The match against HSBC 4s was classed as a home game, but the very identity regarding such a phrase was rather dubious. Initially the fixture was due to take place at the Hood – a venue the Merton 4s could barely remember. It then changed to Wimbledon Common Extensions, a site where the lads had shipped 17 goals in just two games.
So when it was finally moved to King George’s, it was with some surprise that a half-decent pitch greeted the men in Yellow. Although the pitch last week wasn’t an excuse for what was still a poor performance, the key would be to put that one behind us, and get back on track against a side that didn’t look too flash, and were also struggling in the lower reaches of the table.
Game on, and despite having much of the wind against them, Merton began on the front foot. Still 4-5-1, the midfield looked superior, with Joe, Dan Gridley and Mikey working hard. Neal Davidson and Dulanie on either wing were finding themselves in acres of space, and were creating all sorts of problems for the HSBC defence, and goalkeeper.
It seemed only a matter of time before the goal came, and so it was. Except it came at the other end. The visitors launched a nothing long ball, but Mike miscued his header. However, the finish that followed was a thumping, first-time volley with the left foot from 25 yards, which left Sam no chance. Sometimes you just need to tip your cap to the oppo. 1-0.
However, no excuses for the second goal. This time Mike misjudged yet another long ball, which sailed over his head, allowing the opposing striker to get in behind. His touch was good, and his finish in a one-on-one with Sam was even better. 2-0 midway through the half. Scarcely believable given Merton’s domination of the play. Was it just going to be one of those days?
The Yellows kept their heads up though, and put their noses to the grindstone. And they continued to pose a significant goal threat. Other than one break away chance for HSBC, it was all Merton. Set pieces, long balls and even some good interplay in the opponents half seemed to produce the same agonising result time and again. The ball would bob around the face of goal, but no one could get a toe, head or anything onto it and the visitors would somehow hack it clear.
The whistle went, and a beleaguered home side trudged off for the break wondering how on earth they were losing this game. But they were determined. They’d come back from a deficit like this before against Old Wilsonians earlier in the season, and on this occasion they could definitively claim to be the better side. It just took one goal, and they knew everything would change.
So when play resumed, Merton went for it. And it was good football too. They used the width, they bossed the midfield, and they carved out an inordinate amount of half; even three-quarter chances. But time and again, without relent, the ball just would not fall for them on the countless occasions that it bobbed around in the HSBC box. And when it did, the defenders or goalkeeper would get in the way of it – more by accident than design.
They came even closer when, after a weak HSBC clearance, Scholesy latched onto a loose ball just outside the 18-yard area. With his allegedly weaker right foot, he unleashed a rocketing curler that had the keeper beaten all ends up, and looked destined to nestle into the right-hand corner. Excruciatingly though, the ball snuck past; mere centimetres wide of the post.
But if that was frustrating, what followed was truly galling. On a rare occasion that the visitors found themselves in the Merton half, they won a free kick in a dangerous position. The marking was pretty shoddy, and an HSBC head got on the end of the delivery. The looping header bounced and bounced and bounced, and somehow snuck in off the post. 3-0. Smash and grab. Heart-breaking, and completely at odds with how the game had actually gone.
A broken Merton side could have easily given up the ghost. But, with 15 minutes to go, they threw caution to the wind. The chances kept streaming in, and, FINALLY, one of them ended in a goal. The ball bobbled around agonisingly from a Dan Gridley free kick that rebounded off the post, and even though the HSBC defending was appalling, it threatened to escape the clutches of a Yellow player YET again. However, after a goalmouth scramble, the ball fell to Dom, who smashed it home. 3-1. 10 to go.
And a few minutes later, Merton had their second. In similar fashion to the scrappy opener, the hosts this time won a corner. And once again, the ball hopped around the penalty spot after a fine delivery from Mikey, not falling for anyone in particular. Eventually it came to Dom again, in an almost identical position to the one he was in just before, and managed to sneak the ball over the line.
Merton hurried back to the halfway line while the visitors were claiming that the ball hadn’t crossed the line. It was a tight call by the referee and HSBC were right to appeal, trying their utmost to protest by virtue of demonstrating where the divot from the clearance was. Nevertheless, the decision stood. 3-2 with three minutes to go.
It was a Yellow siege for the closing exchanges, but this time, the lads were unable to carve out any chances of significance as they camped in the HSBC half. The final whistle then closed the curtain on what had been a desperately disappointing afternoon. This really was three points that got away, against a side that were there for the taking, and had pulled off a swindle on Merton.
But it is the scoreboard that counts. Two games left to make it right – one of them, as it turns out, against the same opposition. A good opportunity to exact revenge, and, more importantly, some much-need points.
FINAL SCORE: Merton 4s 2 – 3 HSBC 4s SCORERS: Dom Plumridge (2) MOTM: Dom Plumridge
STARTING LINE-UP: Samuel Singer-Ripley (GK), Billy Dowie, Mike Todt, Chris Outred (Capt.), Edward Plaistow, Neal Davison (Ryan Burchell), Joe Plumridge (Sevan Mutafyan), Mike Elgar, Danny Gridley, Dulanie Richards, Dom Plumridge.