It felt like Groundhog Day at The Hood as Merton 3s lined up against the hoodlums of Crouch End for the third time in 4 games (ok, one was a 2s game but there were lots of familiar faces), looking to make it 3 from 3 and progress in the big ISEH cup. It’s a cup that’s often labelled “the one they all want to win”, as opposed to the AFA “we wouldn’t have won it anyway” cup that we crashed out of last week, so despite the usual squad-juggling that is part and parcel of 3rd XI football these days we lined up motivated and confident. Spirits were further stirred by rumours that 3s manager Paul “Walshy” Welch, hitherto unseen in season 2015/16, would be making an appearance. They proved unfounded, but we started like we meant business anyway, winning first and second balls and looking the better side until a long hoof forward led to a… ahem… misunderstanding between the new centre back pairing of Joel and Vinny and keeper Kieran which allowed a sneaky little Vampire to nip in and set up his mate for a tap in from a yard out. A classic amateur football moment, and this historic cup has certainly seen its fair share of those.
Undeterred by this setback, Merton kicked up a gear. The new centre forward pairing of Dave Scott and Denys were giving the CEV back four a torrid time with the midfield diamond including debutant Seb feeding the ball into the channels and deploying the usual level of compete in the air and on the deck. Darcy typified this with a determined effort to win the ball back on the edge of their box and set up the equaliser. Some would question why he’d given it away in the first place but this author prefers to focus on the ball he subsequently whipped into the box for Denys, rampaging like a bull towards the near post, to volley emphatically into the roof of the net. Hero quickly turned to villain when another storming Merton counter-attack down the left saw the ball squirt towards goal machine Darcy’s left boot on the edge of the box, just waiting to be stroked home. In accordance with the amateur football handbook, Darcy “put his name on it” but that must have been lost in translation as the big Ukrainian intervened to slice the ball out for a throw. 60 seconds later, when he might otherwise have been completing a lap of honour soaking up the adulation of the crowd, Darcy was on his knees on the edge of the the Merton box claiming that his eyeball had popped out after the ball was smashed in his face. Frantic searching ensued, and the eyeball was located in the last place we thought of looking – his eye socket. Darcy was told to man up and we played out the half all square.
At the break it was looking pretty positive as Merton had been the better team, but we came under sustained pressure from the restart. A Vamps break down our left threatened to produce another moment for the Merton blooper reel, as Vinny poked a whipped cross towards his own net where Kieran stopped sharply. Apart from that blip, the Merton back four stood firm against the onslaught, our new CB pairing growing in confidence as the game went on, ably supported by fullbacks Ricardo and Paul Ellis. Merton attacks were limited to occasional forays up the other end, Lofty twice coming close from Delap-esque long throws and Yomi not quite able to gather a cross just behind him that would have offered a tap in. Skipper for the day Ryan then injured himself attempting to deliver a trademark cruncher and after hobbling around uselessly for 5 minutes was given the hook by former skipper Neal Davison, now running the show from the sidelines having been crocked last week. The Captain’s Curse has now accounted for Neal (hamstring), Ryan (ankle), Mustard (poached) and Welchy (missing, presumed abducted). There’ll be some nervous faces when Lofty is handing out the metaphorical armband next week.
That paved the way for Adam Trevena’s introduction, and he came within a lick of paint of sealing our place in the next round when a thumping drive came back off the post and we couldn’t manage to bundle home the rebound. With five minutes to go, another thumping drive by the same player was blocked by the backside of Darcy, still bumbling around looking for his eyeball on the penalty spot. He did recover to hack the ball limply towards goal but it was just about saved and smothered by the keeper on the second attempt. Games are won and lost on such bounces and sure enough just as extra time beckoned, a Crouch End attack saw the ball pinball around our box and fall to their substitute who fired it into the open net. There was barely time to kick off before the ref blew the final whistle which consigned us to a heartbreaking defeat.
Plenty of positives to take from the game; the quality of debutants, the effort from all 13 players, and also a good ref which I thought warranted a mention (compared to, say, last week’s. But let’s not get on to that…). In the end it all amounted to nothing and we are staring down the barrel of “concentrating on the league” just a month into the season. There’s one more chance to avert that in the league cup. Let’s not waste it.
MOM: Ryan. Not just because he’s writing this report (honest), but probably more of a sympathy vote from the lads after limping off.
Posted in Match Reports 3s