Bank of England 2 – 1 Merton
Bank of England. What a treat of a venue! For this scribe, it was a first, and a privilege to set foot on such facilities. Banished to the ‘worst’ pitch of the lot, according to locals, Merton were greeted with a superb surface, conducive to good football. Unfortunately, the referee was an old foe, and it was taken as given before the kick off that Merton would be up against a 12th man of sorts. How true that would prove.
The game got underway, but almost immediately, there was a setback. Joe, who’d been in superb form in his new position of centre back, pulled up injured. It was a big blow, and although Danny Gridley was a more than capable replacement, it meant his enormous influence was lost in midfield.
And it showed. Bank of England were making all the early running. Although clear-cut chances weren’t necessarily coming thick and fast, Merton simply didn’t seem to be at the races; barely winning any first or second balls.
But about midway through the first half, that all changed on a dime. With one of their first attacks of the game, Merton unlocked the defence with some excellent build up play, and a fine series of passing put Dom through. Their defender realised the game was up; put in a lot-ditch tackle, mistimed it, and over Dom went. Stonewall penalty, and even the ref obliged by pointing to the spot.
Dom duly stepped up, and rolled it in with consummate ease. 1-0. Barely deserved, but Merton weren’t complaining.
But the goal gave Merton a massive lift, and they then took control of things from there. Down the right, Frankie did a superb job in both defence and attack. Ryan Burchell was right on his game in behind him, thus not allowing Bank of England a sniff. Things were equally solid down the left, and, best of all, Kieran was commanding his box with aplomb – coming off his line and confidently claiming any and every through ball on a skinny surface.
At the other end, chances and half chances were plentiful. Numerous free kicks were won in good positions with Dom causing havoc upfront, while sustained pressure in their box just didn’t quite see the ball go to feet when needed. The best chance fell to Mike. A great cross from Chris was met with a well-struck header. However, their defender cleared it off the line to prevent the two-goal cushion.
Nevertheless, 1-0 up at the break, Merton had every reason to feel like three points were in the offing. They had control, but the key would be to score another, and make the game safe.
The second half got going, and for the first 15 minutes of it, the two sides roughly cancelled each other out. There wasn’t much in the way of goalmouth activity, but Merton were still looking rock solid at the back.
Then Frankie suffered an unfortunate muscle strain, and had to leave the field. And it marked a notable change in momentum of the game. Perhaps the central midfield ran out of legs a bit too, but suddenly Merton retreated and invited wave after wave of attacks from the oppo. It wasn’t even counter-attack football: Merton simply weren’t able to get out of their half, and Dom cut an isolated figure upfront. The ref certainly didn’t help matters; ostensibly with an axe to grind against Merton, and the decisions blatantly all started going one way.
Yet for all of the barrage of pressure, Merton were standing tall. Everyone to a man was working their socks off, and, bar a free header from a corner, Bank of England actually failed to carve out any real chances. Certainly not from inside the box anyway. It just felt like one of those games the Yellows were going to see out.
But with about eight minutes to go, calamity struck. Merton just about dealt with a long throw in, but the oppo retrieved the ball and swarmed the Yellows’ box. Under immense pressure, Chris hustled their striker and just about stuck a foot out. Of course, there was no contact whatsoever, but it was enough for the opponent to spring himself into the air with a dive straight out of Hollywood.
Never a pen, but at the same time, with the referee having by now very clearly set out his stall, there was an air of inevitability about which way the decision would go. The spot was pointed to, another one of their strikers stepped up, and the ball was buried in the right corner of the net. Nothing Kieran could do. 1-1.
It was a devastating blow, but, heartbreakingly, worse was to come. About three minutes later, Bank of England were on the attack again, and their winger sent in a devilish cross. As he had done all game, Kieran called it loud and clear, and looked set to claim it. Unfortunately, the ball skidded awkwardly, and, after initially having it in his grasp, he fumbled, snatched, and then knocked it over his head. The ball nestled in the net. 2-1.
It was cruel on Kieran, who’d had a tremendous game until then. It was crueller still on Merton, who had put everything into defending their lead, and looked on course for a deserved victory. But with just minutes left on the clock, they now looked beaten, and weren’t able to conjure up a response. The final whistle went shortly after, and the dejected lads departed the field.
There were some initial inquests after the game, with the manager correctly pointing out that we’d gone on the defensive far too early, and not strung any passes together in the second half. But that was quickly followed up with the many positives which could be taken from this heartbreaking result. The lads had given it everything, and, for 80 minutes, had the measure of a team which would have thrashed them just four weeks ago.
Two unfortunate late goals – one of them highly dubious – didn’t change that. This is a team very much on the up, and increasingly difficult to beat. Now it’s time to convert that into consistent results.
Team: Kieran Lee (GK), Ed Plaistow, Mike Todt, Joe Plumridge, Will Harrison, Frankie Kaligorou, Chris Outred, Dan Gridley, Ryan Burchell, Jake Hewett, Dom Plumridge
Subs: Noor Emad, Chris Dodd
Goals: Dom Plumridge (pen)
MOTM: Ryan Burchell
DOTD: Chris – very unfortunate