3s vs St James Old Boys
Another full squad of 14 boars plus cheerleader Walshy lined up for Merton 3s against the howling wind and a somewhat rag-tag St James Old Boys reserves, sporting a colourful array of shorts and socks and only ten men. Always a tasty proposition but we didn’t work the numbers particularly well in the first 20 mins, instead devoting 6 men to shut down their lone striker who really didn’t warrant such suspicion. Once we’d worked out that we could afford to push on a bit, the pattern of the game was set; namely that we needn’t have bothered with marking out the full pitch and putting both goals out as the game was only played in half of it.
The opener/nerve-settler came when Mustard evaded a challenge and bundled the ball into Ricky, who played in Tom to slot past the keeper, moments after Lofty had, in a moment of inspiration, hauled himself off and put Tom up front. Mustard is so committed to the Merton cause these days that he is actually beginning to take on the form of a boar, and this was evident as he burrowed down the left wing, head bowed, leading with the tusks. As defenders leapt out of the way presumably fearing for their own safety he suddenly found himself in the opposition box, where the boar analogies abruptly ended with an outrageous swan dive and hopeful look towards the referee. No pen; and DOTD sewn up before half time.
The second goal was a contender for goal of the season in the coveted “team goal” category. Mike and Vin started the move on the half way line, working the ball out to Mustard, who passed it in to Pete in the middle, who shifted it wide to Neal at right-back, who knocked it down the line to Reece, who threaded it through to Ryan all alone on the 6-yard line, who hacked it across goal for Denys to smash in at the far post. MOTD analysis suggests 25 completed passes in the build up, but I could just be making that up. 2-0 at half time, more of the same encouraged for the second half as Ellis picked up his deckchair, walked it down to the other goalmouth and re-opened his Mills & Boom novel.
More of the same in the second half as Joel “Skippy” Van Oosten was introduced and boars of war Pete and Ryan pushed on in midfield in search of someone to tackle. Merton could sniff a goal-fest, and opportunities were being generated aplenty with nice triangles down the right between Neal, Reece and Ryan, running in behind from Tom and Ricky, and Denys, more bear than boar, leading the line out-muscling defenders and creating space. The third goal came when one of said defenders scythed the big Ukranian down just outside the box, and was then sent to the touchline to remove his earrings and think about what he’d done. That left SJOB with nine men, so the ref graciously said we’d wait for him to return before re-starting play. Except nobody told Pete, who curled in a delightful chip for Denys to head back across goal where Tom arrived, charging in at full pace to poke the ball past the keeper. 3-0, and the hat-trick beckoned for Tom when Ricky tricked his way along the touch line and squared for Tom, 3 yards out, to blast straight at the keeper’s chest. He’d have to wait for the third, but in the meantime Merton poured forward, wasting a succession of corners, crosses and goalmouth scrambles. At one point, Chris “Big Papa” Papanastatiou was so dismayed to see Ryan’s left-foot swinging for a ball just in front of him in the 6-yard box that he yelled “NOOOOOOOOOO” as if auditioning for a role in a Hollywood B-movie.
The hat-trick was completed with a goal Tom had been threatening to score all game, running off the shoulder of the centre-back onto a lofted through ball from Pete (after he’d won the ball and flattened his man, naturally) and slotting into the corner past the admittedly excellent keeper, without whom Tom could have had 6 and Merton 16. No sooner than the ball had hit the back of the net, and before he’d even had time to celebrate his achievement, Tom was hauled off as a reminder that no one player is bigger than the team. At this point there was still plenty of time left to run up a score, or at least there would have been had we been playing 90 minutes. Alarm bells should have been raised by the ref mentioning at kick-off that he had to shoot off straight after the game, and the fact that at one point he looked to the sky rather than his watch when asked how long was left. There were still chances to be had; Denys launched a thunderbolt from the edge of the box that hit the bar and fired straight upwards like a ground-to-air missile, then set up Chris P for a spectacular air-shot with the goal at his mercy. Meanwhile, Pete broke up a rare foray into the Merton half and dribbled back and forth past the bamboozled attacker who reacted by brutally hacking him down. Voices were raised, tempers about to flare as Pete got up, walked over the the offender and said “sorry for doing you there mate”.
The final whistle sounded shortly after on a convincing win, built on the solidity of Joel, Vin and Mike at the back (we’ve now conceded just 1 goal in 3 games) and the pace of Tom up front, who scooped a deserved MOM award. Also worth recording that the referee was actually very good and the opposition were good sports in difficult circumstances for them. Less than a season ago, it was Merton 3s who were turning up for away games with 10 men and now here we are with a full squad every week, great team spirit and difficult selection decisions to make. There will be tougher challenges ahead, starting with 2nd versus 3rd in the league next week. Bring it on.
MOM: Tom Benham
DOTM: Mike Reed
Vincenzo Di Matteo
Joel Van Oosten