Quote of the day: “Why would we waste time?! It’s a cup game, its 0-0. Do you think we want to spend any more time in North London than we really have to?” – Mr D. Pearce (addressing certain Vampires during the 2nd half of normal time)

It’s always tough playing at Crouch End – always – and this was very tough indeed. CEV were relegated from Division 2 last year while we leapfrogged them on the way up. On this showing I would be amazed if they are not promoted again this season. They are big, tough and organised and should be physically too much for most teams in the junior section, never mind Division 3. Coming off a comfortable 5-2 win against Old Lats last week Crouch End were evidently confident in themselves and clearly fancied their chances to roll us over in similar fashion.

Nope. Counting the last two pre-season friendlies this is the fourth consecutive game when we’ve deservedly come from behind to get a result, which says as much about our team spirit as it does about fitness and sharpness. It is very early in the season, of course, but the signs are not too bad.

We simply refused to be bullied out of the game on a very narrow pitch where no one had any time on the ball from the 1st minute to the last minute of extra time. Despite the fact that Merton must have given away a stone in weight a man to Vamps on average, it was a properly contested battle throughout, with no quarter asked or given. While the game was mostly played in good spirits, the referee either (missed or) let a lot of stuff go / kept the game flowing, depending on your point of view.

Muswell Hill’s representatives of the undead certainly started the stronger and made good use of their oh-so-fashionable 4-2-3-1 formation to cause us logistical problems in the early stages of the contest until we got used to the shape and the speed of the game. As the half wore on, we slowly gained a firmer grip on the match, and really began to trouble Crouch End, mainly from some excellent set-piece delivery. Only bad luck and some desperate defending kept us from taking the lead in what turned out to be a tight and even first half.

During one incident in particular it was remarkable that the scoreline remained 0-0: Shauno picked out Pearcey at the far post from a free kick on the touchline. Pearcey, playing up front this week, directed a clean header towards goal but it struck a defender’s body and stopped dead, practically on the goal line (well maybe 12 inches) – right at Shaun Monaghan’s feet with nothing surely to stop him scoring…Alas! somehow he seemed to get the ball trapped between his feet and the scrambling keeper was able to snaffle the golden chance. A lucky escape indeed for the chums of Nosferatu and they knew it. Half time arrived with all to play for.

We played very well, much better, in the second half and really should have buried the Vampires. A number of good chances were created by Merton and Dan Kelly in particular could have scored at least 4 from one-on-ones and quick breaks. Not many teams can deal with his pace but unfortunately his finishing didn’t quite come off on Saturday, as he would be the first to admit. Pearcey also had a very good chance late on but put it over the bar from 8 yards under pressure. Crouch End were again restricted mainly to speculative long range efforts, only one of which really troubled John, but he spectacularly tipped over the rasping drive with his finger tips. The game got a bit tetchy at times but thankfully never quite boiled over. Merton had one lucky escape when Ben Bakker needlessly caught their big number 4 just inside the box, long after the ball had gone, but the ball was being dealt with by John at the time and the ref thankfully waved play on. We’ve all seen them given. One other incident from a set piece, in front of our goal, produced a stunning close range double save from John, but it was brought back for offside. Full time.

The first 10 minutes of extra time was when we could have thrown it all away. The game was very open by this stage, and we were caught from a quick free kick in the middle of Vamps territory. We should have stood on it but didn’t and the resulting long diagonal ball over the top undid us with too many men up the pitch. A low, slightly scuffed cross from the left went across our box, it wasn’t cleared and their in-rushing number 7 was left with a straightforward finish into the corner from 6 yards.

We naturally pushed on from that set back, once the predictable recriminations had stopped, of course, and that eagerness to equalise almost undid us again straight away as we were caught on the break as Large Vampire No.4 waltzed through our stretched defence at the half way line, and bore down on goal with only one result likely. Desperate last ditch defending and brave goalkeeping saved the day but it should have been 2-0. That was Vamps’ best period of the game and the only time they created anything of note. We had settled things down again by half time, extra-time, still felt we could get something from the game, and felt wronged by an unfair score line.

During the last 15 minutes we pushed and pushed with renewed effort and belief. A series of set-pieces and sustained pressure kept Crouch End pinned in their own half, but it looked for a long while like it wasn’t going to be our day…until…2 minutes to go in extra time, another long throw from Ben into the box was not cleared properly. The ball ricocheted to Darren Pearce 8 yards out in front of goal seemingly – at least on the face of it – well offside, and he made no mistake – slamming it into the bottom corner – and the goal was given. The Vampires naturally went bats**t (sorry ). The ref, Mr Vernon Helsing (sadly not really), pointed out to everybody that the ball had actually rebounded to Pearcey off a Crouch End defender, so the goal stood. I was close to it and couldn’t work out what had actually happened, so I don’t blame Crouch End for being a tad upset, but the ref seemed to be the only person sure about what occurred, so there you go.

After a couple of minutes of people shouting at the ref and widespread acute unhappiness in the home team the game kicked off with a short amount of time to the end. While we obviously wanted to go and get a winner, we ended up defending our goal for the last few minutes. For the first time in nearly 120 minutes Crouch end put serious sustained pressure on our goal, which we defended resolutely, and it was a genuine relief when the whistle blew for full time and penalties.

Pens: 1 Vamps No.7 missed horribly left (0 out of 1) the ball went so wide it was lost in the bushes, possibly forever. 2 Essex sent keeper the wrong way (1 out of 1) 3 Vamps scored. Good penalty in the bottom left corner. (1 out of 2) 4 Shaun Monaghan put it in top right corner. Beautiful penalty (2 out of 2) 5 Large Vampire No.4 hit the bar – as predicted by me (1 out of 3) 6 Pearcey went top right. Keeper read it, got a palm to it, but couldn’t stop it (3 out of 3) 7 Vamps last penalty was very poor and too close to John who happily blocked it with his body.

And that was that, happy days. You don’t often have famous victories in the first round of the cup, and nor should you probably, but Crouch End is a tough place to get any kind of result and this gritty team performance genuinely deserved to get one on Saturday.

The lads voted Ben Bakker MOM on Saturday, and rightly so, but only one vote behind was John Himsworth and he deserves acknowledgement for a resolute display, and his best yet in a Merton shirt.

Well done to everyone. West Wickham (Div 1) at home in the AFA Cup on Saturday, which will inevitably be even tougher. Keep it going lads.

MOM: Ben Bakker

Report by: Shaun Jones

Team: John Himsworth, Mark Cottrell(c) Ben Bakker, Aidan Hogan, Ryan Perry, Shaun Monaghan, Shaun Jones, Ricardo Iglesias, Simon Murphy, Darren Pearce, Dan Kelly

Posted in Match Reports 2s