3s vs Nottsborough – 07.01.17
Nottsborough 4s – 6
Merton 3s – 3
2017 had arrived and with it some extremely cold and wet weather but following what was by all accounts a great occasion for the New Years Day memorial game, the weather certainly did nothing to dampen the optimism amongst the lads that the 3s could turn their season around. A string of closely contested games before the Christmas break had brought no reward and we found ourselves locked in to a relegation battle as we entered January.
An uncharacteristically late confirmation of the squads from Lofty left everyone in suspense as the clock ticked by on Friday morning, but when they finally came in the excitement at the prospect of a strong result was only fuelled further with a strong 3s squad which, despite some notable absentees called up to the 2s, contained a returning Vin and the man mountain Mike Todt who’d earned another call up following a strong showing including a goal for the 3s earlier in the season.
Game day arrived and the news broke that the reliable Dan R’s sofa had been safely delivered and he was on course to make the game. Unfortunately however, others weren’t quite so keen to make the game and failed to show face (or notify) despite the close proximity to the Hood leaving the 3s with a bare eleven for a tough away fixture at title challengers Nottsborough.
The game kicked off with Merton in solid 4-4-1-1 shape with Fitz given license to get forward and support Denys up top. A very respectable pitch gave the team an opportunity to get our foot on the ball and play our passing game which had the positive impact of seeing Merton start the game the faster for a change, Frankie on the left and Mustard just inside him in particular were causing problems for the opposition.
Around 5 minutes in to the game came the first incident of note. Denys’ hold up play drew a challenge around 20 yards out and saw the defender play the ball back to the opposition goalkeeper who duly picked it up. As the referee blew up for a Merton indirect free kick on the edge of the 6 yard box, Mustard and Denys’ were on the same wavelength and charged to the spot of the infringement leaving everyone else in their wake. On their arrival a quick free kick saw Denys square the ball to Mustard who duly passed the ball in to the net. Genius. Oh no, hang on, wait. In a moment I can only compare to the infamous Henry/Pires passing penalty, Mustard had inadvertently overrun the spot of the free kick (or Denys had taken too long to take the free kick, it depends who you ask) and their quick thinking had been ruined by a lack of composure on execution as the referee blew up for offside. 5 minutes in and dick of the day was surely sewn up already.
The score may have been 0-0 but the opposition were clearly rattled as Merton continued to press and surge forward with numbers almost every time we had the ball. The attacking play did leave Merton exposed on the counter attack occasionally and Dan in goal was forced in to a couple of top class saves to prevent a goal against the run of play before Merton were finally able to take the lead at around the quarter hour mark. A ball was whipped in from out wide and the Nottsborough defence’s ineptitude at dealing with the arial threat was exposed, the ball not sufficiently cleared resulting in some penalty box pinball. While Mustard and Denys engaged in a spot of mud wrestling with their respective defenders (claiming penalties) it was left to Fitz to rifle the ball home from close range, and this time the goal stood. 1-0 Boars and Fitz’s first goal for the club.
The game continued in a similar fashion for the next 15 minutes or so before a Nottsborough counter drew a cynical but necessary challenge from Dan R in the middle of goal around 20 yards out. After what seemed an age with the opposition changing goalkeeper, the referee finally allowed the kick to be taken and a low skimmer across the wet surface and around the wall left Dan in goal disappointed he hadn’t made the save. 1-1.
Unperturbed, Merton continued to play in the same fashion and posed further problems to the Nottsborough defence. By this stage however, the opposition were starting to come in to the game more and it was certainly a game with the attackers on top. 40 minutes in and Merton won a free kick on the right hand side around the half way line. Sensing an opportunity, Mike hurried forward to pose the opposition further threat in the air. Dan swung a great ball in towards the far post and although it eluded Mike who had drawn attention from the defence, Frankie was able to win the header at the back stick and loop it back across goal. What should have been a regulation catch for any normal sized goalkeeper turned out to be too tall a task for the diminutive opposition keeper at the time, who could only haplessly flap at the ball leaving Mustard the simplest of finishes from close range. 2-1 Boars.
Disappointingly, hopes of getting in at half time with a lead were dashed almost instantly as a great individual run from an opposition midfielder yielded a goal when he cut through our midfield like a hot knife through butter, side stepped Vin and slotted home neatly in to the bottom corner from the resultant 1 on 1 with Dan. 2-2 when half time arrived.
The lads came in at half time feeling hard done by not to have a lead following what had quite frankly been the best half of football the Merton 3s had put together all season. We knew we needed to come out firing early in the second half and get a lead, as with a bare eleven the final 20 minutes were always going to be a challenge.
Unfortunately, Nottsborough began the second half strongly, presumably buoyed by the fact they were level despite being outplayed during the first period, and after a period of early pressure and a string of corners the hosts took the lead for the first time in the game. The SAL Junior Div 2’s answer to Adebayo Akinfenwa picked the ball up in the centre of the park and bulldozed his way to the edge of the box (with Dan later quoting “I just bounced off him for their 3rd goal”) where he squared to a teammate who finished low in to the corner from around 12 yards out. 3-2 Nottsborough.
For the next 20 minutes or so Merton came back in to the game but were never able to regain the dominance shown in the first half and it was relatively even affair. Some more great stops from Dan in goal along with some resolute defending kept the Boars in it before Merton’s first real opportunity of the second half arose. Some lovely footwork from Dan picking the ball up at right back and cutting inside past two opposition players before sliding a great ball through to Fitz who’d made a great run in behind and thought he found himself through on goal. That was until the opposition’s last man savagely scythed him down on the edge of the box (think Sol Campbell’s never ending slide tackle but more man and less ball). To the dismay of every single boar, the referee failed to give the decision (perhaps not wanting to dirty the new red card he got for Christmas) and waved play on.
From this point on the lack of substitutes and soft ground began to take its toll on Merton’s legs and before long it was 4-2 with the Nottsborough forward finding too much space on the penalty spot and drilling one in to the corner. Swiftly afterwards it became 5-2 as the little opposition midfielder, now relieved of his duties in goal, picked the ball up a full 30 yards out and drove a high dipping ball towards goal. Dan back-pedalled rapidly and rose to get a hand on the ball sending it skywards before landing on his back on the goal line. Time seemed to stand still at this point as the ball dropped and the lack of any attempt to get up from Dan left the rest of the team to assume another top save had been made and the ball was dropping over the bar. This was not the case however, as the ball dropped under the bar and over the line to the bemusement of pretty much everyone, Boars and opposition alike. Not least Dan who claimed landing on his back had left him momentarily in shock and stopped him from moving as the ball dropped down over him. Perhaps the dick of the day vote was opening itself up again after all.
5-2 became 6-2 not long after as the fight had seemingly been knocked out of Merton by the time we entered the final 10 minutes, a run down the wing from the oppositions star man (AKA “the lad in the blue boots”) left three Merton players for dead before cutting inside and slotting home at the near post from close range. Nottsborough continued to pile on the pressure in the final ten minutes but unwilling to concede a seventh Merton battled away in defence and with Dan able to make another couple of top saves (sore back eh?) it was the Boars who were able to have the last laugh. Merton were awarded a foul on the half way line in a similar position to that from which we had scored our second and once again Dan Rist, who had been having a strong game going forward all day, stepped up to take it. Not keen on delegating responsibility for scoring a consolation to any of the lads in the box, Dan stepped up with a goal of the season contender (also his first goal for the club) bending the diagonal ball across and finding the top corner off the underside of the bar – think Ronaldinho free kick against England in the 2002 World Cup, but from the half way line.
And with that came the final whistle, a day that had started out with so much promise (and plenty of new boots) for the 3s had ultimately ended in defeat, as have so many other close fought games this season. But a strong performance from the lads for 70 minutes is something we can take heart from for the rest of the season, with the opposition skipper commenting post game that we were the best footballing side they had faced all season and with a bit more fitness or some substitutes available it could have been a different story.
Man of the Match – Dan R
Dick of the Day – Dan B
Scorers – Fitz, Mustard, Dan R