3s vs EBOG – 05.12.15
Merton made amends for the 1-1 draw in the return fixture by claiming a deserved 3 points at Barnet. The high winds and the inclined, boggy pitch all pointed to the game being unlikely to be a clean, passing game, but this was something the boars of war were prepared for. They lined up 4-4-2, with Joel returning to partner Vin in the heart of the defence, Lofty manfully taking over GK duties, and Ryan Gresty making his long awaited return to Merton colours by taking a spot on the bench alongside Tony.
EBOG won the toss and chose to kick into the wind, so the scene was set for Merton to take advantage and secure a sizeable half-time lead. However, like two weeks ago vs Old Blues, the reality was rather different. Merton started promisingly, camped in the EBOG half and using the pace of Tom and Dan to threaten a somewhat ponderous back 4. Dan had the first chance, latching on to an underhit goal kick only to fire at the keeper. Dave, Tom and Denys all had half-chances as well but once again our finishing was awry. Merton were also denied what looked like a clear penalty for handball as the ball was crossed in for a corner.
Merton’s frustrations at not getting the breakthrough were rising, not helped by some very inconsistent refereeing (more on that later), and were duly compounded as EBOG took the lead midway through the half. After not awarding an obvious handball despite blowing his whistle prior to this every time the ball so much as looked at a Merton hand, the referee then penalised Merton for a fair challenge in the centre of the pitch. Two consecutive errors, and from the resulting free kick, an EBOG player flicked the ball on. Joel, standing just behind, couldn’t stop the involuntary arm twitch towards the ball and the penalty (probably rightly) was awarded
and despatched confidently. 1-0.
1-0 threatened to be become two as Merton momentarily lost their way. Some good work from EBOG down the right saw them work the ball into the middle of the box for an onrushing player to strike, but Lofty was out quickly to
smother before the defence cleared the follow up.
That scare avoided, Merton promptly went up the other end and got the equaliser. Dan latched on to a high ball, broke free of the covering defence, and for once took his time, dribbling to within his standard 6-10 yard distance from goal before slotting in at the near post, as the keeper helpfully decided to leave a nice gap by standing a few yards inside his post. 1-1.
Merton were back on top now and more chances to take the lead followed. Denys played Dan in with a lovely through ball, only for the shot to drift just past the post with wind and hill playing slightly contributory factors. Seb squared for Ricky to run on to the ball from just outside the corner of the box and his first time strike looked in for all the world before instead crashing into the crossbar with the keeper nowhere. Tom then got in down the right and his diagonal cross couldn’t quite be steered in by Dan at the far post. Next, Denys blazed so wide the ball threatened to go out for a throw from a narrow angle. Dan then cushioned a header into Ricky who hit the crossbar again (!!) from close range but was ruled offside anyway. Finally, Tom himself found the ball at his feet 6 yards out following some pinball in the box, but from the angle could only find the keeper.
So, 1-1 at half time, and much like the game at Old Blues two weeks ago, Merton had it all to do in the second half against the wind. Lofty said as much in his half time team talk, but pointed to the fact we scored 5 second half goals in that game against the wind so we could do it again.
Ryan came on at half time, and was involved within seconds, first passing to the opposition and then chopping down the oppo player nearest to him. We’ll call that ring rust, although maybe the plan was to give them the ball
so he could show them the sort of tough tackling they would be receiving for the rest of the game! Despite the wind, Merton still looked the more dangerous team. Where EBOG had failed to get even close to getting out of their half for most of the first 45 minutes, Lofty’s clean striking from goal kicks was giving Merton a platform to attack from. Similarly, when EBOG tried the ball over the top, they learned much as Merton had in the first half, namely that the wind would often take it off the pitch or to the keeper.
As Merton pushed for the goal to take them into the lead, Dan played Ricky in only for a combination of defender and keeper to deny him. However, a Merton goal was coming and the pressure finally told ten minutes into the
second half. Some great pressing by the front 4 culminated in a rushed clearance by the keeper, and Dan sprinted in to rob the ball from the centre back as he waited for it to come down. Bursting into the box, for once he got
his head up and squared for Dave Scott as two defenders desperately tried to block the shot. Dave elected to take a touch on the very tricky pitch, teasing both keeper and one remaining centre-back as it
ran on a few yards. Things were all under control though and Dave (was very tempted to write Neal!) coolly slotted in from a couple of yards, almost dribbling into the net. 2-1.
On a heavy pitch, the front two and the wingers were being rotated regularly, and Tom, having come off at HT, duly came on and scored with his first touch to make it 3-1. This time, some outstanding play down the right by
Ricky saw him block an attempted clearance by the full-back, chase it down and hit a first time cross from the edge of the area to Denys. As with Dave, Denys decided to take a touch, and the chance looked to be gone as the
defensive cover closed in on Denys with the ball now slightly behind him. However, Tom had sprinted into the box in support, and recognising this Denys instead used his body to hold off the defenders as Tom smashed into the
roof of the net from close range. 3-1.
Despite the comfort of a two goal cushion, 3-1 was still a dangerous scoreline and with heavy legs and the wind against us, it was very important not to give EBOG a sniff of a second goal. Fortunately with war boars Ryan and Pete in the middle, the opposition were slowly losing the will to fight. Both men were flying into tackles left right and centre. Pete was perhaps lucky not to be booked as he cynically stopped an EBOG break with a well placed shoulder, but the reality was that for many of the opposition players, seeing him bear down on them was enough to make them kick the ball into touch and evacuate the immediate area. Ryan was showcasing his full array of slide tackles in front of the man, stopping the ball with his leg, back, and shoulder on different occasions as he flew by, and often then getting up to win the second ball from the bemused opposition. Vin and Joel were also excellent, often heading clear a full 15-20 yards against the wind which helped enormously in stopping the opposition building any momentum. EBOG were getting frustrated at what they saw as rough treatment, and this boiled over into a full blown kick at Pete by one player, followed by a bit of a melee of pushing, which the referee somewhat mysteriously warranted no action whatsoever beyond a free kick.
Merton were a little more defensively-minded now as legs tired, but there was still time for some further action. A swift counter attack saw Merton with 7 men forward, but a misplaced through-ball looked to have ended the attack. Right back Tony was having none of this however, perhaps enjoying the chance to get away from marking their tricky winger, and chased the ball down, stopping it on the by-line 10 yards from goal. Sensing a killer fourth goal, Seb screamed for the cross. Or if you listen to Denys account of this, he more mewed for the cross in a soft, quiet, pleading voice. Toooooonnny, Toooooony he pleaded (sound files of this are available). Tony was having none of this (or perhaps couldn’t hear noises that highly pitched) and instead went for goal. This was somewhat ambitious considering he was standing on the byline with the post between him and the goal and no angle whatsoever, but to be fair he forced the keeper/post into a save. Seb was devastated.
The game went on. And on. 17 minutes to go turned into about 47, as the referee kept finding time from somewhere. It turned out that perhaps he meant 27 when he said 17, no one was really sure except Ryan who was convinced (and told the ref so) that “ball in car-park” time was not being applied consistently to both teams and more damningly that he being lied to. EBOG used this (extra?) time to play in a couple of very teasing free-kicks that no-one could apply a finish to, Lofty instead watching them cooly (outwardly at least) past his far post.
The icing on the cake that was the 4th goal duly arrived with 2 minutes to go. Mustard, having taken a week off from sniffing out danger, bagged an assist with a quick throw in down the left. Tom took advantage of some tired legs to beat the fullback and cut inside into the box before passing crisply into the corner as Denys and Dan waited hopefully for a square ball. So, 4-1 and once again a great performance into the wind and a proper battle of a game in the wind and the mud. Boar weather! Most importantly, the sheer desire and will to win of this team was once again evident and is playing a massive part of our success so far this season.
MOTM: Pete Jennings, for his tireless running, a succession of big tackles, and successfully scaring opposing players so much that they didn’t want to play any more. Also a massive mentions to Ryan’s Dad for his vocal
support from the touchline and also for the ill Mike Stone, who dragged himself to North London just to watch the game from beneath several layers of clothes and coats.
DOTM: Tough this week, with everyone playing well, but had to be Joel for the handball.
Vicenzio Di Matteo
Joel Van Oosten
Vicenzio Di Matteo
Joel Van Oosten