It was the last league game of the season and Merton knew that a win could potentially secure a 2nd placed league finish in our first ever season in the Premier Division. To add a bit more spice to the fixture, it was also against the same opposition we will face in Thursday's cup final so this was a good opportunity to lay a marker down.
We were surprisingly down to the bare bones with the squad this week though with Anstey, Louis, Dom, Massey, Bruiser and Moulsey all ruled out earlier in the week meaning late call ups to the squad for Jack Matterson and Nick Ball. Eddie was meant to be sorting the team out in Anstey's absence but was already showing early ineptitude when he sent a teamsheet out without a meet time, kick off time and trying to send everybody to the wrong train station. He also arrived incredibly hungover struggling to walk and had to be brought to the game by Al who did an excellent job finding the ground on time.
Quinno was running late having just arrived back from Chicago meaning that we lined up 4-4-2.
Eddie Aron Brough Al
Matt Danny Harry Kyle
The team talk was fairly simple- let's enjoy ourselves as it was the last game of the season but also try and set a marker for Thursday's cup final. Fairly unusually for Merton we actually started really well and scored within about 45 seconds with our first attack. Al played the ball to Kyle who put a fantastic ball into the box and Matt popped in at the back post to tap home. 1-0.
In fairness Petersham did respond and looked dangerous down the right hand side, they also had a very tricky striker who was causing a lot of trouble and Danny and Harry did have their work cut out in the middle of the park without the usual shepherding of Dom alongside them in a 3. But there definitely looked like there were goals in the game for Merton and Jox and Jack were looking dangerous up top.
And with about 15 minutes gone Merton were 2-0 up. Eddie played the ball to Jack down the right hand side who played the ball into the box. As the keeper came out to collect, a Petersham player headed it away but straight to Harry who expertly finished first time from an angle into the empty net. Petersham did look dangerous from a few set pieces, they won a free kick when Aron fouled the dangerous striker on the edge of the box. When Aron tried to claim the striker went down easily, he responded with 'stay on your feet you cnut'. Luckily the free kick was narrowly over the bar.
I had to give a special mention to the referee who really excelled himself in this game. His first dodgy decision came when Eddie clearly played the ball off a Petersham player for a clear goal kick only for the ref to give a corner. As Harry and Brough tried to argue, Harry went a bit too far and got a warning not to swear at him. Eddie also tried to claim it was clearly a goal kick as the Petersham linesman had given it not realising it was in fact Nick Ball. 2 minutes later and Harry claimed for a foul after getting hit late when challenging for a header. Harry's response of 'still a fucking foul ref' led to an inevitable yellow card. The ref then decided to give Petersham a free kick on the edge of the box nowhere near where the action had been.
About 25 minutes into the game, Eddie came off to be replaced by Quinno with Matt dropping to right back. Quinno got right into the action genuinely gassing past their left back down the touchline on two separate occasions.
However, with about 30minutes gone, Petersham got themselves back in the game which they probably deserved. A good free kick into the box was headed past Ethon who had no chance with it to make it 2-1. Merton responded well though and were 3-1 up a couple of minutes later. Quinno charged down the Petersham player and the ball fell to Matt who put a fantastic whipped cross straight onto Harry's head who made no mistake powering it into the top corner. Nick Ball came on for Kyle with Jox moving to the left wing and us going back to a 4-5-1 to try and stop some of the dangerous Petersham attacks coming through the middle.
Half time and we were 3-1 up. We had looked good going forwards but we felt we hadn't really started playing yet and there was definitely more goals in the game for us. About 5 minutes into the second half and we were 4-1 up. Jack drove at the Petersham defence and squared to Jox just in the area. Jox curled a shot first time which went just to the left of the centre of the goal but the keeper was badly out of position and it nestled in the goal. Apparently the keeper claimed afterwards that Jox had given him 'the eyes'.
At this point of the game we hadn't played exceptionally but were definitely the better team and deserved to be winning even if 4-1 probably did flatter us. However, Merton seemed to think they had already won the game and simply stopped playing. We were flat and the work rate just wasn't there. 55 minutes on the clock and Petersham pulled one back. A cross from the right wing found a striker completely unmarked 6 yards out in the centre of the goal. Ethon made a good save but unfortunately the rebound came straight back to him and he slotted into the open goal.
5 minutes or so later and it was 4-3. A cross came into the box and Aron was clearly fouled by the Petersham winger who was all over him and pulling his shirt. He headed it into the goal but the ref decided not to give any foul and it counted. Kyle came back on at left wing for Jack with Jox going back up top and Eddie came on at left back for Al.
The game was getting a bit more physical- Eddie got a couple of snaps on him as per usual and Quinno also was on the wrong end of a headlock/chokeslam tackle which the ref took a few seconds to give. Broughy also had a couple of 'referee' squeals too for a few soft free kicks against him.
With about 75 minutes on the clock, Petersham were handed a route back into the game. A long ball over the top saw the Petersham striker about 5 yards fully offside. Our semi-pro linesman Al Gooding was for some reason not paying attention though and kept his flag down. As the defence claimed for the offside Aron tried to make a last ditch tackle and brought the player down cynically for a clear penalty which was easily dispatched to make it 4-4. Jack came back on up top for Matt with Eddie going right back, Kyle left back and Jox back on the wing.
Merton were still not playing well and were giving the ball away far too often. Eddie and Kyle were trying to offer some options from full back but we were really struggling to get the ball down and play our game. Danny was getting particularly irate shouting at Nick Ball for his lack of running in the middle alongside him. Merton responded by taking Nick off, bringing Matt back on at right wing and bringing Quinn into the middle. Within 30 seconds this made the difference. Matt brought a ball down with an excellent touch, got his head up and picked a perfect pass for Jack who got past the Petersham defender. His finish was spot on, lobbing the keeper to get the goal his work rate deserved. 5-4 to the Soash which is how it stayed.
At the end of the game we all knew we had been very lucky to win as our second half performance was very poor. But we have beaten Petersham Pumas whilst playing badly without a host of our regular players so we have to go into the cup final with confidence on Thursday. Harry Parkin got almost all of the votes for MOTM with Brough and Aron both getting a vote too. I think it is probably the best game I've seen Harry play for Merton- he was excellent all game whilst others were struggling, good in possession, excellent in the air and took both his goals really well. A big performance before the cup final!
Highlights after the game include being given some free food in the clubhouse- a selection of hot dogs with onions or mac and cheese which delighted the MOTM in particular. Danny, Eddie, Jox and Matt all went for a few drinks in Clapham Common. Danny explained how his dad is his role model in football as he had to retire because he got too many red cards and once through a referee over a hedge when he disagreed with a decision.
All in all, we got a result and looks like we have finished second in the league so well played lads. Great season and hopefully we will finish it with some silverware on Thursday! COYM!!!
Thanks to Eddie for taking the reins this week, sounds like the little trooper did his best with a hangover. Sounds like even more subs than I normally make! Man of the match by a landslide was Harry - well played mate. Last little moan of the season though, can we make sure that we bring cash to games, especially when i'm not there. It creates extra work for me or whoever else is in charge to chase up and make sure everyone has paid. Please make sure you give Eddie a tenner if you forgot on Saturday. Thanks Jox for taking the kits, we're in yellow for the final so please make sure they're all there and clean! Roll on Thursday!