Merton were once again left to wonder what might have been as they took back only one point from North London despite having the best of the chances.
Pre-match preparation was less than ideal. Lofty was forced to pull out with a pulled arse, on his birthday, no less. Darcy caused some confusion (and garnered some DOTD nominations in the process) by joking that the game was off. Mustard decided the meet time was later than stated and played Zelda whilst the rest of the squad were travelling. Darcy and Tony also missed the meet time by some distance (even though they left at 11.30!) Then, with it being a month since the boars had last played, with players spending the last few weeks appearing for other teams, we all collectively forgot the need for kit and had to borrow one (yellow, as it turned out) from the obliging home team.
All of this turned out to be more or less irrelevant as Merton started the game well on top against the bare 11 Finchleans side. Vin and Mike were playing the ball out from the back with confidence, Ryan and Darcy were dominating the centre of the pitch, and with Merton having the bulk of possession, the chances began to flow.
First, some robust tackling saw Mike Reed pass in-field to Dan, whose turn and shot was deflected wide for a corner. Then Ryan broke up play in the centre of the pitch, passed to Dan, who slid the ball in to Denys to shoot from inside the box. The keeper blocked. At the other end, the only chances were coming from Merton mistakes as we sometimes overplayed, with risky square passes going to the opposition on a couple of occasions.
Merton continued to dominate, with Neal Davison providing a great out-ball on the right at the top of the hill. Two chances came from this in quick succession. First, some neat passing found Neal out on the right who played in a first time ball behind the full-back for Dan to run on to. His cross found Denys at the far post, but he wasn’t quite set/expecting it and struck the ball wide from a good position. Next, a barnstorming run from Mike Stone saw him take the ball out of defence via some neat skill and a one-two or two, then find Neal out on the right and then collect a return pass as he stormed into the box. Unfortunately, after mostly admiring Mike’s work for the previous 60 yards, a Finchleans player decided they should probably make a tackle at this point, and the chance was gone.
Next, Denys returned the earlier pass from Dan with a deft flick into his path on the edge of the box. Dan took a touch to take the ball out of his feet and was poised to strike the ball when Dave Scott appeared from nowhere and took aim as well. Cue some gentlemanly “after you”, or “pointless dithering”, depending on your view point, before Dave took a touch and struck for goal. His somewhat bobbly shot may or may not have been tipped on to the post by the keeper, depending on who you talk to.
It didn’t look like it was going to be Merton’s day, but almost immediately after this Merton took the lead. More sharp passing involving Dave, Darcy and Ryan saw Dan receive the ball to feet on the edge of the area, and a beautifully disguised short pass played in Darcy. He confidently took aim at the top right corner, then dragged the shot past the deceived keeper into the bottom left. 1-0.
Merton expected to kick on and win the game, but instead it was Finchleans who responded. A few needless fouls gave Finchleans a series of free kicks, and they took advantage with a lofted free kick/cross towards the back post that somehow crept into the net via a small deflection. Conspiracy theories abounded as to how this happened (we were too deep? not deep enough? we should have attacked the ball, should the keeper have claimed it) but however it happened vs a team with an average height of about 4 ft 6, it was agreed it was a poor goal to concede. 1-1.
Buoyed by this Finchleans had their best spell of the game, and their no. 9 celebrated this by kicking Mike Stone in the head from their next free kick. There was quite a bit of blood, and Mike was forced to come off to get patched up by Ryan’s dad and then head to hospital for a stitch or three. Paul Welch, making his long-awaited comeback, came on in his stead and Merton got to half-time without any further damage.
At the half time team, Merton were confident of victory, stressing the need to put away our chances and keep playing football. In the event, however, we struggled to create much in the second half. The steep slope meant our previously successful tactic of playing down the right instead resulted in a series of congested throw-ins down the line, and we struggled to switch the play as we did in the first half, with Dave Scott sorely underused down the left. However, there were still a number of chances to relate, for both teams.
Merton’s best chances came mid-way through the half. First, Tony burst forward from right back, breaking through two tackles and heading towards the edge of the box. Ignoring pleas for a pass, instead he then twisted and turned his way past two more desperate tackles before unleashing a shot from the edge of the box that the keeper did well to tip over. Our second big chance saw Dave, Denys and Ryan work the ball across the pitch to play in Neal down the right. Cutting in from the corner of the 18 yard box, his cross-shot neatly split the difference between bottom corner finish and square ball to Dan and the chance was lost.
Merton were looking leggy in the second half, and Finchleans also had their chances, most notably when they got in down their left following a swift counter and bore down on goal. Besty was quickly off his line and did well to close down the angles, smothering the shot and bravely claiming the rebound at the feet of the striker.
Elsewhere on the pitch, a couple of notable incidents to relate. Mustard had a very quiet game, with not a sniff of a sod, but did at one point calmly cushion a header back to the keeper under considerable pressure. Composure. Paul Welch was utterly solid throughout in a great comeback game, at one point sprinting across the pitch to close down a Finchleans player, taking man, ball and anything else in the vicinity with a satisfying thump. Finally, Darcy danced/stumbled his way into the area following fine work from Denys, only to air-kick the bobbling ball when a square pass would have seen Ryan tap into an open goal.
Merton pressed to the end, but ultimately ran a little out of steam and had to settle for the draw. The game should have been won in the first half, but a chance for immediate redemption comes next week vs the same opponents.
MOTM: Ryan Gresty
DOTD: Either Mustard for being late and getting the most votes, or Denys for not voting for DOTD. It wasn’t entirely clear.
Team (4-4-2)
Besty (GK)
Mike Reed
Mike Stone
Vincenzo Di Matteo
Tony Postlethwaite
Neal Davison
Darcy Yates
Ryan Gresty
Dave Scott
Dan Kelly
Denys Zhurby
Paul Welch
Posted in Match Reports 3s