Merton booked their passage through to the fifth round of the AFA Intermediate Cup on Saturday, eventually overcoming State Street of the South London Alliance League in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. But, just howthey were unable to win this fourth round tie in normal time is a mystery, such was their domination throughout.

Despite the poor playing surface at Joseph Hood, which made passing difficult, the hosts were quickly into their stride, creating a number of openings but failing to capitalise as chances went begging. Enjoying both territorial advantage and having the better of the possession, Merton continued as the half wore on to press for the opening goal, although a combination of poor finishing, bad luck and the form of the visitors’ keeper meant that with half time approaching, and to the dismay of home supporters, the contest remained goalless. However, the deadlock was finally broken in the 43rd minute when the home side was awarded a fortuitous penalty; the ball having been driven at close-range onto the arm of a luckless defender. The resulting spot kick was expertly despatched by Oliver Ross to send Merton in at the interval one up.

After the break, the pattern of play pretty much followed that of the first half, with the hosts keen to push home their advantage and extend their lead. Again, though, despite the fashioning of a number of clear opportunities, they were unable to find the net from open play and, on the hour mark, they were made to pay for their wastefulness in front of goal. The visitors having won the ball in midfield, quickly worked it across the park to the left flank where it arrived at the feet of their winger, who, dropping his shoulder and cutting inside, unleashed an absolute screamer from fully 25-yards that beat the despairing dive of Alex Herbert. Merton recovered from this setback and they went close on numerous occasions to finding a winner, before Mr Rowley’s whistle sounded the end of regulation time.

Unsurprisingly, both sets of players tired during extra-time, with Merton though, still looking likely toprogress. However, to their immense credit, the visitors stuck manfully to their task, withstanding everything thrown at them to set-up a dramatic penalty shoot-out.

The excitement of the shoot-out began with State Street scoring their first penalty, which was followed by Graham Willgoss levelling for Merton. The visitors’ next kick was screwed wide of Herbert’s right post butIvan Gladkow failed to grab the initiative for the hosts when he saw his effort saved by the State Street keeper. The scores level, each team were successful with their next two kicks – the Merton penalties comfortably converted by Ross (his second of the afternoon) and Marc Wilson. Herbert then saved the visitors’ fifth kick, meaning Femi Arogundade was handed the chance to win the tie, which he did with a confident strike to put his team through 4-3 on penalties.

Next week Merton will face a tough test when they meet Horsley 1s at Joseph Hood in a rearranged Surrey County Football Association Intermediate Cup tie.

Report by:Harry Hood

Posted in Match Reports 2s