As v Oxted
What a beautiful morning.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing and although we had to get to the arse end of Surrey for 3pm, nobody cared because we had a full squad of 14.
That was of course until we arrived at the opposition's ground.
During the drive between West and Far East Surrey, Tom Pye had managed to board a stationary bus with no driver, but didn't think anything of it until the bus hadn't moved for over an hour and he was now late for kickoff.
This was soon followed by the news that the Gaffer had pulled out due to a mild case of jet lag #whatapoof.
So as Alex and Ian frantically tried to come up with formations which would give us a platform in the game, it was the assistant Gaffer who decided on the back 5 of AVS in goal, Elwell and Larkin occupying the full back slots and the reuniting of Abbey and Hall at CB. The midfield 3 of Saiful, Chris and Fist were flanked by Ian and Ollie, and Jacob returned to the As as the lone front man. This left the versatile option of Luke to come off the bench.
Buoyed by the news that we were playing on the football pitch with nets and not on the hill with the dogsh1t like last season, we knew that this could help Merton's pass-and-move football. A brief downpour 2 minutes before kickoff added to the slickness of the pitch.
As the ref let battle commence it was a very even game in the early stages.
Merton competed well in the middle of the park and were winning the aerial battles, although were slow to get to the second balls, allowing Oxted to clear their lines with ease too often.
It was clear that Oxted wanted to play on the counter attack, which allowed them to use their speed and meant that their lack of physicality did not hinder them.
In the first 20 minutes Merton had the better build up play with Taylor winning flick ons down the left flank allowing Saiful and Jacob to attack their ageing defenders, and force them into errors.
Oxted, however, created the first real opening from a corner which sailed to the back post and two unmarked players got in each other's way and the Merton were let off the hook.
Merton attacked down their left flank with Saiful, Ian and Jacob combining well, however as Oxted managed to toe punt a vital clearance down the inside right channel, defence immediately became attack as Merton were slow to react. The ball was pulled back from their wide right position to the middle of the area for a midfield runner who had not been tracked, who squared the ball to the back stick for an easy tap in.
Merton could feel aggrieved at going behind as we had matched them in most areas, but had not heeded the warning at Oxted's ability to count attack.
The next good chance to score also came to the home team, who yet again hit a set piece to the back stick to unmarked players, narrowly missing the target.
However Merton started to get a real foothold in the game. Elwell and Ollie were working really well down the right wing, firstly to snuff out the opposition attacks but then getting the ball moving forward, with Ollie able to get the best of the left back on numerous occasions.
Merton’s first shot on target came from a cross into the box being met well by Saiful, but he could not direct the header into the corner and the keeper gathered the ball.
The keeper clearly took exception to this, and as Saiful tried to beat the offside trap, the keeper decided to sprint out and nearly take our man’s head clean off his shoulders. The ref did not even give the keeper a talking to, and instead decided to give Chris a bollocking for back-chat.
With Merton now firmly in the game, the ball was played out left to Jacob, who was causing Oxted's old centre backs real problems. Jacob jinked passed two defenders with ease, and played the ball to Ian, just inside the box.
The winger opened his body and curled the ball past the outstretched keeper and into the back of the net.
A deserved team goal for some excellent battling and good attacking football.
For the next 5 minutes it was all about Merton. Abbey, Alex and Elwell all put in crunching tackles to let the oppo know that we meant business.
The ref blew the whistle for halftime, and in hindsight it could not have come at a worse time for Merton. The message from the Gaffer was simple, plug the gap down their inside right which had been their main source of attack, track the midfield runners, and score more goals. The team ignored that message, because within 5 minutes of the restart Merton found themselves 3-1 down.
Both goals were carbon copies of each other:
- Merton attack
- Long clearance, not dealt with
- Cross to the back post
- Easy tap in
An absolute sucker punch, however things only got worse.
Saiful, arguably Merton's best player in the first half, hobbled off the pitch in distress with a thigh injury.
Luke then overstretched for the ball and felt a pull in his groin, however with Saiful already off and no fresh subs, he remained on the pitch.
Have a guess.
Yep you got it, we attacked, they cleared, defence into attack blah blah blah.
The score line was no doubt flattering to the opposition who had struggled to keep Merton to a solitary goal, but Merton had not learned from prior mistakes, and made it too easy to pull away.
Elwell belted a corner hard and low, and although Luke didn't get a great first contact, he managed to fall backwards and flick the ball over the keepers arm from a yard out.
The next goal would be vital.
Sadly for Merton momentum was halted again by injuries.
Firstly Chris pulled up and had to swap with AVS meaning the latter made his first outfield performance of the season.
Then Ian felt a "pop" in his groin and could hardly walk for the remaining 15 minutes of the game, meaning Larkin had to do the running for two people.
These injuries allowed Oxted to camp out in the Merton half, putting us under constant pressure. Elwell, Fist and Abbey were able to keep the opposition at bay with some well-timed interceptions.
Ollie then took it upon himself to wrench Merton back into the game. He combined really well with Jacob, to carve out some really good opportunities for Merton. The best of which came from a fantastic through ball right into the path of Ollie, who sent the ball over the head of the onrushing keeper.
According to Ollie the goal was not strictly regulation, and there was a very slight bend right in the middle of bar. This would account for the ball striking the crossbar and bouncing out, rather than nestling gently into the onion bag....gutting.
The referee also found time to have an argument with Saiful, who was doing a fairly woeful impression of a linesman, don't worry we'll explain the offside rule to him soon.
With half the team hobbling, cracks and gaps were appearing all over the pitch.
One long ball fell into the path of the quick forward and as Alex tried to clear the ball, he collided with the little man, and the ref had no hesitation in awarding a penalty.
The final whistle blew moments later, and it was difficult to decide what hurt more, our pride or the multiple injuries.
To be equal, if not better than the opposition in many areas, yet be on the wrong end of a pretty emphatic score line is disappointing.
We didn't learn from the mistakes we made, which allowed the home team to score some very soft goals.
Man of the Match
Jacob had a superb game from start to finish, and Saiful was excellent until injury ended his day.
But the voting was pretty unanimous, Ollie's display throughout 90 minutes was awesome and he was incredibly unlucky not to be rewarded with his first goal for the club.