It could have been very different.

For 45 minutes Merton made the running, look stronger and should have been up at the break against a good West Wickham team containing several players from last season’s 2nd team, and who are currently top of division 1. Any neutral unaware of the difference in divisions between West Wickham and ourselves would have struggled to make much of a distinction. We hustled the opposition all over the pitch, forced errors and established many promising attacking positions. Without creating a host of clear cut chances against a strong and organised defence we had some good openings and one near post flick on by Pearcey from a long Neil Sullivan throw was gagging to be tucked away at the back post, but dan Kelly was inches away from it while succeeding to injure himself on the post. Essex had a decent volleyed half chance from a squared ball at the edge of the box following a great move but it came to him very quickly and the chance went away. We approached the second half with justified optimism.

Things did not quite work out for us in the second period, however. After another promising Merton start West Wickham upped their game and grew in confidence while we started to look vulnerable to breaks and lacked some of the oomph so evident in the first half. On 58 minutes West Wickham were awarded a highly disputed free kick on the edge of our box. From where I was (very close to the incident) it appeared that West Wickham’s centre forward backed heavily into Pearcey before chucking himself to the floor. That clearly wasn’t what the ref saw as he awarded a direct free kick to the away side, which was curled in expertly over the wall by West Wickham’s useful centre forward – I want to say he was number 9 but I can’t actually remember.

The same player scored again 3 minutes later from another free kick, a little further out this time. We failed to stand on it – after failing to learn our lesson from last week – the ball was slipped quickly sideways to him, and he (number so and so) banged it unerringly into the top corner from 25 yards. A great finish allowed by sleepy defending.

It had looked so promising for such a long time, but now our backs were to the wall. West Wickham had a couple more good chances from quick breaks and John’s wedding tackle was noticeably responsible for a brave close range blocked save, but we were able to re-assert more of a grip on our shape and the game, and after a couple of substitutions we started pushing determinedly forward again to try and get something from the cup tie.

Without carving out many clear cut chances we did exert some pressure and it was from a half cleared corner with 15 minutes to go that Essex curled a lovely 25 yard effort past the stranded keeper. 2-1 and game on. We chucked Pearcey up front and went to 3 at the back until the end of the game but we couldn’t quite create the chance which would have taken us to extra time for the second consecutive week. Pearcey had a good header from a Shaun Jones free kick clawed away by the keeper, but that was as close as we got I think.

Merton were the better team in the first half, which was probably the best we have played this season, while West Wickham were better in the second. They took their opportunities with excellent finishing, while our final ball wasn’t always as good as we’d have liked and we weren’t quite sharp enough in and around the box on the day. There is a fine margin between success and failure, and West Wickham had the necessary extra 5% and showed why they are top of Division 1. We showed that we are not too far away at all, but we still have a little bit of ground to make up yet, particularly in terms of composure and ball-retention in tight areas.

It was said after the game that West Wickham came expecting a tough game, and were impressed with how competitive we were, suggesting that we would hold our own in the top division. I have no doubt at all that Division 1 awaits us at some point in the future, but we have to concentrate now on division 2 which will provide tough games, week in, week out all season. We can(should) challenge for promotion this season but it will not happen without dogged hard work and determination, and without the essential attitude of focusing on one match, one challenge at a time.

There is game next week, but the next challenge will be Salesians away in the league the following Saturday.

Essex has asked me to let everyone know that the first 3rd Team social of the season will be after the game on Saturday 22nd October. No fixture has been announced for that date yet, but keep your evening diary free as we expect a good turn out and I have been told that excuses for non-attendance will incur spectacular forfeits.

MOM: Marc Cottrell

Report by: Shaun Jones

Team: John Himsworth, Darren Pearce, Shaun Jones, Marc Cottrell, Chris Hailstone, Neil Sullivan, Shaun Monaghan, Chris Callus, Toby Hannington, Dan Kelly, Simon Murphy. Subs: Fraser Haswell, Ricardo Iglesias, Ede Eruero.

Posted in Match Reports 3s