3s vs Old Finchleians – 02.04.16
3s beat a really good 9 man Old Finchleans 4-2 with OFs bossing it till they ran out of steam. Denys with a match winning hat trick. Oh, hang on, that’s someone else’s match report. Let’s start again.
Old Finchleans were the visitors to the newly drained Joseph Hood, and having arguably carried a number of players in the reverse fixture a couple of weeks back, they decided to show up with just 9 this week. A bold choice, and it saw confusion in the Merton ranks as an initial 4-3-3 line up was tweaked to 4-4-2 to try and take advantage of the extra men and exploit the wide areas. Lofty did his best to hammer home the message about not being complacent, keeping the ball moving, doing the simple stuff etc, and on a bright sunny spring afternoon, all looked set fair for an easy Merton win. If only.
Merton started well, spreading the ball confidently from left to right, with Tony a particular out-ball at right fullback and the centre-backs of Paul and Vin switching the play nicely. On the other side, Ricky and Mustard were linking up well, but as has been the case with much of this season, we failed to find the right final ball, either scuffing shots from distance or simply making the wrong choice from a series of dangerous positions. Merton did finally get it right on the 15 minute mark, some sharp passing between Darcy, Denys and Neal seeing Tom played in to play a cut back across goal. On a bobbly (honest!) surface Dan made sure of a good contact but rather than net bulge instead it was the underside of the crossbar that took the punishment and the score remained 0-0.
Denys then went off following a kick to the face, and Tom moved upfront to partner Dan, with Nick coming on at right midfield. This almost saw the opening goal, as Dan robbed the Finchleans fullback following a short pass out from the keeper and teased in a cross to the back post only for the newly central Tom to poke wide of the post.
Unfortunately, this early momentum rather dissipated, and it was then Finchleans who started to look the more dangerous. With at least one quality player in each of defence, midfield and attack, they started to get some joy down their left, counter-attacks rather bafflingly leaving them 3 on 3 on a couple of occasions as Merton were caught on the ball, or giving the ball away cheaply, on more than one occasion. There were a few warning signs; a couple of corners and free-kicks, a moment where their striker was through one on one only for debutant keeper Frankie to bravely block as the striker looked to finish, before Finchleans then took the lead. Again it came from some good work down their left, after Merton couldn’t complete a clearance from a corner, the ball was worked down the left and through a few attemped tackles, and then cut back for the oppo striker to slot home from near the penalty spot. 1-0, and shockingly the 9 men were ahead.
Merton tried to respond; Ricky and Nick in wide positions were having some joy but again we couldn’t find a final pass, Darcy hit the post from 15 yards after a nicely constructed move, Chris and Tom almost combined to play in Dan, but in truth it was still Finchleans that looked more dangerous on the few occasions they had the ball and it was a somewhat dispirted Merton team that reached half time 1-0 down.
Lofty had some harsh words for the team at half-time, deservedly so, and Merton ran out to start the second half suitably chastised and fired up to make amends. Almost immediately they found an equaliser, Tom driving at the defence before playing Dan in to shoot across goal. His shot was parried by the keeper and the rebound looked to be about to be buried by Denys (back on at half time after stemming the bleeding from the earlier kick), or Ricky, but some desperate defending from Finchleans made sure they kept their lead. More chances followed as Merton really dominated now – Denys unable to convert at the far post on a couple of occasions, Darcy and Ricky firing over from distance, and Tom getting in behind on a couple of occasions only to fail to find a Merton player with a cross, and then on one occasion forcing a good save from the keeper.
As the game entered its final quarter Lofty shifted the formation to 3 up top, with Tom joining Denys and Dan up front, and, not for the first time this season, the change brought a goal. Some nice passing between Neal, Nick and Tom saw a cross reach Denys in acres of space at the far post, and, ignoring Mustard’s desperate plea that he take a touch, Denys swept the ball first time into the far corner. 1-1, deadlock broken, and still 22 minutes to go to find the winner.
Normally, you would expect a team that had held out so long to crumble after that first goal goes in. Instead, Finchleans responded magnificently to conceding by retaking the lead. Unbelievable Jeff! After Ricky (now at LB) gave away a free kick just inside the Merton half, some disorganisation (Neal and Mustard were arguing about something, Lofty was desperately trying to get a message across) and the expectation that the ball would be pumped in long saw Merton caught unawares by a quick, short free kick. Two passes later, the Finchleans player takes aim from 30 yards unchallenged and puts it in the top corner. Great finish, great response from the oppo in what was pretty much their only shot on goal in the entire half, and within 2 minutes of equalising, Merton were behind again.
Merton were back to needing 2 goals, but undeterred, they continued to press and resumed their dominance of the game. Spaces were opening up wide now as legs tired, and as Merton passed the ball out from the back via Vin, Nick and Neal (now a rwb), Tom was let loose to run at the opposition defence. Driving to the edge of the area, he then played a through ball for Dan to hit, only for the ball to get somewhat stuck under his feet. Instead, Dan got his head up and squared to Ricky, whose shot was half blocked and instead turned in by the lurking Denys from close range. 2-2.
Merton continued to press an increasingly exhausted Finchleans and with still more than 10 minutes on the clock, Merton finally took the lead. This time Darcy and Denys combined to play Tom in, and he cooly slipped the ball under the keeper as he ran in on goal. 3-2.
There was still time for more drama, and to be fair Finchleans tried to stir themselves for a final effort, pushing men forward in search of another goal. Some tussles on and in the box between Mustard and the oppo striker frayed the nerves a little, but Merton stood firm, and instead found a fourth to seal the game. This time Ricky (who never stopped running all game) intercepted and brought the ball out from fullback, leading a 4 on 2 counter attack. Merton did their best to mess it up, a slightly overhit pass as the ball was squared to Denys and then Tom giving the keeper a chance to block. However, Merton reacted first to the ball and Denys was able to claim his hatrick by slotting the ball home once again from close range. 4-2, and after the all the dramas, Merton were finally able to close the game out and take the 3 points.
Not a classic performance, if certainly a lot more interesting than an easy stroll to victory. MOTM went to Ricky for his ceaseless running, both at LM and LB/LWB, with Denys a very close second for his first ever (hard to believe!) hatrick. Honourable mentions for Vin and Dan also. DOTM was Tony, ahead of Tom – presumably for a classic moment where an attempted tackle/kick saw him kick the oppo and then go down holding his leg.
Finally, a note of acknowledgement for the 9 Finchlean players who represented their club superbly and made for a thrilling game.
Vincenzo Di Matteo
Vincenzo Di Matteo