In a momentous first for the Soche, after 3 years, we had our first ever drop out due to a hangover. Having had 16 men available earlier in the week, by Saturday morning this had dwindled to a precarious 12. After a thrilling night out on Friday, with an Insta story to match, Phillip “Fil” Bircham dropped out 90 minutes before kick-off to hang out with his girlfriend. With 11 players, we knew we were up against it, and disadvantaged by not having a linesman. Out of nowhere, a hero appeared. JB had been on the sesh in Cambridge, and rushed straight back to save our backs, miss his niece's birthday, and perform linesman duties.
With a rock hard pitch, it was going to be difficult to play our usual sparkling passing game, and so it proved, with a turgid first half featuring few chances for either team. The first 20 minutes passed without too much incident, a few half chances and defensive scares being eventually cleaned up by our Pulis-style 4 CB’s across the back. Having missed countless shots in the warm up to a chorus of zings, the returning hero Tom Leach was played through by his younger brother, the ball squeezed through three defenders to find him unmarked and one on one. The ball was struck venomously first time, flying through the keepers despairing dive, to the usual unhinged roar from Leach. Unfortunately, a few minutes later, a blatant foul by the enormous opposing centre back was ignored by the ref, leading to a Beckenham break, their winger driving up the right, with a slightly ill-advised charge out by Tommy P leading to a simple pass across the box and a tap in for their right back. The first half continued, with little else of note occurring, apart from a genius free kick routine masterminded by the gaffer and captain which resulted in the ball almost hitting the corner flag and a ticking off from the Reverend Loveday.
Half time came, with the scores level, but our performance leaving something to be desired. With Tk’s angry words ringing in our ears, we resolved to up it in the second half. Having sourced some boots and kit, we also had JB raring to go, his lunatic grin hiding a steely resolve. The ten minutes of half time was not enough for him to manage to put his shinnies on successfully, so the second half began with him running the line semi-naked, to the delight of Daniel’s Mum and a disapproving look from the Lord.
Again, it was a struggle to play the beautiful football that the Soche are capable of, but the intensity and performance levels were much higher in the second half. With pressure being applied higher up the field, a tackle/pass from Daniel found its way to Tom unmarked with just the keeper to beat (probably because he was miles offside). With their linesman loudly insisting that he was on for some reason, he calmly rounded the keeper and slotted in his second to put the Soche back in charge. From then on, the result didn’t look in doubt, with JB coming on and the defence looking resolute, and Beckenham looking like they had run out of ideas.
The Soche had a few more chances, with the wingers swapping sides. Felix embarked on a Robben-esque run, unfortunately without the finish to match, blazing it high and wide. JD picked up the ball in a promising position, ready to thread the ball through, but was stopped by a brilliant challenge from…. Daniel, and Oly picked up his 15th yellow card of the season for a customary wild kick.
With 15 minutes remaining, the Soche had a corner, and from Felix’s delivery, the ball flicked off Tom straight to Oly, who stabbed it in with aplomb. By this point, Beckenham had given up, and not much else happened, with the exception of a wild shot just before full time from Daniel, leading to an argument with Tom and a sulk. In the bad old days, conceding the equaliser would have led to a meltdown, but now Merton don’t give up so easily. 6 wins in a row for the Soche, leading the form table and scoring goals for fun. Will they go up? I’ll let you decide.