A great performance against decent opposition on a shocking pitch.

The first thing to mention is the (second) pitch at Finchleans. They have put in a new drainage system, and while that will hopefullyhave long term benefits for the club the immediate result is a soft, slippy, sandy pitch full of holes and poorly filled trenches which is, unsurprisingly, very difficult to play on. It could be argued that a pitch demanding nothing else but strong, no-nonsense football actually suited us down to the ground, but I don’t envy Finchleans having to play on it for the rest of the season.

It was an excellent, committed performance, apart from the first five minutes when I was largely responsible for Finchley taking the lead. Set-piece delivery was a challenge for everyone all afternoon because your standing foot would just go, and a goal kick taken by me, up the hill, was hit hard enough but too low – straight onto the head of Finchleans centre forward who nodded it over our defence for their nippy young left winger to run on to and bear down on me and John in the area at pace. My only defence for being caught very flat footed was not having played for 4 weeks (which is not an insignificant issue when you’re nearly 40), but it’s no excuse really. After going past me with ease his low shot was pushed out by John but the rebound was tucked in by an onrushing attacker. 1-0 down, and a very bad start.

Undaunted, and demonstrating a burgeoning team spirit and confidence, Merton pushed forward seeking an immediate equaliser. A couple of half chances came and went before, on 10 minutes, Darren Pearce won one of many, many headers in their box from a set-piece; the ball broke to Paul Riches who looked to have been pushed too wide but his clever, delicately chipped ball from the bye-line back across goal was nodded in at close range by Dan Smith.

We didn’t have to wait too long before taking the lead. After 18 minutes, a through ball from Ryan at right back released Dan Smith through a Finchley defence caught square, and he clinically poked it under the keeper.

Old Finchleans, who played some decent stuff at times, came back strongly and caused us significant problems for a couple of sustained periods in the first half. Only a stunning one-fisted save by John prevented a great volley from 25 yards dipping under the bar,and kept the scoreline in our favour. As the game edged closer to the break Merton started to get a much stronger grip on the game. The midfield battle was being won and we could have scored one or two more. Dan Smith put a close range header over the bar which should have been taken to complete another hat trick, and we caused them havoc from a series of set-pieces, a theme which was set to continue. 2-1 at half-time.

We came out all guns blazing in the second half and a crucial goal in the first minute, a tidy left foot finish from a tricky angle by Tiddy, after a throw was flicked on by Pearcey at the near post. It was arguably the decisive goal because we went from strength to strength after that. The work rate and determination from everyone was brilliant and Finchleans were not in any way allowed back into the game. They had their chances, notably a great shot which produced an even better save from (MOM) John, and a header froma corner which was brilliantly headed from under the bar by Ricardo, but it was largely one way traffic.

On 58 minutes Ricardo put the game to bed with a cracking volley from 20 yards after Finchleans, yet again, failed to deal with the Essex throw and Pearcey flick on combination. Every time we got in the box, all game, we looked like we were going to score, and were nearly always first to the second ball.

On 75 minutes Luke Freestone who looked lively when he came on, punished Finchleans for their continuing problems from set pieces with a blasted snap-shot from 6 yards after – you guessed it – another throw was won in the air by Pearcey. While it’s true we scored4 out of 5 goals from set-pieces we had many other good openings from open play. Merton played some incisive football going forward, particularly in the second half, and we could have scored a few more on another day. Dan Smith couldn’t quite grab his 3rd hat-trick ofthe season and Dan Kelly, who worked his socks off again, probably should have had a couple himself.

It was one of those games when it was difficult to make substitutions because everyone had played so well. The midfield, to a man,were brilliant but in particular I want to mention Ricardo Iglesias who, for the first time this season, turned up on time. For good measure he scored a stunner, saved a certain goal and hit several tackles that Javier Mascherano would have been proud of. We want more of this.

The Dans up front work exceptionally hard for the team and it feels like we have a genuine cutting edge in the team at present. We were solid and organised across the back and Darren Pearce had one of those games when he won pretty much every header, out of lots of headers. John Himsworth won man of the match because of his brilliant saves but quite a few players were in contention for the award.

Essex is reading this now and is just about to realise that I haven’t forgotten to mention that he nearly scored the goal of the season from near the half way line, late on in the game. He couldn’t have hit his (slightly speculative) shot any better and it lookedto be heading, bullet-like, for the top corner while the keeper could only watch helplessly, but it went wide by a gnat’s whisker. Maybe it’s a good thing that it didn’t go in, because we would NEVER, EVER have heard the last of that one.

This was an excellent performance all round, but it won’t mean that much unless we go out next week and do it again at Kew. We will be missing a few players for various reasons but we now have the squad to cope with this and get a result. Let’s keep this momentumgoing.

Team: John Himsworth, Shaun Jones, Darren Pearce, Ryan Perry, Paul Riches (Simon Murphy 65), Kieran Tiddy, MarcCottrell(c), Ricardo Iglesias, Mark Wrigley (Luke Freestone, 60), Dan Smith, Dan Kelly.

MOM:John Himsworth

by:Shaun Jones

Posted in Match Reports 3s