Old Tiffinians 3s vs. Merton 4s
AFA Minor Cup, Preliminary Round
Saturday 10th October 2015
by Mike Todt

After a sluggish start to the league campaign, with just a solitary point to show for our opening four games, it was onto the welcome distraction of the AFA Cup. Old Tiffinians (OT) 3s were the opponents, and given their relatively lowly status in the 8th Division of the Amateur Football Combination, the opportunity for a morale-boosting first win of the season beckoned. 

Nevertheless, Merton were never going to fall foul to complacency, and especially given the absence of key players, we knew a good performance would be the order of the day. Grist’s Memorial Ground in Hampton Court was the setting, and, mercifully, the overcast skies offered mild temperatures – a relief given the searing heat of the previous two weeks. A slight breeze fluttered in from the West, but all in all, perfect conditions set the stage for what turned out to be an enthralling contest.

Sam was back in goal after a wrist injury, while the experienced trio of Steve Burchell, John Gridley and Ed Plaistow headlined the defence. Chris Dodd and Glen were tasked with keeping things tidy in the centre of midfield, while skipper Chris Outred and Burchell junior (Ryan) were to bring pace and guile on the wings. Top scorer Dulanie led the line with Kyle Smith in behind; Kelvin was there to offer fresh legs from the bench too.

And so to the kick-off, and the early exchanges were fairly cagey from both sides. As if to feel each other out, neither side committed many men forward, and chances were few and far between. 10 minutes in, and OT began to venture up the field a bit more, and perhaps looked the more likely. The defence largely had the measure of their attacks, but were ultimately being penned in their half.

The call for composure then came, and suddenly there was a series of moves strung together by the men in yellow. True as bob, the momentum began to shift, and we came into the game. The breakthrough, however, required some inspiration. John received the ball deep in our half, and went on a rampaging run. One, two and then three men in purple were left in his dust, as he surged forward. Having nearly reached the opposing box, he slipped a delightful ball in to Dulanie, who smashed home the finish emphatically. The onion bag was rattled, joy broke out – 1-0 Merton after 20 minutes.

Riding the wave, the good passages of play continued, and there were a couple of half chances. But once again, the hosts wouldn’t go away, and the equaliser was to come 15 minutes before the half time whistle. A good move up the left wing centred around their pacey number 7, and he, in turn, released their left-footed striker. The defence was turned, and from 20 yards out, he unleashed a screamer of a shot. Sam got a glove on it, but there was no stopping the projectile as it snuck into the top-right corner. 1-1 and OT celebrated.

Our heads didn’t drop, but crucially, the goal lifted OT to another level. Wave after wave of attack followed, as the home side passed the ball around at will. We were being pushed deeper and deeper into our own half, and OT began to carve out a series of chances.

Yet while the momentum of the game had well and truly swung, there was to be good chance for the us too. A clearance was well picked up in midfield, and a superb through ball had the opposing keeper at sixes and sevens. Dulanie picked it up, and, one on one with the keeper, looked a sure bet to put it away. Cruelly, though, the ball bobbled at the moment critique, and the shot went agonisingly high and wide.

In truth, it would have been rather against the run of play though, and the remainder of the opening period was all OT. Amid the carnage, they rattled the bar and missed another glorious opportunity themselves to take the lead.

Needless to say, the whistle for half time offered sweet relief, and, knowing the wind would be at their backs for the second stanza, our chat at half time was all positive.

But again, we were unable to assert ourselves on the match when play resumed, and the ball kept coming back into our half. Five minutes in, and OT were presented with yet another gilt-edged chance to go in front, but sent it flying high above the bar.

It was one of numerous lucky escapes we encountered in a 15-minute period where we were under the cosh. A looping header hit the post, and each of their strikers sent close-range efforts high and wide when they ought to have scored.

Our grip on parity was becoming increasingly precarious, and other than a fine effort from Glen which hit the woodwork, we offered little going forward. Hearts skipped a beat too as the mercurial Dulanie limped off the field with 25 to go.

But his welcome return 10 minutes later marked a distinct shift in the game. True, OT continued to boss possession, and had large swathes of territory. But our defence seemed to get the measure of them, and began to snuff out their attacking moves with some authority. Our opponents were getting ball to feet, but looked bereft of options as a tide of yellow began to build.

The talking was better, the introduction of Kelvin offered some vital fresh legs, and Dulanie’s impressive chasing down of long balls upfront gave everyone a lift. Slowly, we began to cause the home side problems of their own. Perhaps conscious of the fact that they’d squandered so many good opportunities earlier, a hint of panic visibly engulfed OT.

As such, there was an air of inevitability about our second goal; albeit in controversial fashion. The referee had earlier blown a tough call for handball on Steve (just outside the box), and, as if to reciprocate, pointed to the spot when an OT defender’s clearance struck the barely-outstretched hand of his teammate with extra time looming.

Protests understandably ensued from the aghast home side. Less understandable though was a truly bizarre three-minute spell where the referee marched up and down the goal line, apparently to measure out where the penalty spot should be. It provided amusement for the bewildered players, but for Doddsy (Chris Dodd), it was an uncalled-for delay ahead of a crucial spot kick. Yet when the time (eventually) came, he made absolutely no mistake, blasting it high into the net with aplomb – the hapless keeper nowhere near it. 10 out of 11 from the spot that makes it for Chris, and 2-1 to Merton it was. Unbridled joy, and with 10 minutes to go, the spectre of extra time, or worse still, defeat, had ebbed away.

Heads were straight back on at the resumption, as we looked to close the game out clinically. The hosts had had the wind taken from their sails, and any pressure they built up was being absorbed by a disciplined Merton side, who were really playing for each other with victory now in sight.

The decisive goal though, was artful. Ryan made a typically determined run up the right wing, and did well to hear the booming call from Scholesy (Ed Plaistow), who’d found himself in acres of space on the other flank. The crossfield ball was right on the money, and Ed took it up the field superbly. The shot that followed was a good one, although the keeper parried it away. However, at the ready to dispatch the rebound was the tireless Kelvin, who poked home from close range – just reward for a fine performance as an impact sub, and one that sent us into raptures. 3-1 it was, with the game now all but done and dusted.

The final whistle followed less than two minutes later, and the mighty 4s marched off the park in an excited buzz. Handshakes, hugs and high fives were traded, everyone to a man thrilled and relieved to have got the first win on the board; especially in light of a performance in which we had genuinely punched above our weight.

Next up is Old Lyonians in the ISEH Cup, and the team will have every reason to feel confident that this result can be a springboard to a good season.

FINAL SCORE: Old Tiffinians 3s 1 – 3 Merton 4s
SCORERS: Dulanie Richards, Chris Dodd (pen), Kelvin Aboidyn
Chris Dodd

STARTING LINE-UP: Sam Singer-Ripley(GK), John Gridley, Mike Todt, Steve Burchell, Edward Plaistow, Chris Dodd, Ryan Burchell, Glen Porter, Chris Outred, Kyle Smith (Kelvin Aboidyn), Dulanie Richards.

Posted in Match Reports 4s