Merton 3s v Old Salesians: 1-3
Fresh from a scintillating performance and 5 goals in the previous game, confidence was high that The Boars could record a second win in a row against local rivals Old Salesians. There were two debutants in the squad, Scott McGowan (or Fraser, according to Iain) and Jake Davies (fresh from impressing in last week’s interclub game, by nutmegging Woody 3 times). Additionally, Mustard and Ryan returned after their temporary promotions to the twos and Adam Lynch made his awaited return from injury (so fit, that he was playing his second game in less than 24 hours).
The pre-match playlist of “Bands you wish you could be in”, garnered some classics from greats such as The Prodigy, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Bon Jovi to some absolute shockers from Busted, *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. We live in a country where demoncracy and diversity is rightly celebrated but the downside is that can result in selections that could make your ears bleed. Maybe this is why some opt for lateness, they increase the likelihood of avoiding Iain’s phenomenally bad taste in music….
A 4-4-2 line up saw a new CB pairing of Adam and Scott, replacing the stricken Lofty and Stoner, with Mustard and Ryan replacing Nathan and Glenn. The rest of the team from the previous victorious game deservedly retaining their places. The 5s (adopting the “first come, first served principle” – due to their early kick off) had laid claim to The Boars traditional pitch, which left them having to play on the, affectionately titled, “sh1t pitch”. A bit of cross wind and low sun were present and this would play its part (more on that later). Credit to the ref, for doubling the attendance figures by bringing his girlfriend. She was a welcome addition to Aaron’s dad (whom of course, is always welcome too, in fact, actively encouraged), to put the official attendance at 2. If this carries on, planning permission at The Hood, may be required to build a stand.
A really promising start was made by The Boars, with a dominating first 15 minutes. The ball was retained well with short passing and play that stretched the opposition and good defending from the front by Aaron and Fitz, in terms of hold up play and harassing the defence. Merton’s defence looked assured, with Adam and Scott quickly showing real promise as a pairing, both strong, good in the air and on the ball. Whilst there was a lot of good play, there wasn’t a great deal of goal-mouth action and neither keeper was particularly tested. Salesians’ first real attack resulted in a goal, with a breakaway down the right resulting in a cross being lofted in – the wind gave it a bit more distance which resulted in the ball finding the back post without a Merton player being able to win a header, with the unfortunate Mustard also blinded by the sun (a song by The Seahorses, I believe), which left their forward to head past a despairing Phil Mitchell in goal.
A slip immediately from kick off nearly let Salesians in for a second but Iain made a great save. After this wobble, Merton started to return to the play that they’d started the game with and improved their performance, again without particularly threatening the goal. One moment of particular note to Mike Stone on the sidelines, was an incredible lung busting 90 yard run from Mustard (clocked at 27.9 km/h), which involved a one two with Aaron and the deftest of touches to put it past the defender and run around the other side of him. The cross was ultimately cleared but the run very much excited Mike Stone, so much so that in the bar he was talking about “mould your own” again – a favoured conversation between Mike Stone and Mustard. Adam also made a great last-ditch tackle to put off their striker when through one on one.
At half time, the team-talk focused on what we could do to improve but recognising that we’d had good spells. It had the desired effect as within 10 seconds, Merton were level. Full credit to Aaron for winning the ball from their defence, breaking through, looking like he’d taken it a little too wide but then firing a quick low shot in at the near post from about 10 yards. Great finish and it was good to get clarity from Aaron during his celebration that “that’s what I’m talking about!”. This goal gave Merton confidence and the game was very even for the next 15-20 minutes. However as the game wore on, Salesians started to get the upper hand as Merton’s shape become stretched. Special mention to Adam for a crunching tackle that “in my day” would never have been a foul as the ball was clearly won first but it looks like the rules are changing. Neal got booked for some standard dirt. There was good play on the left between Ryan and Barry (and this is something we need to try and make more use of), which caused threatening moments.
With about ten minutes to go, Vin was replaced by Mike Stone and Scott was moved into midfield – this decision inexplicably resulted in Vin getting a DOTD nomination but as evidenced this week, farcical nominations can and do happen. Very shortly after this change, a Salesians breakaway down the right was played into the middle and their striker finished from close range. With a couple of minutes to go, a corner was swung in from the right and their central midfielder lost his marker and executed an acrobatic scissor kick, that defied what looked possible, given his rather stocky stature. There were a couple of late half chances for Merton at the end, but it was too little too late. The game finished 3-1.
In truth, the second half performance didn’t justify any other result. The ability to win is definitely within this team and in spells in the game this was evidenced, but as Barry and Neal said between them, we need to play the game to suit our strengths and show more grit / desire to win. We’ve got to earn the right to win by fighting for every first and second ball. Our best play comes when we play football and defend from the front / close as a unit. When this breaks down, the gaps across the pitch are too big.
We go again next week, against a team we’re capable of beating. Let’s turn the learning experience into an improved performance and a victory.
Team: Iain Evans, Mustard (captain), Scott McGowan, Adam Lynch, Barry Hughes, Sam Slater, Neal Davison, Vincenzo Di Matteo, Ryan Burchell, Aaron Byrne, Darren Fitzgerald. Subs: Mike Stone, Jake Davies.
Goal: Aaron Byrne
MOTM: Aaron Byrne
DOTD: Mustard (double denim)