Merton Reserves 4 – 1 Old Blues Reserves
This is not a misprint. After a frustrating few weeks with not a point to show for it, Merton finally got the result they had been threatening with a hard-fought but ultimately thumping victory against Old Blues. And, more importantly, set the record for the most Alex’s in a team.
With a surfeit of attacking options available for the first time in a few weeks, Merton reverted to a 4-3-3 formation designed to get the best out of the Merton 14. James and Alex G lined up either side of Dan upfront, with a returning Andy Ross joining Ryan and player-manager extraordinaire Lofty in the middle of the park. At the back Pearcey moved back to centre back after two games playing much further forward, reunited with Cookie at centre back with Alex and Clowsey at fullback in a strong Merton XI. Lucky charm Alberto (1 appearance, 1 win this season) was on the bench with some borrowed shinpads, alongside Alex Welch (returning from injury) and Tom Benham (who made an ultra-middle class return as he sauntered late into the changing room with a cup of coffee).
Lofty had emphasised the importance of getting on the front foot, pressing high up the pitch and forcing the tempo, but perhaps a little exhausted by the triple-combination of the Gresty 5k run warm up, the referee showing up 15 minutes late, and a Clowsey sprint drill just before kick-off to keep us “sharp”, instead Merton found themselves behind early-doors. Alex G blocked an Old Blues cross from close range with the ball hitting his hand from all of 18 inches and the referee awarded a free kick for handball. Harsh, but to be fair the ref continued to apply this interpretation throughout the game so can’t argue with the consistency. From the resulting free kick, the ball escaped everyone and ended up drifting into the far corner. 0-1, and not the start Merton were looking for.
The goal at least did seem to stir Merton into life, and with the front three all threatening to get in behind and the midfield trio starting to dominate, Merton began to threaten. From their first corner Lofty whipped in a beautiful delivery that Dan of all people headed in (with his forehead, no less!), but the celebrations were cut short as the referee decided someone had pushed the keeper elsewhere in the box. A second harsh decision had Merton feeling rather disgruntled, but Merton continued to push for an equaliser and were rewarded on the half hour mark.
After a scrappy passage of play in the middle of the pitch, a lofted through ball down the middle saw Dan turn his marker and race on to the ball. The keeper (clearly a centre back as he spent all game way off his line and kicking/passing at every opportunity) had a rush of blood to the head and went for the interception a full 35 yards from goal. Dan displayed rather uncharacteristic composure to keep the ball away from the keeper, twist and turn the covering defender and then curl the ball past him into the now empty net. Said composure was then somewhat rattled as the ball curled back only slightly, clipped the inside of the post, ran across the line, hit the other post….and then finally rolled into the bottom corner. Phew. The record books shall nevertheless show a 30 yard finish into the bottom corner. Both of them. 1-1.
Having equalised, Merton were not stopping there and continued to press. James Laughton had his man on toast for much of the half and was proving a fantastic out-ball, his pace and trickery more than compensating for him giving away a few inches (and stone) vs his opposite number. One foray saw James free down the right only for his shot to fizz just high and wide of the upright, although perhaps the cross might have been the better choice in this instance! However, this was quickly forgotten as James won a free kick just inside the opposition half and from this Merton took the lead. The free kick was only half cleared as Dan made a nuisance of himself, James whipped the ball back in, and Alex G showed great awareness to knock the ball down for Lofty to hit on the volley just inside the area. The strike was clean, and despite a small deflection the ball was always goal-bound. 2-1 and a great goal.
Into the second half, and with no changes yet, Merton looked for a third goal to try and kill the game. It almost came immediately, as a beautifully shaped through ball from Lofty saw Dan latch on to it and sprint clear of the covering defender. This time the finish wasn’t quite there, the keeper scrambling clear after an initial half stop. At this point, Old Blues were coming into the game more, and starting to threaten, and Merton were struggling to keep the ball. Sensing the time for fresh blood from the bench, Lofty rang the changes. Tom replaced Dan, and Alberto came on for Lofty as the game entered a nervy period. Old Blues were in the ascendancy but resolute defending from Merton meant no clear chance was offered up, with Cookie also throwing in a few trademark runs coming out with the ball, and the midfield making challenges when needed. Then, on the counter, a third goal. Andy got his head up to feed James in the channel, and as the ever eager keeper raced to try and intercept James coolly flicked the ball over and past him into the corner. 3-1. Three quickly became four, when Tom received the ball with his back to goal just inside the box, and then in the blink of an eye span and smashed the ball past the stunned keeper before anyone could react. Great to see Tom back and in the goals.
At this point Old Blues continued to go for it with nothing to lose, threatening most down their right. Alex Welch came on at left back and immediately looked right at home, calmly defusing more than one attack. Dan returned to replace the injured Pearcey (solid throughout) as Merton saw out the game without too many alarms. Apologies for the lack of Sherbs, and the back 4 in general in this report; it just shows how solidly unspectacular they were – and that is a compliment!
Next up, league leaders HSBC, and Merton go into the game in fine fettle after this convincing win.
MOTM:  James Laughton, a constant and classy menace down the right
DOTM:  The thieving bas***ds who it turned out who robbed some of the team when we returned to the changing room. Talk about taking the shine off….
Posted in Match Reports 2s