Another mild day at the Hood cast the perfect setting for the 4s to start turning their season around. The Vets before them had shown how it was done in an entertaining exhibition, but after a heart to heart the week before in the dressing room, and the decision to arrive earlier for the warm up (which almost everyone adhered to!), everyone was ready to simply get a win.
Polytechnic were the oppo, a side who’d made a good start to the season themselves, and with plenty of young blood in their side, were clearly not going to be a walk over. The game started with Merton making a point of pressing, keeping their voices up and trying to come out of the blocks fast.
Joe won a free kick early doors. Mike got a flick-on header onto the delivery, which the keeper fumbled. The rebound fell nicely to Mike, but unfortunately he wasn’t able to nutmeg the keeper and eventually a good chance was snuffed out.
Not long after, Poly hit back on the counter. A teasing through ball split the defence, but Kieran did ever so well to come off his line and clear it. Of course, this is a team not having things their own way, and as damned luck would have it, his clearance struck a Merton player in the back, deflected to the opposing striker just outside the box, and he lobbed the ball in to make it 1-0.
No one’s fault there, but the second goal was perhaps avoidable. Kieran didn’t quite get enough on his kick, but Poly were able to cut through the defence a little bit too easily. The other striker made no mistake as the ball fell invitingly to him and slotted it home into the left corner.
But unlike previous games, Merton weren’t about to fold like a house of cards. They came back strong, chased balls down doggedly, and created their share of chances. Dan had a goal disallowed, and there were numerous dangerous free kicks in the Poly half of the pitch.
It was through one of these that the goal arrived. This time Dan turned provider with an excellent delivery. The keeper palmed it off only as far as Sonny on the edge of the box, and he clinically volleyed it home to pull it back to 2-1.
It was the lift the 4s had so desperately been craving, and they came out hard after that, making life uncomfortable for Poly, who suddenly lacked the forward thrust they’d seemed to have earlier. Joe, Darcy, Sonny and Dom were closing them down like maniacs, and Dan was an ever-present to clean things up.
Unfortunately, just before the half, the new curse of corners struck yet again. The initial ball was dealt with, but Merton switched off at the far post, leaving a number of Poly players free. The free-est of headers resulted, and their man put it away to make it 3-1.
It was a crushing blow, and meant the half-time chat was a whole lot more negative than it might have been. Merton had been much improved on the events of seven days’ prior, but the scoreline was rather gut-wrenching. Onwards and upwards though, and they knew they were one goal away from being back in it.
They made a decent enough start, and created chances almost from the off. Poly themselves weren’t dealing with crosses and free kicks particularly well, while Dom and Darcy cut through their defence on more than one occasion. But in truth, Poly were having their share of chances too, and might have put the game away sooner than they did.
But miserably, it was a corner which did for Merton for the fourth goal. Mike won his header, but only managed to lob it back into the danger area. Under pressure, Merton weren’t able to get onto the follow up, and a man in red pounced to nod home.
4-1 soon became 5-1, this time Chris not quite able to get enough on his clearance, although the finish from the oppo striker was hugely impressive.
But 5-1 wasn’t the fairest reflection of how the game had gone; rather just indicative of mistakes made by Merton than any sustained Poly dominance. And the last 15 minutes proved that. Merton were all over the visitors, and chance after chance fell to the front three. Unfortunately, their keeper simply had a blinder, and thwarted each and every one of them.
On another day, those would have gone in, and three of four goals wouldn’t have flattered the hosts. But it wasn’t to be. In fact, the game ended in slightly acrimonious circumstances, with Dom taking exception to some pushing and shoving from the Poly defenders and keeper. Fortunately, the ref decided not to brandish the card we all feared.
And with Dom available for next week’s showdown in the deep, dark North, hopefully Merton can build on what was unquestionably an improved performance in the Cup next Saturday. This team isn’t as far away as they think. All they need is a win. Goodness me, let’s hope it comes next week.
Team: Kieran Lee (GK), Ed Plaistow, Mike Todt, Chris Outred, John Gridley, Noor Emad, Joe Plumridge, Dan Gridley, Darcy Yates, Sonny Kennedy, Dom Plumridge
Subs: Carl Kewley, Ryan Burchell
Booked: Dom Plumridge
MOTM: Sonny Kennedy