Despite a valiant effort Merton came up short in their 3rd vs 1st showdown with Nottsborough, with the visitors leaving with the 3 points.
With the rain pouring down on Saturday morning, a second week in a row with a pitch inspection threatened to leave Merton without a game. However, somewhat miraculously the swamp we affectionately (or maybe just factually) call the Hood managed to withstand the deluge and the game was called on. This may be the first time a home game has passed a pitch inspection, at least to this writer’s knowledge!
Merton lined up 5-2-3, with the aim of containing a free-scoring Nottsborough side and using the front 3 to pressurise the opposition back four. Paul Ellis returned in goal for the now departed Arturs, Ricardo returned from his ban to start at right wing back, and Pete Jennings from injury to come into the centre midfield alongside Neal in a “dogs of war” combination. After an excellent game coming on as a substitute last week, Tom lined up as part of the front three. To complete proceedings the injured Ryan was accompanied by the long lost Walshy (Walshy!) for a season high home crowd of 2, despite the pouring rain.
Merton were fully up for the game with the reward of top spot up for grabs and started well, forcing Nottsborough back into their half without quite creating anything. That changed as Dan was played in by Tom with a neat throughball, only to be barged off the ball just outside the edge of the area. From the resulting free-kick, Lofty bent the ball in and Pete Jennings salmonesque (but without needing to really leap, so we’ll go with lean) lean steered a good chance just wide of the post. A good chance missed, and unfortunately Merton were soon behind.
The visitors had started to get back into the game somewhat, with their talented right winger seeing a lot of the ball vs Ricardo, but the first goal was still something of a surprise. A Nottsborough free kick from just under 30 yards was curled over the wall and dipped over Paul Ellis, who despite wearing a non-regulation sixth stud was unable to leap out of the sizeable goal mouth puddle sufficiently to the reach the ball. 0-1.
Undeterred, Merton rallied. The front free of Dave, Tom and Dan led from the front, pressing the opposition back, with Neal in particular relishing the battle in the middle of the pitch, as the majority of the play was now in the Nottsborough half. In particular one crunching and entirely fair tackle from Neal really showed the level of intensity (and was rewarded with a retalitory tackle that earned the opposing player the first yellow card of the game).
Merton continued to press. Vin played a delightful through ball in to Dan, who should have done better with the chance from the corner of the box – more composure needed! However, the home side levelled as the building pressure and succession of free kicks finally paid off. A somewhat mysterious/contraversial indirect free kick award for handball saw Lofty lift the ball into the box. The ball was only half cleared, and Dave Scott reacted fastest to stab the ball back towards goal. Although slightly mishit due to the lack of reaction time the slight bounce was enough to beat the goalkeeper’s despairing dive and the ball nestled into the corner. 1-1.
Nottsborough responded well, playing their way down the line and crossing for a great chance to go back ahead, only to put the ball over the bar, before Merton reasserted themselves, and ended the half back in the ascendancy. At half time having got the goal back, and being the dominant team for the last 15 minutes of the half, the team really felt that they could go on and win the game. Lofty made one change with the soaking wet Dan (having ended up in the goalmouth puddle just before halftime) replaced with Yomi upfront.
Unfortunately, the second half didn’t quite start in the same manner that the first half ended. Nottsborough raised their level, and Merton just lost a little of the intensity they had in the first half, struggling to clear their lines and get into the opposition half. When they did finally create a great chance on the counter, with Tom released down the right, the referee rather frustratingly brought play back to award a freekick to Merton. Seb came on for the hamstrung Vin, slotting in at full back as Mustard moved inside. This did little to halt the Nottsborough charge, and they took the lead again – some sharp passing drawing first Mustard and then the covering Lofty out of position before a cross into the box fell to the feet of a Nottsborough forward to guide home through a crowd of players. 1-2.
Merton were looking tired now, with gaps appearing for the opposition to exploit, and a tired tackle from a Pete Jennings desperate to come off saw him booked. Indeed, such was his desperation to reach the rest promised by the touchline, he had a full-on hissy fit as the ref tried to talk to him and take his details. In his own words, “he just wanted to come off.” Unfortunately, Ricardo also was feeling the effects of a first game back after a few weeks out, and wanted to come off as well. With Vin injured, Dan came on for Pete and Ricardo was told to soldier on, perhaps taking that a little too literally when he followed Pete into the referee’s book with a forceful lunging tackle that dumped the opposition winger to the floor.
The change did little to alter the flow of the game, with the visitors continuing to dominate and moving the ball very well to exploit the tired legs. Some manful and even borderline heroic (but without the desperation the word implies) defending from the back three of Lofty, Mike, and Mike – or as Mustard put it, “Sniffing out danger or SOD” kept Merton in the game. When even that wasn’t enough, Paul Ellis was there, with one particularly outstanding point-blank save from a shot that no-one could quite believe hadn’t gone in.
At the other end, Merton couldn’t quite fashion an equaliser on the rare ocasions they could get forward. Dan robbed the centre back momentarily on the edge of the box only for a recovering tackle / “outrageous dive” (depending on who saw it, but it should be noted those in the “dive” camp were generally furthest away!) to snuff out the danger. A late rally forced a number of corners and free-kicks but nothing clear cut and the game ended with Nottsborough ultimately as deserved winners.
Despite the defeat, Merton can take great heart from the first half performance, the overall commitment level and the knowledge that they gave the league leaders a proper game. All of which isn’t actually that heartening vs some actual points, but with some players still┬ámissing and some still short of match fitness, Merton can certainly expect to improve before we play the return fixture. Next up, an away game at Old Blues and a chance to bounce straight back from this defeat with a win.
MOTM – Lofty narrowly earned the award from Neal, who competed ferociously throughout. The rest of the defence should also get a special mention for some commited defending that kept us in the game second half.
DOTM – An (allegedly) tough call between the Jennings strop and the “Outrageous” Dan Dive (it wasn’t a dive!), before Neal made some post-match whatsapp comments which resulted in his temporary exclusion from the group for “disrespecting the boar.” Obviously this can’t be re-published, but the symbols of a boar and a weapon were present in what can only be described as in an inciendary sequential order. As the writer is one of the nominees, and it wasn’t a dive, and because Neal’s comments were post-match, the DOTM winner this week is Mr Pete Jennings, who will probably take this in good grace, but it would be infinitely more amusing if he got in a strop about it.
Posted in Match Reports 3s