Another gutsy comeback draw maintained the 6s impressive unbeaten league record but couldn’t hide the fact that it was another 2 points dropped in the quest for promotion. In surprisingly good conditions considering the recent weather AP started brightly with debutantes Dimitar and Sercan putting themselves about in attack and midfield respectively.
After dominating the early exchanges AP fell behind against the run of play after a poor goal kick allowed Old Parks in; a great stop by stand-in goalkeeper Dan ‘Safe Hands’ Ware saw the ball parried back into the path of the OP striker who tucked it home. One quickly became two as Paddy expertly dummied running on to the bounce of a goal kick so well that the opposing winger, so blinded by the dummy, stood his ground, as if entirely unaffected, and calmly headed the ball into the path of their striker who calmly finished.
With the influential Winterton forced off with a twisted knee a reshuffled and slightly shellshocked AP finally got a foothold in the game after earning a very clear penalty after a salmon-like leap plus goalbound bullet header from Simon ‘Sneaky Hands’ Tolcher was blocked on the line by a defender’s hand. Despite entirely unsporting (and quite enthusiastic) card-waving gestures and appeals from all of us the referee (who was excellent/ very giving all day) decided that at ‘this level’ you shouldn’t send people off for stopping a goal scoring opportunity, which was fair enough; once again footballers and the tele can be blamed for the deterioration of a generation’s morals/ sportsmanship. As usual Olly Tolcher calmly stroked the penalty home to put us just 1 behind and ready to kick on.
Or not….. Old Parks re-opened a 2 goal lead with what we’re pretty confident was a mishit cross which sailed over everyone and into the net. Dimitar came close to a debut goal but it remained 3-1 going in at half time. After the successful half time tactical rejig of the last game against the leaders a collective putting of heads together decided that 4-4-2 was to be our choice of name for the 11 free roles we naturally settle in to. With our own goal kicks proving to be our downfall all day it was also decided short kicks were the way forward. Having heroically kept goal in the first half, Ware moved up into center back with Waldrum moving between the posts.
The tactical changes had an instant impact -firstly the first short goal kick reminded us of the helpful scream of ‘Not there lads!’ as our Sexy Football in defence rapidly turned into a brown pants moment and taught us that the best solution to goal kicks would simply be to stop allowing them, even corners were preferable. Secondly, the 4-4-2 formation with Olly and Paddy up top and Liam, Jack, Matt and Sercan bossing the midfield seemed far more balanced and AP were quickly ramping up the pressure. Forcing another corner the Tolcher- Tolcher set piece combination came off once again as Olly’s corner was met by Simon who powered home a fantastic header to renew AP hope. Immediately from the kick off from the second goal Parsons intercepted a pass in the middle and freed up Olly down the right who burst into the box and centered the ball to Dimitar who passed it on to Knight to side foot home a laser-guided, left-footed, rocket from just outside the (six yard) box. With 20 minutes to play the game seemed to be AP’s for the taking.
With momentum behind them and OP on the ropes AP naturally went straight for the jugular, and boy did it pay off! Ten high-octane minutes later, in which AP really showed why the media regard them as such strong title contenders, and the score was 5-3…. to Old Parkonians. No one was quite sure how it had happened but looking around after the fifth goal it was clear that everyone was struggling – 4 weeks without a game, the Noro Virus, and the emotional turmoil that the Sulejmani v Ware abuse trial had caused had all taken their toll.
Rallying around the realisation that the unlikeliest of season long unbeaten records was about to come to an end AP somehow found their fourth wind. Ditmar and Toby started pressing forward, Paddy, Olly and Liam started finding space in behind the inexplicably high (and slow) OP defensive line and Jack and Sercan started spraying balls around like a retirement to MLS was on the cards. A close headed chance for Matt who once again turned in an impressive shift in center mid was the first as AP finally found their attacking feet. Unsurprisingly the 5-4 goal came from another dangerous delivery from Olly, more surprisingly (but increasingly less so) was that Simon once again found his way on to the end of it and through a combination of body parts, which OP appallingly suggested ended in a hand (he’s not called ‘sneaky hands’ for nothing.), the ball was bundled in and an epic finale was on the cards.
With AP throwing everything forward, including, rather dangerously, the kitchen sink, and the clock ticking away OP nearly stole a sixth. A scramble and a variety of blocks turned a great OP chance into a corner which having bounced out the area for a long shot was dive blocked, and presumably entirely intentionally, amazingly turned into a pinpoint pass for Olly to race clear. It wasn’t to be though as a brilliant save from the OP keeper left AP thinking that that was it for an incredible day’s football. Clearly they’d forgotten that no league game this season can finish unless the scores are even (7 draws out of 10 now). With time ticking down Ditmar took a throw in on the right which Paddy controlled, beat his defender and lofted hopefully into the box. Like all the best descriptions when you’re writing the report yourself, the cross turned into the perfect delivery, sailing over the keeper to the back post where a short scramble finished in Toby backheeling the ball home for a last gasp, unbelievable equaliser. As the final whistle blew, the crowd knew they’d seen something special, grown men cried and embraced in the stands and a small pitch invasion occurred, 3 arrests were made. The only sour note was the inevitable match-fixing enquiry which will follow such an incredible game but it’s a small price to pay to have played a part in a match which will go down in history (and when you put £10 on 5-5).
It was a strange game in which we scored 5 goals and everyone had at least one important contribution, on the other hand we conceded 5 very weak goals. Both Tolcher’s had big games, Sercan had a very solid debut and the ref gave some confusing decisions in our favour so he definitely deserves an honorable mention. Both Waldrum and Ware put in a good shift in goal in tough conditions and if it is Ware’s final game if he chooses to follow his dream after the Pope’s resignation then he leaves with our blessings.
Man of the Match – split between the Tolchers – Olly for taking the game to OP every time we went behind, a goal, dangerous set pieces all day and three assists. Simon for two goals and what would have been a brilliant hattrick were it not for a handball (on the penalty… not the second goal), and the usual strength at the back.