2s vs South Bank Cuaco – 15.10.16
Merton reserves 2 – 3 (aet) South Bank reserves
A late (handball-assisted) goal deep in extra time handed Merton their second cruel cup defeat in 3 weeks.
Lining up in a 433, Merton were determined to try and play high up the pitch and press the opposition. This approach yielded some early dividends as Merton won the ball in the opposition half and Darcy set Dan running into the box. A last ditch tackle from a covering defender relieved the danger at the cost of a corner, although the South Bank keeper ended up being clattered by Dan and needed some treatment.
However, on a big pitch and against an opposition side showing plenty of commitment to passing their way out from the back to a pair of tricky wingers, the pressing game proved more easily said than done as the half progressed as South Bank consistently fed the ball wide and tried to overload the Merton fullbacks Connor and Gabs.
This approach brought the reward of the opening goal – albeit with the aid of a somewhat controversial decision. South Bank worked the ball down the right wing, bypassing first Rayner and Connor by taking the ball off the pitch and then beating the covering Pearcey. Ignoring the appeals for a throw in the winger picked out his player in a mostly empty box (with half the defence bypassed on the touchline) and their striker provided a classy finish, angling a header into the far corner from 7 or 8 yards. 1-0.
Rather than spur Merton into action, the goal instead served to bring the visitors more confidence and it was South Bank that began to dominate territory and force Merton back. It was almost two from another cross, but keeper Dan did brilliantly to palm a header on to the frame of the goal. Lofty then made a change to bring on Elz for Gabs, with the ever versatile Joe Grew moving to rb from a wide forward position.
As South Bank tried to force a second, Merton responded with a brilliantly worked goal of their own on the counter. A South Bank cross was cleared and fed into Dan just inside his own half. Dan laid it back to Joe, before taking the return pass and bamboozling (think 60% skill/40% spawn) his marker with some quick reactions and playing the ball inside to Andy. The ball was quickly worked across the pitch and Rayner arrived on the overlap from the opposite wing, striding into the box to slot inside the keeper. A lovely calm finish to cap a great team goal. 1-1.
Merton had a couple of half chances to take the lead as the game became more even – most notably a brilliant improvised volley from Darcy on the edge of the box that clipped the bar. However, it was the visitors who restored their lead just before half time. Another counter and cross saw cookie manage only to head clear to the edge of the box, and the attacking midfielder had time and space to pass cooly into the corner. 2-1.
The second half was a less open affair as Merton tightened up and the visitors perhaps sat a little on their lead. Despite some great trickery from elz on occasion down the left, in truth not much happened until the closing quarter of the game as Merton slowly but surely upped the intensity and forced south bank deeper and deeper. A series of free kicks and corners saw a few scrambled clearances and some potshots from distance. Lofty made the call to go to 442 with Pearcey joining Dan up top as Merton piled on the pressure.
Then, with just 5 minutes remaining, the breakthrough came. Elz and Dan chased a clearance down and pressurised the nervy oppo defence. Elz blocked the initial attempt at a clearance and Dan the next, and a calamitous collision saw Elz emerge with the ball on the edge of the box and feed in Rayner. Once again he slipped the ball near post on the angle, megging the keeper to boot. 2-2, and with 5 minutes to go Merton believed they could go on and win it.
With only one team now in the game, South Bank fended off a string of attacks, most notably gabs having a long distance and goal bound strike blocked. Extra time ensued and the next 15 minutes were more of the same as Merton camped in the opposition half.
South Bank forced a couple of corners as penalties loomed, and with 3 minutes to go a goal line scramble saw Connor clear off the line, only for an oppo player to palm the ball back into the danger area for a team mate to prod home. Merton were livid (well, those of them who saw the handball) but the ref gave it having not seen the offence. 3-2.
Merton gave it one last push for a third equaliser; forcing a corner with seconds to go, but it was not to be and a second cup exit in 3 weeks was the result.
Motm – Rayner for two well taken goals