Merton Reserves 0 – 4 St James Reserves
Merton came into this game looking to cement their promotion credentials, extend their unbeaten home record and move above the visitors into third. And to avenge the undeserved 2-1 defeat earlier in the season, the memory of which still cast a shadow over some players. This did not happen, or ever look like happening. Instead, Merton were, in the end, soundly beaten by a very good St James side. And Merton’s GK was MOTM…which rather says it all. Since this will be a bit depressing to both read and write, look out for the Oasis song lyrics throughout as a means of keeping up interest.
With no Clowesy or Cookie, Joe Grew looked set to partner Pearcey at CB, only for a late call up to the 1s to scupper that plan. Rayner and Wilgo had already been moved to the 1s earlier in the week, giving the reserves squad something of an unfamiliar look this week. Mike Stone (a centre midfielder still battling the label of CB Gresty gave him 18 months ago) moved to CB in a back four of Murphy, Pearcey, Stoney and Welch, with Sherbs jetting in on the morning of the game from Antigua to reclaim goalkeeping duties. Big Dave Scott and (former) lucky charm Alberto started at CM, with DK and Ian Evans out wide. DQ and JT continued their always ever older forward partnership, with Emmanuel and new recruit Adam on the bench. A family full of eccentrics, some might say. Sadly, rumours of a Lofty return proved unfounded, but we hope to see him back soon.
Despite the squad changes, Merton were right up for this game, and conducted a lengthy warm up, in contrast to the visitors, who appeared just a few moments before kick-off. Perhaps they needed more time. Sherbs conducted some classic motivational speaking before the game by urging us to attack the ball from defensive set pieces, because he didn’t like the ball near his face (or something like that), and then it was time to get started. The knowing reader will note that this match report has spent some time describing events before the match, because frankly this is as good as it gets.
So, to the game. The first half hour or so was actually pretty tight and evenly matched. St James were looking better on the ball and spreading the play wide whenever they could, but some stout Merton defending in the wide positions was just about keeping the visitors in check. Offensively, Merton were struggling to string more than a couple of passes together, but there was some joy to be had on the counter attack through early balls forward. DQ had held the ball up for DK to join the attack a couple of times, with a particularly cynical trip stopping one such foray on the edge of the area. A series of throw ins also failed to yield more than this massively contrived sentence about throwing it back to you.
The game was getting pretty physical at this point, as both sides realised that the referee was not inclined to blow his whistle for very much at all. Appeals for pushes, trips, kicks, two-footed tackles, or indeed handballs were met with utter indifference from the referee, and some of us were beginning to suspect that perhaps he had lost his whistle and didn’t want to admit to it. No doubt fully aware of this, Jason Thomas then proceeded to brazenly ignore the offside rule to slip inside the visitors’ defensive line, only for the keeper to make a good double save.
This chance was probably the high-water mark of this particular game for Merton. As the half went on, St James became more and more dominant, with their tricky wide forwards increasingly finding space down the flanks. One such spell of trickery saw a goalmouth scramble, with Pearcey at one point desperately trying to head the ball whilst on the floor (we don’t know why), Sherbs making a couple of reaction blocks, and ended with a St James player sliding in to poke the ball home. The visitors celebrated, only for the referee to astonish everyone and blow his hitherto misplaced whistle for a foul of some unknown description. A lucky escape, but the warning was not heeded, as only a couple of minutes later more or less the same thing happened again with no such referee intervention. 1-0, and rather gut-wrenchingly, the referee blew up for half time immediately afterwards. As no commentator remarked on the sideline, that rather changes the half-time team talk.
Said team talk came and went, but the game continued to drift away from the home team. Adam and Emmanuel had replaced DK and Ian at 30 and 45 minutes respectively, but the change in personnel failed to change the game. The second half  saw a brief flurry of Merton pressure, Adam playing in a couple of fantastic set-pieces to no avail, but all too soon the visitors took control again, dominating possession and territory as Merton simply found no easy way out of their box for long spells. With the strikers half a world away from what was resembling a back 8 at times, Sherbs kept the home side in the game with a string of fantastic saves, before blotting his copybook somewhat with a mishit clearance that was promptly smashed back over his head for 2-0.
At this point, Jason decided he had had enough for one day and departed the ground for a better place to play, an overreaction if ever there was one.  With time slipping away, DK returned up top, and almost made an immediate impact – running on to a deflected pass after good work by DQ, ghosting past the covering defender and then forcing a good save from the keeper. Alas, a couple of minutes later, the ball then went back up the other end in a flowing move that even super Sherbs couldn’t stop. 3-0. It really was a great goal, but it’s not going to be described in any more detail than that, so feel free to decide for yourself how it was scored. At this point Connor’s ongoing battle (physical and verbal) flared up for the umpteenth time. “What’s the matter with you?” an exasperated opposition player was heard to say. The referee had also decided enough was enough, and proceeded to lecture them like naughty school children for their constant bickering. A finger was even wagged.
Sherbs managed to stop a fourth with a full length dive down low to his right shortly afterwards, garnering applause from the opposition for its sheer brilliance, but it proved only a temporary measure as another late goal was added with just a few minutes to go.  I’m sorry but I just don’t know exactly this one was scored either, but it wasn’t as good as the third one.
So, all in all, a bit of a shellacking. Credit to the visitors who played some great football, and on the day were simply a lot better than the home side. For Merton, a time to regroup and go again – with a need for a bit more quality and a lot more intensity next time out. Promotion just got harder, but is by no means impossible with teams taking points off each other at the top of the table. After all, there are better days that have yet to come for this side.
MOTM: Jet-setting Alex Herbert for a string of saves.
DOTD: Connor Murphy, whose ongoing feud with the opposition winger saw the referee threaten to send them both to the children’s playground where they belong. I really wish he had, it would have been brilliant. An amateur league version of being sent to the stands.
Posted in Match Reports 2s