I sit here on my lunch break with lips like Leslie Ash and my front teeth at their most wobbly since Dalian Atkinson rampaged through top flight defences. An attritional affair at Old Wilsonians was bruising and disappointing in equal measure as an exhausted AP succumbed to a winner with only minutes left remaining.
The day started I woke up to the news that we had just the three last minute cry offs, chucking plan A, B and C immediately out the window. With plan F firmly in place, I had the feeling that Saturday was an away day with disaster lurking round every corner. A meet time that read AM, a meeting station of sprawling size and a destination in Hayes which gave its name to two suburban London locations. The phrase ‘like herding cats’ does not do a skippers role justice in the first team squad. By the time you have answered 3 different players as to whether they can use their oyster, Martin Egan has strode off like an agitated dad on holiday (clad in gilet) and Lee Carlin has sloped off for a Latte.
Eventually, we found our way down to Hayes and to a Wilsonians ground that had help up surprisingly well given the rain. We sported our brand new white away shirts due to the colour clash, finding it had the added benefit of acting as camouflage for the majority of our back four on a somewhat grey day. I can only imagine lining up against the ghostly white silhouettes was much like the challenge facing Danny Glover in Predator 2 (terrible, terrible film)
We lined up a patched up 4-2-3-1, Matt Kelly having to shift into the lone striker role with new boy Joel Hawes in behind. Noah Reich filled in at left back, with Fraser left midfield. It wasn’t a huge surprise that we were a little under the cosh early doors. Wilsonians moved the ball well from the back and were delivering well from wide areas. Our wingers copped a bit of flak in the ‘tracking back’ terms but on reflection, the oppo had a good a pair of attacking full backs as you will see at this level. We were however defending relatively well given the meagre amount of time in possession and Stu smothered well from their first clear cut chance.
Whilst a physical game, the only casualty of the first half was the skipper splitting his lip on the back of Noah’s head. To me, to you. Martin Egan was doing his best incredible hulk routine in an on-going battle with their front man. As opposed to going Green and bursting out of his shirt, he goes bright red and is already half bursting out his shirt anyway (all muscle of course). He was however being antagonised by a striker who liked to down on a nudge and leave a leg in on every clearance. This frustration is always amplified when you have a referee cheerily referring to the oppo by their first names throughout.
All of this said, it was AP that created the best chance of the first half. A ball broke in the final third and in a remarkable series of events, we completed 2/3 slick passes….consecutively. Joel bore down on goal and clipped agonisingly wide.
All square at the half, in a really hard fought game. I don’t think any of us were doubting that the oppo were the more technically comfortable but we were right in it. We actually started the second half in relatively lively fashion, Kelly working the keeper. The oppo came back at us and pinned us back once more, good quality from wide areas was testing us throughout. They had a goal ruled out, the lino adjudging the ball to have gone dead before being cut back and tucked away.
It soon became backs to the wall stuff, a mix of last ditch defending and an improvised but highly successful offside trap frustrating Wilsonians. A comment in the bar afterwards referenced the fact that we must have worked on that in training….if only they were aware of the reality of a Tuesday night up at New River. For all the pressure, we were actually defending our 18 yard box well and Stu wasn’t forced into action on too many occasions.
The oppo kept coming at us but with ten left to play, you just got the impression we might have weathered the storm. However, following a tangle in the middle of park where McVey was hauled down, a Wilsonians free kick was given and the AP skipper booked for a follow up challenge. Marc verbally reacted and the referee dished out an immediate red. To the letter of the law, should he have been dismissed? Of course. Not acceptable and to be fair, we took it on the chin. However, at the risk of sounding like a clichéd premier league gaffer, all you ask for is a bit of consistency. First time I have seen someone given a straight red for verbals amateur, or professional in many, many years. The scouse twang undoubtedly makes things sound a little more angry.
If the letter of the law was to be imposed rigidly, the studs up challenge that saw Lee substituted minutes later was certainly in the dangerous play bracket. Lee hobbled off and absolutely exhausted, reduced to 10, an excellent switch had us far too stretched. Their full back put one right in on the money across the face for their forward to flick home. 1-0 and an absolute sickener. We huffed and puffed but were dead on our feet. It finished 1-0 and whilst on the balance of play we couldn’t argue with the outcome. Wilsonians were a good side who were a lot more comfortable on the ball than us. That said, it was a real blow to lose it so late, having defended so well. The only solace came in McVey buying an apology jug that stung him for £23, great to see.
Ultimately, I am really proud of the performance we turned in on Saturday. Whilst absolutely gutted we couldn’t hold out for a point, we did absolutely everything we could with the squad that we had. We had two youngsters thrown in at the deep end and Joel playing in an entire game despite not having played in 3 months. Matt worked his socks off chasing shadows up front, whilst Marc and Rob did so many hard yards in the middle without the ball.
We are, at the current point in time, outside of the relegation zone with half a season left to play. There is enough to be positive about, all it will take is a decent run of results to push us into mid table but as I have mentioned in previous reports, every result at this level needs to be fiercely earned. It’s a bit of a line in the sand moment.
We go again on Saturday, come on AP.
MOM: Egan was exceptional, aging like a fine Brut. Can be a red faced lunatic with horrific Hollywood pass selection, but I wish I could replicate his passion for the game amongst people more than *cough* 10 years younger than him.
AP : Pennycook, Carlin (Macca), Patterson, Egan, Reich (Hughes), C.O’Leary (Monero), McVey, R.Hubbard, Shaw-Morris, Hawes, Kelly