3s vs Crouch End Vampires – 23.04.16
Merton moved back into 3rd place courtesy of a point at home vs the North London undead.
The game started with this particular match reporter stuck in traffic (all very Man U), so here is a brief summary of what may or may not have occured in the first 20 minutes:
1. Lofty gave a pre-match team talk in which he urged Merton to pass the ball and use Tom’s pace. The need not to take any risks at the back by overplaying on a bobbly pitch was also mentioned. Mustard talked about how he expects a strong finish to the season and that a 3rd place finish is the minimum.
2. Merton conceded an early goal to fall behind, a cross/shot/flick that Frankie could only get a palm to and help into the net, despite Ricky’s best efforts on the line.
3. Ryan Gresty slide tackled someone. Anyone. Repeatedly.
4. Darcy thought that it was fancy dress day at the hood and turned up as Worzel Gummage in a fetching jacket/scarf/shorts/wellies combo.
5. Merton responded well to going behind, with Tony displaying “Neymar-like” (his words) skills to flick the ball over a defending player and volley a shot goalwards from the edge of the area, only for his shot to be cleared off the line. However, an equaliser was coming, and after a Ricky overhead clearance was flicked on by Denys, top scorer Tom raced clear of the defence (as may or may not have been predicted in the teamtalk) to finish confidently. 1-1.
At this point, eye-witness accounting comes back into the report. Anything above is literally hearsay.
Having recovered from conceding the early goal and found an equaliser, Merton were on the front foot and creating chances. Tom was released down the right once again and looked to be clean through, but his attempt to cut inside was just read by the covering defender, and the chance was lost. Tony was causing some problems for the opposition with his long(ish) throw, and following a nice flick from Dave that eluded the opposition keeper, Ricky stole in between two defenders at the near post for what looked like a certain goal. Unfortunately (and certainly not for the first time this season) his header found the upright rather than the corner, and Tom managed to find the keeper with the rebound.
The Crouch End captain was not amused at his team losing a header to “the smallest guy on the pitch” (some swear words removed, and there being only a little irony in the comment as he himself was perhaps an inch or two taller), and perhaps inspired by this the next set of chances were all headers vs taller members of the Merton XI. First, Tilly rose highest to meet a corner, but just mistimed his jump and directed the header over. Will Taylor clearly took some notes, as the next corner saw exactly the same thing happen as he headed over.
At the other end, Merton were mainly restricting Crouch End to shots from distance, but the visitors were showing plenty of quality on the ball, especially in the middle where Merton were sometimes guilty of not closing down fast enough. One such attack saw an attempted through-ball almost claimed by Frankie ahead of the opposition forward, only for Vin to powerfully clear ahead of both players. Both Frankie and the Crouch End forward went down in the heap, the latter twisting his ankle badly in the process. There was a short delay for treatment, and Seb eventually went to the bar for ice after it was realised the watching Dan and Darcy were watching because they were injured and a sprint to the bar was not going to be forthcoming from them. Eventually the Crouch End player limped off the pitch, and for just the 7th time in 17 games this season (probably not an exaggeration!) Merton were up against a less than full complement of players.
So, 1-1 at half time, and time for another team talk. This one centred on closing down the opposition a bit more, and trying to release Tom over the top, rather than overplaying on the windy, bobbling pitch. Roared on against 10 men by a (by SAL standards) huge crowd featuring Gresty Snr, Max, Darcy, Welchy (who arrived even later than Dan, watching whilst leaving his car door open with one of his children asleep in it in what can only be assumed to be some kind of police entrapment sting), Len, Clappers, Steve and various children, the stage was set for perhaps the longest sentence in a 3s match report this season, and more relevantly, a stirring second half performance and the collection of three points.
Except it didn’t quite work out like that. With 10 men, Crouch End sat a little deeper, negating Tom’s pace a bit and making the ball over the top a high-tariff option. That didn’t stop us trying repeatedly, but Merton couldn’t quite create a clear chance and for 20 minutes the game rather drifted. Tom almost wriggled free on a couple of occasions, at one point surging down the left after good work from Dave and Ricky, but his pull back to the edge of the area neatly found no Merton player within ten yards of it, whilst the watching Darcy noted he would have been there to lace/mishit the ball home. A little later, someone was on-hand for an attempted shot from the edge of the box, but Ryan and Nick got in each other’s way and debated this mishap quite strongly afterwards.
Crouch End – always one of the more…vocal teams in the SAL – also set about some in-fighting, which rather upset the ref and caused him to summon the captains for the second time to control their players. Perhaps because of this, or because his tackle was really quite late, Tony was shown a yellow card shortly afterwards.
A change was needed, and Lofty rolled the dice by going 4-3-3, Denys joining Tom and Will up top. Merton were still trying the direct route, and both sides were somewhat strangely ignoring the Merton right side and tucking inside, with there being acres of unoccupied space down the wing. However, this did leave opportunities for Tony at right back to break forward, and as the game went into the last 20 minutes, Merton finally got the goal they had been seeking. Tony ran over the halfway line into space, and spotting that Denys had also peeled across to this usually unoccupied side of the pitch, played a lofted ball towards the corner of the 18 yard box. Denys still had a bit to do, but managed to beat both his marker and the opposition keeper to the ball. His shot was half blocked by the keeper, but still had enough on it to dribble over the line. 2-1, and Merton looked set to go on and claim the three points.
However, football can be a cruel game, and the lead instead lasted about 4 minutes. The ten men of Crouch End roused themselves for a final effort, and a foray into the Merton half brought a free kick from near the touchline after Tony and then Ryan made consecutive tackles/fouls. The inswinging free kick from 40 yards was overhit and running through the keeper for an easy claim, when Frankie had a “brain freeze” (again, his own words), deciding late as the ball bounced up to towards him to clear with his feet rather than simply catch the ball. Unfortunately, he couldn’t sort his feet out in time and instead shanked the ball into his own net to the disbelief of all concerned. 2-2.
With 15 minutes left, there was still time for either side to get the win, and the game opened up as both sides went for it. Merton were still creating chances – Will was through on goal after a couple of neat touches, but went for one more flick on the edge of the area when perhaps the lob was on, before Denys mishit a volley when in space at the back post following good work by Tom down the right. Dave Scott had a good shout for a penalty when bundled over (Ref’s verdict: “50/50”) and consecutive handballs by Crouch End defenders in the box made for an even better shout, only for the ref to be unmoved. At the other end, Crouch End had a couple of moments down their left, most notably when their forward dribbled into the area and his pull back thankfully found no-one waiting on the penalty spot to convert.
An even better chance then came for Merton, some good passing seeing Will find Seb just inside the box. The shot was on, but Seb instead squared for Tom, where the shot was also still on, but somehow Tom couldn’t quite get set to hit it and the chance was lost. Tilly then headed wide from a corner as the game ticked into the the final minute, and then Lofty (on for the final 10 minutes) saw a ball sit up for a half volley from the edge of the box. The spectators watched as it looked set to dip into the top corner, but were “TV-angled” and instead ball drifted angonisingly wide in what was the final action of the game.
So, a somewhat disappointing draw, but also credit to Crouch End who battled well with 10 men for the second half. The point means Merton will finish third unless they receive a heavy beating vs title chasing Parks in the last game of the season next week. With some scores to settle from the reverse fixture (Merton were leading 1-0 after 50 minutes only to collapse after Ricky’s sending off), Merton will be looking for 3 points to end the season on a high.
MOTM: Tilly – gracing the 3s for the first time this season with his calm assurance and quality on the ball, and forming a solid CB pairing with Vin.
DOTM: Unanimously Frankie for that goal. Catch it!
Vincenzo Di Matteo
Vincenzo Di Matteo