There’d been a media frenzy all week about Storm Barney, and Britain awoke to a white Saturday countrywide. Thankfully, the Alleyn Club near Dulwich had dodged the snow, and it was game on for Merton against the table-topping Alleyn Old Boys – albeit with the mercury barely above zero degrees

Strapped for numbers, the 4s were grateful for some help from 2s’ stalwarts Paul and Oli. The former took his place in the centre of defence with Saffer Mike; Ed and John on the left and right respectively. Oli and Joe lined up in the middle of the park, with skipper Chris and Mike on the wings, and Dulanie and Dom sat upfront to complete the 4-4-2 formation on what was a tight – and very slippery – pitch. The game began with Old Boys in the ascendancy, as was perhaps to be expected. But Merton had a certain calm about them, and the home side were reduced to passing it around in front of the defence in the face of some tough and committed tackling. The Yellows showed endeavour too, keeping it on the ground were possible, and making some surging runs up the flanks. But if the league leaders didn’t know they were in a game already, they certainly did after 15 minutes. A well-earned corner was teasingly swung in by Mike, and at the far post towered Dulanie. His header from the tightest of angles then thundered into the back of the net, leaving the hosts in disbelief and Merton in raptures. 1-0, and game on! Old Boys came out stronger after that, and missed a glorious chance from point blank shortly after. But a sign of things to come came midway through the half, as a ball bobbing around the edge of the box was launched into an evasive Joe. A harsh penalty was the result from the unconvincing referee, despite there being doubt over both the intent and his position in the box. But the Alleyn striker never looked confident as he readied himself, and smashed his ensuing effort from 12 yards into the crossbar – a let off for Merton, although perhaps justifiably. The visitors continued to have the measure of their opponents in what was increasingly becoming a niggly contest. The tackling was as immense as the determination, and the equaliser thus required something rather special. A loose ball bobbing around outside the box ought to have been cleared, but the strike was nonetheless dispatched with aplomb into the bottom right corner, with nothing Sam or anyone could do to stop it. 1-1. But if the first was quality, the second for Alleyn was a source of major controversy. From midfield the ball was cleverly looped over the defence to a striker who may or may not have been offside. However, the player he nudged the ball to as he bore down on goal was unequivocally in front of him, and with no defenders in the equation, his tap in should never have stood. Merton rightly argued their case, but the referee turned an infuriatingly deaf ear. The 2-1 score line was desperately cruel on the Yellows, who’d battled with all they had.

And with the break approaching, further salt was to be rubbed into the wounds. Alleyn were correctly awarded a free kick on the edge of the area. Less correct though, was the player who took it being permitted to do so before the whistle had gone, with Sam still organising his wall and not ready for it. But again, the goal stood, and 3-1 at the interval left Merton facing an undeserved two-goal deficit.

Talk was positive at the break, albeit brief, as neither team fancied standing around in the freezing cold for too long. Yet the men from the Hood came out with purpose when play resumed, taking a particular interest in ferocious, but fair, tackling, and attempting to rattle the opposition.

Again though, it was a crucial decision that scuppered their momentum. Alleyn managed to find a way into the box up the right, and Bill – whose tackling, heart and aggression had been central to Merton’s good start to the half – slid in to intercept just inside the box. Perhaps he missed the ball, but the theatrical dive that followed from the Old Boys striker was more akin to what you might see in El Clasico than in English Saturday league football. Nevertheless, the obliging ref pointed to the spot, and this time the Old Boys striker made no mistake. 4-1. Brutal. Unjust. But so it was.

Yet rather than dispiriting Merton, it pulled them even closer together. They continued to fly into the tackles, but more than that, they began to gain a foothold in the game by using the wings. Dulanie’s hold up play was superb too, and Dom continued to find ways of eluding defenders and putting dangerous balls in. Corners came thick and fast, and so did a series of half chances. Eventually, the reward came, as Ed’s crossfield ball found Chris in acres of space. While the beleaguered Old Boys defence cried for offside, Chris calmly slotted it past the keeper in a one-on-one to make it 4-2. Buoyed by the richly deserved lifeline, Merton ramped things up. The talking was loud, the tackles were harder, and the goal threat greater than ever before. Alleyn were no longer passing it around calmly, and were instead hacking it away in a panic.

Perhaps the key moment came with 10 to go, as a corner came from the left which Dulanie met with gusto. It absolutely flew off his head from just 6 yards out, yet somehow the keeper pulled off a reflex save for the ages to deny him. It truly was save of the season material, and perhaps the Yellows knew there and then that it just wasn’t meant to be.

Such a suspicion was confirmed 5 minutes later, and in fitting circumstances. Alleyn won a corner, and with much tussling going on in the area, one of the blues absolutely hurtled into Paul to take him out. Yet incredibly, no foul was given, and the ball ended up in the back of the net to make it 5-2. Another shocker, a flattering score-line, and the nail in the coffin for both Merton and any sense of decorum in the contest.Alleyn – not the kind of guys you’d be interested in going for a beer with too often – had already amassed 4 yellow cards for indiscipline. But also in the book were Joe and Dom, and in the last 5 minutes, they were given their marching orders for a second yellow, although both men could lay claim to having had at least one dubious caution against them.

It was a bitter end to what had already been a rather distasteful match, in which the referee had lost all semblance of control. The last 5 minutes petered out with 9-man Merton simply waiting for the whistle to go. A couple of good saves from Sam was the only notable action before things finally came to a conclusion.

Looking back, it certainly wasn’t a classic, and given the persistent niggle and controversial decisions, it wasn’t a match that was greatly enjoyed either. But on the bright side, it was one in which Merton gave the league leaders a heck of a game on their own patch, showing the kind of fight and determination that’s needed if they are to move up the table. And with two winnable games coming up, the hope will be that such intensity will continue in order to get the points on the board.

FINAL SCORE: Alleyn Old Boys 4s 5 – 2 Merton 4s SCORER: Dulanie Richards, Chris Outred MOTM: Dulanie Richards

STARTING LINE-UP: Samuel Singer-Ripley (GK), John Gridley, Mike Todt, Paul Pearce, Edward Plaistow, Michael Elgar, Joe Plumridge (Billy Dowie), Oli Ross (Ryan Burchell), Chris Outred, Dom Plumridge, Dulanie Richards.

Posted in Match Reports 4s