3s vs Winchmore Hill – 16.01.16
Maximum effort but a lack of incision saw Merton’s penultimate North London visit of the season result in only the one point, leaving a must-win game vs Nottsborough next week to keep any faint title hopes alive.
Despite the recent rain in South London, Winchmore Hill appeared to have their own micro climate as the massive pitch was pretty much in perfect condition. A big pitch for the first game back after 6 weeks certainly meant this was going to be a workout.
With Kieran letting us down with a no-show for the second time this season (fyi 1 point from those two games, 22 from 27 in the other 9 games), Merton were forced into an unanticipated reshuffle with Pete Jennings and Neal Davison manfully volunteering to keep for a half each. Pete started between the sticks with Merton lining up 4-4-2. This was a step into the unknown somewhat as in the return fixture they had cunningly (or perhaps not) saved all their best players from being worked out by only showing up with 7 men.
Merton started the brighter of the two teams early doors, Denys volleying over the bar from a corner (was almost too good a contact), but an energetic Winchmore Hill side were very much in the game, using the large pitch to good effect with a string of good counter attacks as Merton failed to keep the ball with much regularity. Merton ultimately repelled these without too much alarm, but our shape was somewhat lopsided and somewhat bizarrely was resulting in both Mike Reed and Dan Kelly effectively sharing a LWG role as Winchmore often overloaded their right side (whilst playing a lot down their left). Winchmore’s best chance came via this route, a counter down their right resulting in a cross to the back post that was headed just wide.
The game was very stretched almost from the outset, with Merton’s only other chance of note coming when Tom bustled his way into the area to fire a return ball from Denys over the bar in a tough chance. At the other end, Pete Jennings was showcasing hitherto unknown goal-keeping skills, combining low-fuss competent catching with one superman punch from a corner to clear. Ticking all the boxes. The other first half incident to report saw a Winchmore player split his forehead open against Reece’s knee as both challenged for the ball. This did result in a 5 minute delay whilst his teammates a) first wondered what to do, b) waited for a jumper to be chosen as a bandage, and then c) concluded they should all hold his hand and admire his bandage on the touchline for a few minutes rather than restart the game.
So 0-0 at half time. Merton rejigged their shape to try and give them more control of the ball, Denys taking a rest and Darcy making a welcome return to the side as we switched to 4-4-1-1, with Dave just behind Tom. As an added bonus, Pete was enjoying goalkeeping so much he said he’d play the rest of the season there. Well, he may have actually said “the rest of the game” but we all knew what he meant.
So, changes made, Merton were ready to go on and dominate the game and take the three points. All this was perfect in theory, but for the next 5 minutes instead Merton switched off slightly and faced wave after wave of attacks, with only some last ditch tackling and some wayward finishing stopping Winchmore Hill taking the lead. After this crazy 5 minutes, Merton got to grips once more with the game, Dave Scott linking play up well, and Darcy adding some creativity to the middle of the park, but still we couldn’t find a final pass. The closest moment at this point in the game when Tom was played in down the left, only for his cut back to elude Dave and Dan, before the pendulum swung back to Winchmore Hill.
Two big moments in the game saw Mustard bring his Sniffing-out-danger skills to the fore again, firstly blocking with his shoulder/arm as a Winchmore Hill player wriggled free in the box. Next, Pete decided to make his goal-keeping life a little more interesting by dropping a cross at the feet of an opposition striker, only for mustard to pivot the player away from goal and then block his attempted strike. What. A. SOD.
Merton made further changes, replacing Dan and Mike with Denys and Joel, and as Winchmore Hill tired Merton really came to dominate the game. Neal, Reece, Dave and Darcy were passing the ball well in midfield, and with us now keeping the ball much more, there only looked like one team that could win it. At the back Vin continued to mop up loose balls and get us playing again as he had been all game.
The decisive pass of the game of the game came from Dave Scott. Some might say it was an overhit pass from the centre of the pitch behind the overlapping Ricky, but none could deny that seeing a flat, driven pass fly over the touchline and nestle itself from an impossible angle in a bin by the touchline was brilliant. The bin didn’t even fall over. Both sides literally cheered, and the oppo even ventured that it should be worth half a goal. It was that good. Sadly the ref did not take them up on the offer.
Anyway, back to the football on the pitch. Merton were still searching for a final ball, and it almost came with a huge up and under clearance that Winchmore failed to deal with. Tom and Denys hustled, the defender lost the flight of the ball and fell, but somehow managed to slow play down as cover came in. Nevertheless Denys wriggled free to shoot from the edge of the area…only for the ball to fly just wide. More quarter-chances came and went, a succession of corners/wide free kicks, and one free kick just outside the box that the wall blocked. Again, Merton just couldn’t find a final pass and ran out of time. 0-0.
A disappointing result, but probably what the performance merited, as despite a much improved second half we just couldn’t fashion a clear chance on goal. There will definitely be some tired legs after all 14 men covered a lot of ground (well 13, as Pete did bugger all running in goal). Mustard clocked 7.5k on his fitbit from left back as a benchmark.
MOTM: Men this week as a tied vote. Pete for his excellent goal keeping performance as a volunteer, and Vin, who consistently broke up play and was tidy throughout with the ball from centre back. Dave also gets an honourable mention.
DOTM. Lots of contenders (Dan K for “jumping for a header like a total fairy”, Dave for the bin shot (also a reason he was voted by some as MOTM!)), but Ricky prevailed in a tight battle after stopping in disgust after a bad pass to him and letting his opposite number run off into the space behind him with the ball.
Vincenzo Di Matteo
Vincenzo Di Matteo