4s vs Old Salesians 2s – 07.10.17
Old Salesians 3-5 Merton 4th
Having been humbled 6-1 by Old Salesians in the first game of the season at the Hood, the return fixture, and a chance to avenge that dismal performance, had come round remarkably quickly. The setting – Tennisonians Sports Ground – was an idyllic one, and the weather was just about playing ball too.
There was just one thing missing… a referee. Having made contact with said individual, he’d claimed shortly before the scheduled KO time of 14:30 that he was “just 5 minutes away”. However, this claim became increasingly dubious as the minutes ticked by. Come 3 o’clock, Mike – who was very conscious that this fiasco was starting to dent his Happy Hour drinking time – stepped up to ref. A rusted spare whistle was sourced, along with a belated chase for a mobile phone to keep track of time. And eventually, it was all systems go.
Merton started the game beautifully, shored up by a very solid back three, and Akram in the middle to break up play. But the most impressive bit of all was the willing to play the ball around on the carpet, and with plenty of enterprise to boot.
The breakthrough came courtesy of some good buildup play, although the finish from Adam – with his first 2 touches of the ball – was simply exceptional: a Cruyff turn, followed by a clinical left-footed finish.
Somewhat against the run of play though, the oppo equalised, with Merton not being able to clear their lines, and allowing a cross to come in that was duly dispatched. 1-1.
But rather than let the heads drop, Merton reasserted their dominance on the game, and soon reaped the reward, with Dom slotting home another smart left-foot finish. 2-1.
Then came the first of a number of referee blunders. Merton won a corner, but what followed was one man head-butting another. The 20 other players on the pitch, along with a sprinkling of spectators and their dogs, all saw it clearly. The ref, however, did not, and despite some (deserved) abuse that followed, it remained 11 v 11.
The salt was then very much rubbed in Salesians’ wounds. The first in slightly farcical circumstances, as the ref pointed to the spot prematurely after a handball, despite Aaron being through on goal with what would have been an advantage, and slotting it home. But they had to come back for the pen. Fortunately, the ref’s blushes were saved, as the little maestro blasted it into the bottom-right corner.
Then, just a minute later, Aaron was at it again, this time put through cleverly after some lax defending from the home side. 4-1 at the break, and Merton were well worth every bit of it.
With still no sign of the official ref, Mike continued to don the whistle for the second half. Merton knew that if they scored next, the game would be very much in the bag. But, for some reason, they were slow out the blocks, and just under 10 minutes in, Salesians punished them – albeit in maddening fashion. A probing, swinging corner was delivered to the back post, and the simplest of headed finishes was applied, with not a single Merton player anywhere near him. Very poor indeed, and at 4-2, it was now game on again.
Even more so in the minutes that followed, as Salesians squandered a number of good chances (although in one or two cases, they may have been the beneficiaries of some missed offside calls).
But with Merton just starting to get a bit jittery, that man Aaron stepped up to the plate again to complete his hat-trick – this time another clinical finish after some good interplay. 5-2, and game won.
The final minutes were all Merton too, with a number of chances going abegging. There was also time for one last moment of farce, as the goalkeeper dived in on an approaching Akram in the box. He tumbled over, and the referee pointed to the spot, much to the bewilderment of all involved. Even Akram, who quite reasonably pointed out that he hadn’t even appealed for the spot kick. With that, the decision was reversed – all very professional officiating, really.
With literally the last movement of the game, Salesians then won a free kick on the edge of the Merton box, and what followed was a quite-remarkable strike that flew in the right edge of the goal, sending the ole onion bag bulging. Very pleasing on the eye, even if it was the oppo.
Even more pleasing was that it meant the referee could finally call time on proceedings, and some celebratory drinking could commence. Deservedly, too. This was another fine performance from this rapidly-improving team. If they play like this every week, they definitely aren’t going to lose too many games.
DOTD: Joe Plumridge