Maybe it was just the warmth and sunshine. After all, it would seem ridiculous on the face of it that a team who’ve lost five games on the bounce – especially with the latest being a 6-0 reverse at Polytechnic – should have reason to feel confident. But then again, this was a team who’d started to play some really good football recently, and therein lay the main reason for them feeling confident as they set foot in their hallowed turf at the sadly-vandalised Hood for this clash against mid-table Bank of England.
Even a teensy snafu with the kit being locked inside the clubhouse – thus ruling out any chance of a meaningful warm-up – could dent the good feeling and mirth as the Merton 4s embraced each other. Eventually, the key arrived, the AC Milan-style kit was quickly donned, and the lads took to the field under clear skies and warm temperatures.
The game kicked off, and was almost breathless right from the off. End-to-end stuff, with both teams showing plenty of endeavour. BOE certainly had the better of the exchanges in the first 15 minutes, with a right-footed shot that went wide of the left post, and another from range which Kieran tipped wide. They might have done better from a free header at a corner later on too.
But to focus on that would be an injustice to Merton, who were not only far steadier at the back, but offered plenty going forward too. The midfield engine, spearheaded by Sonny and Will, provided a good base, and when the ball was played out wide, the home side looked particularly dangerous. They got themselves into good positions too, but, as has been the case over the last few weeks, their finishing wasn’t clinical.
In the last 10 minutes of the half, two crucial things happened though. At one end, Kieran made an outstanding reflex save when their striker looked sure to score. And then at the other end, in the dying minutes before the break, Mike Vogt sent a superb cross-field ball to Aaron. He nudged the ball down, it fell kindly, and he lashed it home with that deadly left boot from 10 yards out to make it 1-0.
Delirium for Merton, and what a way to go into the interval. Nothing but positive vibes were shared, but there was a determination in them to make it count. In the reverse fixture against these opponents, Merton had enjoyed the same half-time score, but shot themselves in the foot by going on the defensive.
This time though, they took the game to the oppo as soon as the whistle sounded for the resumption. Aaron was running riot on the right wing, and Merton enjoyed plenty of possession. And it stemmed almost entirely from Sonny, who was nothing short of outstanding at the heart of the midfield. His work rate was relentless, and Bank of England could hardly get a kick. Merton delivered wave after wave of attacks, and should have really scored earlier than they did.
In fact, they should have been given what was a stonewall penalty as well, but the ref – who it must be said was otherwise superb – seemed to bottle it on a foul that would surely have been called anywhere else on the pitch. Nevertheless, Merton were not to be denied, and eventually, after many goalmouth scrambles and missed opportunities, the second goal arrived. Aaron’s delivery was meekly parried by their keeper, and the ball bobbled around and eventually landed on the head of Dom. He had the simple task of nodding it over what was left of the defence, and the ball nestled gloriously in the net.
2-0. Merton had their crucial second, and Dom his first of 2017. May the floodgates now open.
More importantly, he’d now set Merton firmly on course for victory. He might have had another a few minutes later, as a delightful through ball had him one on one with the keeper. It wasn’t to be though, as the keeper thwarted his effort with a good block.
On the flip side, Bank of England did have one dangerous attack, which came from a Merton error. However, Kieran timed his charge off his line to perfection, and the combination of his presence and Will cleaning up meant that the visitors had been snuffed out.
Indeed, the final 10 minutes were a masterclass in game management, as Merton maintained their grip on their opponents to see out what turned into a relatively comfortable win. But it was comfortable only because the lads had worked their socks off, chasing everything down for the cause, and pulling in the same direction for each other. All 13 players who set foot on the field had played their part, and, even if long overdue, had finally patched it all together to put on a display of which we’ve known we’re capable all along.
Let’s use it now and finish the season strong. There’s plenty more good things to come from this team. Saturday was the proof of the pudding.
Goals: Loftus, D Plumridge
MOTM: Sonny Kennedy
Team: Kieran Lee (GK), Ed Plaistow, Mike Todt, Joe Plumridge, John Gridley, Will Harrison, Michael Vogt, Chris Outred, Sonny Kennedy, Aaron Loftus, Dom Plumridge
Subs: Dan Gridley, Frankie Kaligorou