes, just for one day and move up to second in the table.
As we arrived at the ground, DJ Sammy smashed out some belting tunes that All The Young Dudes were into in order to get us up for the game. We did the usual warm up, with a few extras thrown in for good measure, most notably Will Fryer’s 2-on-1 training of how to pass the ball to a team mate instead of wasting glorious chances (see previous match report for more details)
The coin was tossed and our skipper took facing down-hill first half as Merton seeked to make any advantage count as early as possible. As the opening whistle blew, Weighty and Fryer exchanged passes in the middle, a hospital ball was gingerly passed back to Morton who had no option but to toe-punt smash it directly toward their keeper – a sign of things to come for the rest of the half…
Despite the shaky start, Merton actually looked really accomplished on the ball and within the first 3 minutes we had the lead. A great exchange between Wilson and Fryer saw the latter on the ball and he delivered a perfect cross to Weightman who leaped like a Salmon ready to nod it into the back of the net. Sadly he missed the ball and the keeper punched it off the arse of his own defender and into our goal. Oggie oggie oggie, Oi Oi Oi!
Merton were starting to grow in confidence and NPL were starting to look really concerned as they struggled to match Merton in the midfield. The visitors concerns grew even more when their centre mid tried to slide in hard on Elwell and ended up crocking himself and having to be subbed 10 minutes into the match. Served him right! Elwell walked away unscathed, content in the knowledge his monthly subscription to Muscleworks Gym was starting to prove worthwhile.
20 minutes into the game and Merton had doubled the advantage and again it was Will Fryer the creator. Fryer made a darting run into the channel, and out of nowhere produced a wonderful piece of skill, Merton’s Jean Genie flicked the ball back to put the fullback on his arse before twisting and turning into the box like he was running through a labyrinth and making the opposition defence look like absolute beginners. In weeks gone by Fryer would usually have used this opportunity to have a dig, but remembering his training from Mr Miyagi, Fryer squared the ball to the edge of the box where Gary Webber arrived to smash the ball low into the bottom corner of the net from 20 yards. A lovely strike and the first ‘proper’ goal Webber has scored for the twos!
Gavin Larkin had been the Starman last time out against NPL and was having a strong game at right back until he went to volley a ball and kicked their left back straight up the arse. Gav’s foot swelled up instantly and sadly his game was over. A straight Larkin-for-Larkin swap had to be made with Taylor heading over to RB and Andy on the left.
Will went to take a little breather with Sam coming on and Mr “Witness the Fitness” Wowk was a breath of fresh air. Given the thankless task, Sam man marked their #8 out of the game, literally, as every time he got the ball Sam was on him like wank on a digestive biscuit at the Harlequins Christmas Do and NPL had to substitute him to avoid further embarrassment.
Elwell and Wilson had been excellent and always an outlet on the wings, however we’d reverted too often to long ball and were bypassing the midfield. Strong words were exchanged at half time as a depressed Merton came off the field. Not for the result which was great, but because Elwell had forgot to bring the oranges. The bloody fool!
We got straight back on for a literal uphill battle, but the performance Merton were putting in, surely the points were ours?
Will and Weighty had been excellent in the first half and had combined often to create a number of chances. The way the day was going, it seemed nothing could stop Weighty from getting his name on the scoresheet and when he was played in wonderfully 1-on-1, this was his moment. Horribly though, their CB had other ideas and as Michael strode into the box and wound up to shoot, he slid in from behind and took none of the ball. The referee had been useless up until now, but made his worst call at this point as he deemed the player got the ball. The NPL man himself even admitting it was a definite penalty, but sadly he just couldn’t keep up with play and his eyesight let him down. Weighty was hobbling and we were 2-0 up with 30 minutes to play with no subs… hopefully he’d be okay to carry on.
Sadly, Will had to boot off 10 minutes into the second half as he took his lovely wife Jen to watch the Lion King at London's Lyceum Theatre for her birthday. Ahhhh, isn’t he lovely. Webber came back on for Will as he quickly got changed and headed for the carpark. For those wondering if Will enjoyed it, he text me the next day what he thought…
Almost instantly as Will and Jen sped off down the A3, Weightman pulled up with his poorly knee and had to go off the pitch. He’d been superb and a constant goal threat, but more worryingly, Merton had to play the last 30 minutes with 10 Men. Time to mount a solid defence!
Merton were holding out well, but with the numerical advantage, NPL were always going to be a threat. Alex Hall made an absolutely superb challenge on the right that the referee blew up for. The official was having a shocker and he felt the wrath of the home side after the freekick gave NPL a lifeline.
As the freekick was whipped in, Scott got up to punch but was impeded and the ball came off the back of his head and into the back of the net. Very unlucky and a goal that shouldn’t have stood, if not for the foul on the keeper then definitely for the fact the freekick shouldn’t have been awarded. The Referee knew he was wrong, but he was a Rebel, Rebel without a clue…!
Morton decided to make a tactical change, switching the wingers and putting Elwell back into a defensive fullback position. And it worked to good avail.
Andy Larkin was having the game of his life, firstly clearing a goalbound shot destined for the net by rising high on the line and nodding it a way. If his first clearance was good, his second was better. There was 3 minutes left on the clock and NPL had committed everyone forward, including their keeper. As Merton defended for their lives, their striker fired a shot at Scott which our keeper did brilliantly to save. As it rebounded to the winger, the NPL man had an empty net to aim at and as he stuck the ball low and hard, Andy Larkin came like the flash out of nowhere to smash the ball off the line, out into touch and clear of danger. As Merton saw out the game, the final whistle blew and everything was Hunky Dory as NPL were defeated and Merton Social were Dancing in the Street.
NPL Reserves added their name to an ever growing list of clubs who Merton have done the double over, taking our points tally to 25 and our wins to 8 from just 12 games. As we sit in second place, the hard work starts here to make sure we get promoted to Kingston’s Championship.
Man of the Match
No-one was particularly vintage as mistakes were made all over the park, however there were a few that stood out from the crowd. Loveday and Alex hall were excellent at the back. They dealt with everything superbly and had we kept 11 men on the field, I’m sure would have registered a clean sheet. Fryer was excellent in his 60 minute appearance and tore their defence to shreds, as he continued to strive forward toward that assist trophy. However, the standout man of the match was Gary Webber. I’ve not seen a more accomplished performance in the near 8 years I’ve played with him. A rock in DM, made key interceptions and scored a cracking goal to boot. Well played mate!