2s vs St James Old Boys
As with last week, some pre match mind games were employed with Ryan and Jason walking off to the far side of the field together. The seemingly romantic stroll turned out to be a pitch inspection, followed by a request to move the game to said pitch. The team made the trek over to said pitches only to find a pitch full of ankle breaking ruts and trenches, once again making us wonder what Ryan and Jason were really doing…
Back on the miniature pitch, Merton lined up in a 4-4-1-1, with Glenn given a free role and told to go win us the game. No pressure lad! With Sherbs away Fitz gallantly took on goalkeeping duties and Jason moved from Cf last week to partner Pearcey at the back.
After a even first ten minutes, Merton started to dominate, with Dan leading the line and closing down the opposition, backed up by Alex and Joe in wide positions and Glenn helping to link the play. Behind them, Ryan and Stoney were snapping into tackles and the back 4 was looking solid.
Chances came quickly. First great work from Joe down the right resulted in a shot for Glenn from the edge of the area that flew just wide. Dan very nearly latched on to a poor backpass, blocking the attempted clearance with the supporting Alex just unable to take advantage. Another flowing move saw the ball held up by Dan and then worked from left to right via Glenn,Joe and Alex. The resulting cross was turned goalwards on the stretch by Dan from a narrow angle only to be cleared off the line.
A goal was coming and it duly arrived on the half hour. More great work from Joe down the right saw him help a ball inside towards Dan. The ball sat up and as keeper (who had spent the opening half hour alternatively swearing at his teammates or flying out of goal to claim every ball remotely near his box), defenders and striker all converged Dan lifted a calm finish over the lot and watched the ball dip into the top right corner. 1-0.
Dan was afforded only a brief celebration before being hooked for Tom, as Merton decided to add further pace to proceedings. More chances came – Alex shot straight at the keeper from 12 yards after another great team move, Tom screamed down the left ala bale (beating two men for pace despite being forced off the pitch and over the bags at the side of it) only for his shot to be blocked/saved. Glenn also put another effort at the keeper from 18 yards.
1-0 at half time and the consensus was that 3 points were there for the taking. Rainer came on for Joe as one further change was made.
Unfortunately the oppo had also had the chance to assess things at ht, bringing their keeper on up front in a maverick move (sadly they found someone else to go in goal). They started the second half better and the game felt a lot more even than previously, with the back 4 under more pressure and the game quite stretched.
In honesty there was a bit of cheating from both sides in terms of not tracking, especially as the game got stretched, but Merton remained very dangerous and continued to create chances when the ball was won high up the pitch. First, Tom overran the ball when it looked like he was clean through, and when he made amends in a similar situation to cross the ball to the back post, Glenn agonisingly just failed to reach it (think gazza in 96).
At the other end Fitz had made a couple of solid stops from st James counters, and bone crunching tackles were flying in from Jason(y),Pearcey,Clowesy and Gresty among others with the magic spray making its first appearance of the season.
This eventually forced a change as Jason limped off to be replaced by the returning mustard (great to have him back from injury). Clowesy moved to cb with mustard going to rb.
The impact was immediate but unfortunately not in a good way. A long diagonal saw the oppo striker and mustard chasing the ball towards the corner. As the ball looked to be running out of play from mustards initial interception, a desperate hook of the boot from the oppo forward flicked the ball against mustards hand from all of 6 inches away. Everyone prepared for a corner only for the
Merton tried to respond immediately with another couple of promising attacks resulting in wayward shots, but it was the home team who continued to press and took the lead. A corner was cleared to the edge of the box, where an unmarked opposition player calmly took an age before passing through a crowd of players into the corner. 2-1.
Merton rallied with a series of attacks that still failed to yield a goal. Glenn absolutely laced a cut back from Alex just over the bar (the noise was quite something) before Tom seemed destined to equalise as he was played in one on one with the keeper on a slight angle. The keeper stayed rooted, tom kept coming and 6 yards out it seemed a certain goal. As the crowd began to celebrate the shot instead clipped the outside of the near post and went behind for a goal kick. Tom looked at his boots in astonishment.
Going into the last few minutes, Dan was recalled from the bench as Merton loaded the area and went 433. He almost got a second after a quick throw from Ryan but a defensive block saw only a corner and despite an almighty late scramble the home side held out for the win.
It was a very disappointed Merton team that returned to the dressing room. Even more so when it turned out we had the dubious honour of being the first team to lose to St James in the SAL. The only silver lining came in the form of the abundance of food left over by an Irish christening party going on in the bar in the bar – a buffet the likes of which will never be seen in the SAL again. Our hosts excelled themselves.
Motm: Alex. An almost constant threat down the left.
DOTD: The man, the returning (slimline) handball legend that is mustard.