The annoying availability issues that have been present since the start of the season finally caught up with Merton at the University of Westminster Sports Ground on Saturday, where they crashed out of the AFA Intermediate Cup to a strong Polytechnic side.

Despite the recent poor weather, the playing surface was fine but slightly heavy in places. Missing three of his regular back four, Merton manager, Ian Lewis in an attempt to combat the expected strength of the host’s midfield opted for a 3-5-2 starting line-up. However, within 90 seconds of the kick-off, he was forced to revert to a more familiar 4-4-2 formation after midfielder Ivan Gladkow had to exit the fray with a pulled hamstring. Moments later, Polytechnic opened the scoring with speculative 30-yard strike that seemed to catch Alex Herbert in the Merton goal by surprise. Undeterred, the visitors quickly hit back; Dave Hitchcock grabbing an equaliser with a well-placed shot following the host’s failure to deal with a cross to their far post. Although back on level terms, Merton continued to struggle with the physical approach of their division one hosts. And, they soon fell behind again when their hesitancy from a throw-in on the left, gifted Polytechnic the simplest of opportunities that their forward gleefully accepted. The hosts quickly extended theirlead, albeit rather fortuitously, from a shot that but for a wicked deflection, Herbert would surely have saved. On 25 minutes, another enforced change for Merton saw Graham Willgoss unable to continue due to illness. Despite this setback, the visitors reduced the arrears five minutes later through Will Taylor, who, latching onto a through-ball from Oliver Ross, cleverly lifted the ball beyond the advancing keeper. With half time approaching, Polytechnic restored the two-goal advantage from a free-kick, which their industrious number seven skilfully bent around the Merton wall and inside the far post.

The second half continued to see the home side on top and, they quickly increased their lead with a scrambled goal that Merton could and should have prevented. Then, approaching the hour mark, the away side again reduced the arrears when the Polytechnic defenders gave Jamie Clayton both space and time to find the back of the net with a 20-yard punt. If Merton were to have any chance now of turning the tie on its head then it was they who had to grab the next goal. And they went close, as first Paul Pearce saw his low drive turned around the post, and soon after, Taylor having a spectacular overhead effort saved. Unfortunately for Merton,when the next goal arrived, it came from Polytechnic; their centre-forward beating Herbert to a lofted crossand heading home into an empty net. Five minutes from time, the Polytechnic centre-forward completed the scoring when he muscled his way into the six-yard box and squeezed the ball past Herbert.

Whilst it cannot be denied the hosts were good value for their win, even they will agree that the final margin of victory was somewhat flattering. On their return to action after the Christmas break, Merton will be looking to get their league campaign back on track when, weather permitting, Old Stationers will be the visitors to Joseph Hood.

Report by:Harry Hood

Posted in Match Reports 2s