After a solid 5-1 win against Old Salesians the week before, the 6s had no reason to think the rematch would derail their bid for promotion at all. Kev, in a slightly negative headspace given Arsenal’s appalling result in the buildup, muttered something about expecting to lose our game as well. It was generally laughed off. Who knew that his words would be so prophetic.
The main excitement in the minutes leading up to kickoff was whether Fitzy, parachuted in as cover for Swanny, would make it on time. Swanny had actually come along to watch, but, at 2:25, was told to get changed. But as he reached for Matt’s extra small shirt and well-travelled gloves, Fitzy appeared on the horizon, bounding in on his bike like the Messiah. Back to the stands for Swanny, then.
Onto the game, and Merton faced the kickoff, and were playing against a stiff breeze first half. It felt as though it would be a tall order to keep the oppo out against such elements, but Merton were actually the better team. George and Callum were the architects of most things good, and the chances began to come thick and fast.
However, despite a number of goalmouth scrambles, Merton just couldn’t find a way through, and were guilty of profligacy in front of goal. Credit must also go to their keeper though, who pulled off some superb saves, one of them an absolute blinder from point blank from the boot of Callum.
At the other end, there were a few shanked clearances, misjudged headers and hairy moments, but generally the Yellows had the oppo under control. Fitzy was coming off his line with aplomb, and spreading confidence through the back four. Matt was also a rock at right back, and provided a good link down the channels on that side of the pitch too.
The half time whistle eventually went. In truth, Merton should have been at least one or two goals up, given the chances they had. And even though Salesians had looked threatening at times, it was hard to recall them having any clear-cut chances. Anyway, with the wind now at their backs, Merton had every reason to feel expectant that the goal would now come.
But when the game kicked off, it was actually Salesians who seized the initiative. Merton were struggling to string together two passes, some awful long shots ensued when they did, and the nadir of it all came as an argument raged about the formation after a substitution. 4-4-2!!!! 4-3-3!!!! What the hell were we playing? It was quite incredible – the bitching continued for a good three or four minutes, all while play continued.
But things eventually settled down, and once it did, Merton showed their dominance once again. They were beginning to carve out genuine chances, the most straightforward of which fell to Pete, who was unfortunate to see his free header go just wide.
A moment of controversy followed soon after, as Ty lined up a free kick in a good position. His strike was pure, and the keeper appeared wrong footed. But one of the men in the wall stuck out a blatant arm to block what would have been a sure-fire goal, and the ref, who was watching the line rather than the game, somehow kept his whistle in his pocket when a stonewall penalty was merited.
Nevertheless, Merton shrugged it off. They were in control of this game, weren’t they? Salesians still hadn’t even managed to create a genuine chance.
Cue the calamity.
Perhaps a little over ambitious in attack, Merton got caught on the counter, and faced a 3 on 2 overlap at the back. Beans did pretty well to shepherd their striker to the byline, but he managed to get a menacing cross in nonetheless. But, even with a man behind him ready to pounce, there can be no excuse for the “clearance” Mike put it in. A semi shank was enough to send the onion bag bulging, and with just 5 or so minutes remaining, an unforced error now meant Merton were 1-0 down. It was hard to comprehend.
They pored forward in their droves in the final few minutes, adopting what appeared to be a 2-5-3 formation. And in the dying seconds, George found himself one on one with the keeper (albeit with a defender closing him down from the side). But alas, the keeper once again thwarted him brilliantly, and, much to the immense frustration of the Yellows, the final whistle followed soon after.
Disappointing to drop points in such a fashion in the race for promotion. Especially against a team which had barely managed a shot on target. Missed chances were costly, not to mention a stonewall penalty not given, but ultimately it was the own goal which decided it. A double header next week to get things back on track. Here’s to six points on Saturday lads. Beers on me at the Hood next time!
Team: Darren Fitzgerald (GK), Kevin Locke (c), Adam Prior, Mike Todt, Matt Haswell, Ty Fuller, Lee, Callum Fisher, George Brobbey, Trey Mambeko, Pete Obeng-Adu
Subs: Dan Plaistow, Paul Onomor, George Hall
MOTM: George Brobbey
DOTD: A slam dunk – Mike wins it at a canter