2s vs Old Blues – 25.02.17
Old Blues Reserves 0 – 1 Merton Reserves
Merton returned to winning ways with a hard fought victory at Old Blues, courtesy of a late DK/DQ strike. Truth be told, it was not a dissimilar game to last week, featuring a lot of effort, some accomplished defending, not much in the way of goal mouth action, and a goal that could also be described as a big bag o’shite. Considering the game last week was vs the champions-elect and this week we faced the 2nd bottom team, it shows how closely matched this league is.
With Lofty arriving and then dropping out ill and Emmanuelle applying his now-standard disregard for meet times, the 10 players who were on time conducted an exercise in democratic formation selection. The varying merits of 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 3-4-3, and 4-4-1-1 were considered, before the choice was made to adopt a 3-5-2 designed to put legs at wingback in the form of Milo and Emmanuelle, and in the hope that giving Ben Cook his promised role in mf would bear fruit and minimise rage possibilities. Pearcey, Jordan and Connor formed a back three in front of Sherbs, with BDS, Cook and Rayner in the middle, and a DQ/DK frontline. Reassuringly, the home side only had 11 as well, so were all set for iron man football as the game commenced.
Merton almost struck from the outset as Milo released DK and his cross was close to being turned in by DQ. However, after this, the game became more attritional, or in more blunt terms the referee spent most of the half giving Merton free kicks as Old Blues idea of tackling was, shall we say, old-school. To compound matters, he would then almost immediately balance things up by calling Merton offside from almost every free kick he had just awarded. Frustrating. Occasionally, some football did break out, and it was Merton who showed glimpses of quality most often. In particular, Emmanuelle was finding space down his wing, and linking up with DK, and in particular DQ, to good effect.
One such move saw DQ almost in behind; with DQ, covering defenders and keeper converging, DQ’s squared header was deflected just behind DK or a goal would have been (mostly) certain. Big Dave Scott threatened next after more link up play down the left, but blazed wide after being set up on the corner of the 18 yard box. DK then span his defender following a cleared corner and looked set to gallop free down the left, only for a blatant shirt pull to end the danger as he was hauled down. The referee remarkably decided this warranted a free-kick, a fact no doubt noted by defenders on both sides for future reference. At one point Cookie was also crudely brought down by a sliding tackle from behind, before telling Connor to “leave it” as he came to protest. Merton were collectively stunned, and made a note to enquire (after the game) just who this player was and what he done with Ben Cook.
At the other end, Merton were largely looking comfortable at the back, with Connor, Jordan and especially Pearcey sweeping when needed and reading the game with aplomb. Ahead of them, the midfield three were working hard to close down space, with winger-turned-CM Chris Rayner throwing himself into Noble-Gresty-like tackles and headers like he’d played there all his life. There were a few scares from set pieces, but Sherbs didn’t actually have a save to make. 0-0 at HT, and Merton felt the game was theirs for the taking, if only they could turn their possession into some clear-cut chances. And not succumb to a set piece in the meantime.
For once, they were right. With Merton keeping the intensity level high, they remained the dominant team. Chances remained at a premium, with a free DQ header (over the bar) from a Rayner corner the clearest sight on goal for 30 minutes of effort. Old Blues continued to throw themselves into some questionable tackles, and their right back finally received the yellow card he deserved in the first half partway through the second, but were still failing to trouble Merton. It was definitely the sort of game where you felt one goal would be enough, and finally, Merton managed to take their chance and bag a winner.
First, great closing down won a throw-in deep in the opposition half. Connor slung the ball in and Dave Scott made enough of a nuisance of himself to knock the ball down. DK reacted first and hit what can only be described as a laser-guided trundler of a side-foot from the corner of the 6 yard box. It dipped, bounced, DQ and covering defender desperate lunged at it (to no discernible effect, although DQ claimed it brushed his foot), and then almost apologetically bobbled into the far corner. Literally unstoppable. 1-0.
With 15 minutes to go, Merton held out comfortably (for once) and the three points were theirs. An absolutely solid performance from players 1 to 11, with everyone working for the team.
Jordan bagged his first three point haul with the 2s and promptly hightailed it to Manchester to celebrate, leaving 10 to decide on awards. Ben Cook and Connor Murphy shared MOTM accolades, with Sherbs rather bizarrely picking up one vote despite not having a save to make. DQ was harshly voted DOTD despite putting in a heroic shift in terms of blades of grass covered, for reasons varying from the missed header to a flat “I just don’t like him”. Harsh, but the predator (with disaronno, no less) was brutally dispatched with aplomb.
This week, a new feature; player ratings. Well, performance descriptions to be precise. Everyone played their part and felt like this should be recognised.
Sherbs: Comfortable throughout, swept well when called for.
Jordan: Immense. Slotted into a back 3 like the old pro he isn’t and dealt with everything thrown at him
Pearcey: Composed throughout, reading the game brilliantly and captaining his defence (and the team).
Connor: What other epitaph befits other than relentlessly, remorselessly solid. At all times.
Milo: Worked his socks off for the team, covering when needed and providing a valuable outlet down the right.
Rayner: Tigerish. Never stopped fighting for the team.
Cookie: Protected the back four when needed whilst ghosting past midfielders when on the ball. Classy
BDS: All action display of no little physicality and chipped in with an assist.
Emmanuel: Offered threat down the left, supporting the strikers, and worked hard defensively.
DQ: Closed down the oppo relentlessly, effective at linking play, and won his share of challenges to boot as well. Inspirational. And apparently a dick. For the day.
DK: His usual mix of energetic closing down, misplaced passes and short-range goal-sniffing.