Not a fan of midweek games. Some of the lads have such ill fitting work attire that is just puts me right out of my stride for starters. If you are playing midweek games, you can pretty much guarantee that the Racecourse will be rock hard and the first touch becomes something of a lottery (more so in my case). Predictable centre half banter. It was a sub-tropical 17 degrees and we weren’t sure what sort of Merton side would make it up. I noticed they were starting with 10 but I tried to keep it quiet, as we are always rubbish when that happens. Stu, being the switched on lad that he is and certainly sitting in the European places of the 1s intelligence league table had noticed, but I made some shhhing motions at him and he got the idea.
We started ok, took us a little while to settle but we were the side making things happen. The skipper had a header a little strangely ruled out, Matt Kelly fired wide shortly after. We went ahead after 20, a clipped ball from Stu eventually breaking to Ronnie who fashioned a couple of yards on his left foot and smashed in. We should have really extended our lead before Merton got up to the full 11. One of the staples of any amateur midweek game is a knackered looking bloke wandering down in a suit and getting a hail of abuse whilst getting changed pitch side. It was almost textbook by the oppo player but he could have done with looking a little more flustered.
Anyway, we were pretty comfortable for the most of the first half but were just a little bit sloppy in in the final third. 1-0 at half time.
All credit to Merton, they have taken points off Polytechnic and Crouch End recently and came back at us in the second half. We couldn’t keep the ball at all and were totally flat. The game was being in our half and the pressure built and built. On the rare occasions we did get forward we threatened and should have had a penalty when the keeper wiped out Ronnie. I thought we might have actually ridden out the worst of it when their skipper was pretty harshly dismissed for a kick out in the middle of the park.
However, this didn’t actually change the momentum of the game at all and Merton deservedly levelled with 15 left to play. A ball was played over the top, and their winger gave Tom a little nudge in the back before lifting it over Stu and in. It was almost certainly offside, he had to be the wrong side of Tom to give him the nudge but it was one that is marginal enough that you just have to accept in a league without linesmen. Oh for that luxury.
For once, we couldn’t lift ourselves, there just didn’t seem to the energy in our play and Merton went ahead. We had to defend a free kick for the umpteenth time and an inswinger was right on the money, the first effort hitting the bar before being headed home at the second time of asking. We huffed and puffed, and despite a few goal mouth scrambles and a mildly comical finish with Stu looking remarkably unthreatening in the oppo area, we succumbed to our first defeat of 2013. Absolutely no complaints from me, losing to far the better side in the second half.
We looked a bit tired, having played successive Saturday/Tuesday fixtures but it’s not really an excuse. Merton had come in off the back of a double header at Vamps. The fact is, we have done superbly to win 10 on the spin and take 3 points even in very tight affairs. Our luck just ran out on Tuesday and we just couldn’t raise it to fight back. Rather it happen at this stage, with promotion in the bag and the opportunity to put it right.
That said, you have to learn from the defeats and a few things I want the lads to bear in mind with 2 massive games coming up…
- We need to be braver in possession. Particularly at the back, particularly me. We can’t just rely on a bit of magic from our front lads from poor service.
- Conversely, we need to work harder out of possession when the service is poor to stop the ball coming back. Win a throw in, delay the play, stop a clean ball coming back 40 yards. Against Carshalton, HSBC, BB Eagles and then Merton we have put huge pressure on the back 4 for long periods of the game. Eventually, the pressure tells.
- Stop giving away stupid free kicks. I would underline this if it didn’t make me look like a prat. We give teams the opportunity who struggle to break us down from open play a chance to ping a ball into the box from dangerous areas. It is totally needless and we need to cut it out. Little kicks of ankles, tugs of shirts, pushing people in the back when challenging for headers. This stops on Saturday.
- Be more positive. We always act like we are 3-0 down, we are top of the league. Again, this is me as much as anyone.
The good thing is, we are top, promoted and winning title is in our hands. It will almost certainly come down to the last game against second placed Poly, so let’s play with a little more freedom on Saturday and enjoy it. It has been a superb season and we still have every chance to cap it with a trophy.
MOM : Ronnie. Made things happen.
AP : Pennycook, Gunyon, Patterson, Egan, Thrale, Hillier (Fernee), R.Hubbard, K.O’Leary (McVey), Kelly, Nicholau (Manu), Adjekwei