Ibis Eagles 4s vs. Merton 4s
SAL Minor Division 1 South
Saturday 31st October 2015
by Mike Todt

Inspired. Committed. Sensational. If only a football match was 70 minutes long. It about summed things up for a Merton side who did so many things right on Saturday, but ultimately couldn’t get a much needed first league win of the campaign over the line.

A glorious autumnal day greeted the men from the Hood when they arrived at Riverside Sports Ground, and, other than an excess of leaves, the pitch was in good nick. The task at hand was to topple the 5th-placed Ibis Eagles, themselves having endured mixed form.

The manager Ed turned skipper for the day, and after consultation with Chris Dodd, concocted a midfield diamond formation that would largely work a treat. Mikey Elgar was at the base, with Dulanie and Jake on either side. The front three pitted Dom, Dan Plaistow and Elliott together, while the back four lined up with Scholesy and Ryan on each fullback, in addition to Joe and Saffer Mike in the middle.

The whistle blew, and as things got underway, it was clear that Ibis had a bit about them. They had quality on the ball and some pace upfront. But almost immediately too, it became clear that Merton were going to have the measure of them. Any attacks through the middle were snuffed out, and their subsequent attempts to play with width were easy pickings for the yellow defence.

Although the visitors had offered little in the way of attacking thrust, Ibis were quickly becoming frustrated by the brilliance of Mikey in midfield, and the tenacity of a relentless Dom, who was to have them rattled for much of the contest.

It thus came as little surprise when Dulanie drew first blood around 20 minutes in. The ball broke handily for him, but, left with a one-on-one with the advancing keeper, he still had plenty to do. However, the team’s leading scorer exuded pure class, clinically tucking it away in the bottom left corner. 1-0, and Merton had their foothold.

Heads were straight back on though. And a good thing too, as the hosts gave the lads a fright, as a Rory Delap-esque throw-in caught the defence off guard in the box. The Ibis striker’s attempted volley was woefully skied, but it was a warning shot to the defenders nonetheless, who’d actually had precious little to do until that point.

But the focus and intensity were still very much there. Jake was flying in and winning balls he had no right to, Dom was as pugnacious as ever, and Mikey was simply immense in midfield. And 5 minutes before the break, one became two. The build-up was good, with some fine interplay leading to a corner.

But the goal itself was sublime. Mikey put in a searching ball from a corner, which cleared almost everybody in the box. However, lurking ominously in behind was Dulanie, whose first-time volley was the picture of perfection. With barely a back lift, the ball flew off the sweet spot of his boot, leaving the hapless Ibis keeper with little to do except watch it fly into his net for a second time.

2-0 and Merton were buzzing. A visibly dispirited home side offered nothing in response for the remainder of the half, and the visitors went into the break buoyant, and more than good value for their lead. The talk was understandably positive, but not complacent either. The first 10 minutes of the second stanza were going to be crucial, and everyone felt it.

And so the lads came out with aplomb, gritty as ever, and refusing to give Ibis an inch. Everyone was in sync with each other, reading from the same hymn book, although once again it was the outstanding midfield leading the way. The defence, in fact, were largely bystanders in what was turning into an exhibition of counter-attacking football.

And 10 minutes into the second period, a third goal was to come. A superb through ball sent Elliott on his way, who like Dulanie earlier, found himself one on one with the keeper. And like Dulanie earlier, he too put his chance away as coolly as you could ask for. 3-0 it was now and a rampant Merton could have been forgiven for setting their sights on a rout.

The first order of business though, was to secure three points. Some enforced changes were necessary too with Dulanie going off, while Ryan, who had put in a fine shift while feeling under the weather, had to call it a day midway through the second half. But the subs were doing their bit too, particularly Dan Kelly and Chris; the latter selflessly starting himself on the bench despite being in good form. The work rate didn’t drop at all, Dom continued to get under the opponents’ skin, and the beleaguered Ibis outfit appeared to have no way back.

But just as thoughts may have been turning to celebratory jugs of beer, a lifeline arrived for the men in red with 20 minutes to go. Unsurprisingly, it came courtesy of the long throw; a teaser that unquestionably zeroed in on goal. And in the melee of heads and bodies, keeper Sam had been unfortunate enough to get a touch on it, meaning the bizarre goal ultimately stood, despite there being no contact from an opposing player.

3-1 it was, but heads didn’t drop. Put in perspective, the goal had come out of the blue, and Merton were straight back in to boss the midfield again. But a defining moment was to come 5 minutes later, with the magnificent Mikey forced to head off the park with an untimely calf cramp.

Such was the apparent dependence on his great work that the momentum of the game changed almost immediately. Merton were suddenly out of shape, and inviting waves of attack. And the second goal for Ibis followed not long after, albeit in fortuitous fashion. A speculative shot from 30 yards caught Sam slightly off his line, and agonisingly snuck its way into the top-left corner. 3-2.

And now an air of panic set in, as a team not well versed in closing games out were at risk of throwing points away. And with seven minutes to go, the unthinkable, but somewhat inevitable, equaliser came to pass. Again it was a long throw which did the job. Sam had done brilliantly to get a punch on it, but it would fall kindly to the Ibis striker, who then smashed a volley home from outside the box.

3-3. Istanbul. Crystanbul. Spin it however you like, but it was cruel on a brave Merton side, who’d left it all out there. They had come for three points, and this just wasn’t meant to be in the script. The heads had now well and truly dropped, although pulses were briefly set racing two minutes later, when Dan Kelly did some wonderful work to get himself clean through to a lobbed ball in behind the defence. Sadly, the bouncing ball spun awkwardly, and cleared his rapidly advancing self.

It was to be the last attack of any substance from Merton, and the final five minutes were all Ibis. The yellows really had to dig deep to hang on, and at the death, one of the Ibis strikers found himself in space 8 yards out. Thankfully, his shot flew into the side netting, and the ensuing goal kick would prove to be the last act of the game.

A gutted and deflated Merton team trudged off, wondering what could have been. But as ever, the togetherness remained. There were no recriminations, no fingers pointed, and no negativity. This had been a superb performance for three quarters of the match, and there were so many positives to be drawn from this encounter. Just a few tweaks, some more composure, and perhaps some self-belief, and this brave side will know that that elusive first league win – and many more – lie just around the corner.

FINAL SCORE: Ibis Eagles 4s 3 – 3 Merton 4s SCORER: Dulanie Richards (2), Elliott Phipps MOTM: Dulanie Richards & Mike Elgar

STARTING LINE-UP: Samuel Singer-Ripley (GK), Ryan Burchell (Chris Dodd), Mike Todt, Joe Plumridge, Edward Plaistow, Michael Elgar, Jake Hewitt, Dan Plaistow (Dan Kelly), Dulanie Richards (Arnold Collier), Dom Plumridge

Posted in Match Reports 4s