The gaffer had drummed it into us all week, that this was a must win game.
The opponents were the Champions elect, currently lying in second with games in hand; they had been by far the best footballing team we had played so far this season.
This week’s theatre of dreams was Wandsworth Common, a venue known for being a slush pit when a little bit of English drizzle touches the grass.
With a few regulars missing (seriously who books a holiday in February??!!), Merton’s squad was very defender heavy.
So with that in mind the gaffer sent out a side which he felt could stifle the opposition, and then carve out a few opportunities to score a goal or two. A now familiar back 5 of Scott in goal, Abbey at RB, Taylor at LB and the BFGs Tel and Joe at CB, lined up behind Morton and Webber in the middle of the park.
Larkin, Moores and Fryer made an attacking three behind Tovey, deployed as the lone striker. The experienced (*cough* Old) heads of Dunning and Crookes were on the bench, ready to steady the ship if needed.
As expected the game started at a high tempo.
KGC like to play with the ball, and a 4-3-3 formation meant they could flood the midfield and still leave players forward as a threat.
From the off, Gary “Pepperami” Webber and Morty were in the thick of things, with tackles and headers being won all over the shop.
With 10 minutes gone, we had hardly set foot inside the opposition’s half, however for all the possession we had frustrated the opposition, and they didn’t really know how to break us down early on.
So they took their foot off the gas, and Merton started to have a few forays into the opposition box, with Tovey our main threat, if he could get onto his favoured left peg.
After 25 minutes there was little doubt that KGC had the lion’s share of the possession, but the Merton defence had held firm.
With the rain pouring down, we knew that a little slice of luck could mean a huge amount.
With their keeper acting like Jonny Big Spuds, Tovey toe-poked the ball away from the keeper’s hands. He strolled towards the goal and slammed the ball into the back of the net. The keeper looked embarrassed, none of their players complained however the ref blew his whistle, and ran the 60 yards from his viewpoint to rule out the goal for a foul. This is the very same ref who claims to really enjoy reffing Merton Social.
There is also the small matter, that there is no way he could have seen Josh nab the ball from the keeper, therefore as league rules state, the advantage should go to the attacking team.
It was a massive decision, and it was the wrong one.
What a surprise!
Knowing that they had got out of jail, the opposition launched a hopeful ball downfield. As Tel went to hammer the ball forward, he slipped in the unsteady mud, and could only flick the ball into the path of the lightning fast winger. With Taylor scrambling over the mud like bambi on a frozen lake, their winger slid the ball under Scott and into the open net.
We couldn’t complain about the opposition scoring with all the possession they had enjoyed, but we could feel pretty aggrieved to be behind, with the effort we had put in.
Fryer was having to drop deeper to get stuck into the midfield battle, which meant that Tovey was cutting a pretty isolated figure at the top end.
We had as many corners as the opposition; however we could not make our height advantage count.
Dunning came on at RW for Chris, who had run himself into the ground. Adam got involved immediately with a few well timed through balls to Tovey.
As the half time whistle was blown, we knew that we were still in the game.
The pitch didn’t really allow for great football to be played, however we had not been smart and had neglected to use the flanks effectively. However effort levels were at an all-time high, and whereas most teams would have buckled under the intensity of the opposition, we had stood firm. The entire back four had battled, won tackles and made interceptions. Morton and Webber in the middle had given us a platform on which we could build, and had it not been for an appalling decision by the ref, Tovey would be hunting down Wilson as top scorer.
The pitch was now cutting up in a horrible way. The middle of the field was heavier and uglier than one of the ladies in Will Fryer’s porntube video favourites.
However this worked in Merton’s favour.
Rather than trying to play our way through a really disciplined team, we started to play longer balls into the channels, which allowed Tovey and Fryer to put some pressure on their defence. Dunning, Morton and Webber were trying to get the ball forward quickly, and Abbey, Taylor and Crookes were able to commit further forward and pull their wingers back.
The main problem for Merton was dealing with the counter attack on a boggy and slippery pitch. KGC committed 4 or 5 players to every counter attack, and with the average age of the Reserves at 33 this week, the younger legs were always favourite.
However after 20 minutes of some fairly ugly football from both teams, it was Merton who came up with the best chance. Dunning fired a ball to the front post, to find Morton sprinting into the box. He cranked his neck and flicked the ball to back post, and it looked as though it would loop into the net. “Clank” was the sound of football on goal post, and on another day the ball would have fallen to Larkin’s left foot and he would have popped the ball in. But lady luck had shown us her knickers and walked away, and the ball bounced past Andy and allowed KGC to clear.
Merton legs were starting to tire.
John Abbey had hobbled off with a pulled muscle in his bum (*insert dirty joke here*).
Crookes had come on and made some crunching tackles at RB, and also linked up well with fellow Afrikaans-accented Dunning, the old duffers turning back the clock.
However every time we got the ball into the opposition half it was coming back, and staying in our half, meaning we were on the back foot and chasing the game.
Joe and Terry both had to make some fine sliding challenges, with Taylor and Crookes doing their utmost to stem the tide down the wings.
Late on in the game, Tovey was fouled on the left hand side of the box. Taylor whipped the freekick to the near post, where the keeper had looked most nervous, but again luck was not with us, as he spilled the ball but was able to cling on for dear life at the second attempt.
To add insult to injury, as Merton’s final attack was hacked away down the field, a scuffed Merton clearance allowed 3 KGC players to sprint forward. The initial shot was superbly saved by Scott, but he couldn’t get his hands on the loose ball and tried to hoof the ball clear. In doing so the only player he could find was the opposition winger, who played the ball to the back post for the newly-introduced forward to smash the ball into the roof of the net.
This was virtually the last kick of the game, and put the nail in the coffin for Merton’s hopes of salvaging a point.
So a must win game had not been won, but we had made a real fist of it, and the opposition had not won the game until almost the very last kick.
After the game, the opposition manager sent a message to Taylor to let us know that it was the hardest game KGC had played all season, and also asked us to join KGC for a post-match pint. We would have joined them, had we not made our merry way to the Plough, mainly so that Larkin could be assured of free Wifi (even though he tried to leave his iPad in the pub!).
Man of the Match
With no Elwell to take the award this week from the sideline, MoM this week is Josh Tovey. together with Will, he ran his little knackers off the entire match. He was vitally unlucky not to open the scoring and led the way in work rate. Didnt deserve to be on the losing side. Well played.