With just two survivors from the team that lost 4-3 on the same ground last season, the new look Merton 3’s kicked off their season to the steady thrum of the North Circular at Crouch End. In a surprise turn of events, the referee for the day appeared to be Jeremy “Jez” Corbyn, which was very good of him considering he’d won the Labour leadership only a few hours beforehand.

Whilst a new team (of mostly old players), it was a case of history repeating itself as traffic issues meant that Merton only succeeded in reaching the requisite 11 players a few moments before kick-off. That said, this approach removed any selection dilemas, and the trusty 4-4-2 was called upon after some brief discussion, and accompanied by a hurried team talk, complete with all the standard advice any self-respecting football club should be covering. Having duly agreed to “keep it tight”, “take no risks in our defensive third” and “put fullbacks on the posts at corners”, Merton were ready to go.

On an uneven, bobbly, and narrow pitch the game took a while to come to life, but Merton eventually found their feet first and began to exert some sustained pressure on the Vampire’s goal. After a couple of wasteful set pieces, Merton took a deserved lead after 15 minutes; following some good work to win the ball back in midfield, the ball was passed in to Dan, who turned away from one defender, before shielding the ball from another. There didn’t look to be much danger at this point, but an on-rushing Darcy cleverly shouted for the ball, took it off Dan’s toes and left the covering defenders for dead who were still trying to work out where the ball had gone. Darcy drew the keeper and slotted in (slightly bobblingly)  via  the far post. 1-0.

Crouch End responded well with a spell of pressure of their own, forcing Artur into a couple of relatively comfortable saves, but having soaked this up Merton went straight back up the other end and added a second. This time, after some pinball in the opposition box, the maruading Tony at right-back ran on the ball from the corner of the 18 yard box and arrowed a shot goalwards. The keeper managed to save, but Darcy was on-hand again to hook the ball home from from a very narrow angle. The opposition appealed to Jez that the ball had already gone out of play, despite the impossibility of being able to score from behind the goal, but Jez was having none of it. 2-0.

Again, Crouch End responded, and on the brink of half time created their best move of the match, with a dipping 20 yard volley brilliantly tipped over the ball by Arturs. 2-0 at half time.

With a half time team talk that consisted of agreeing to do the same again, Merton started the second half brightly. In a collector’s item moment of creative flair, Dan played Nick in with a perfectly weighted through ball off the outside of his right foot (a proper Fifa R1 through-ball move) and we looked set for 3-0 as Nick bore down on the keeper. Everyone waited for the goal to come, but unfortunately as Nick also waited for the keeper to commit, a Crouch End defender made a stunning recovery tackle to steal the ball away just as Nick was about to strike.

This looked like it could be a pivotal moment, as Crouch End took advantage of this repreive to get themselves back in it. With Neil off for Riccardo, the midfield lost their shape and Crouch End began to dominate.  The goal came via a penalty; the tricky Crouch End no. 10 drawing a foul inside the box, and the resulting penalty emphatically dispatched, not once, but twice after Jez spotted some frankly blatant encroaching by 4 or 5 players. Nothing got past this man.

2-1 quickly became 2-2, via another set piece. This time a free kick; curled around the wall and into the bottom corner from 20 yards. Crouch End sensed victory.
Almost of nowhere however, Merton rallied. Without a lead to protect any longer, Merton came back into the game somewhat, and it was Darcy this time that turned creator, running on to a channel ball towards the corner flag, and tricking his way past the covering defender on the by-line. He got his head up and picked out Denys at the back post for an easy tap-in. Crouch End screamed in vain for offside, but once again Jez was not to be swayed, even ruling out an offside Crouch End “equaliser” a few minutes later for good measure.

That proved to be the only further alarm though, as Merton successfully saw out the remainder of the game. “World-class” was even mentioned  as Mike Reed expertly headed clear a long ball for the umpteenth time during this period.

So, three points a deserved reward for a gritty performance on a tough, narrow pitch. Darcy Yates was man of the match for his two goals and an assist, but special mention should also go to Arturs who made a couple of fantastic saves, and also the centre-back pairing of Mike Reed and John Stones who by and large dealt with everything thrown, kicked, or indeed hoofed their way.

Posted in Match Reports 3s