Scorers: Spencer, Hammond
The first rule of Alexandra Park is never to do something half decent, lest you be asked to do it permanently. Long suffering Chairman Dave Mac will attest to this given half a chance and a half of lager on a Saturday evening. Mike Hubbard and I have also discovered this fact after delivering a sterling display at centre back and a semi-legible match report respectively last week.
This weekend saw us entertain fellow promotion hopefuls Polytechnic at Preston Manor. The mind games began immediately with a few of the Poly players urinating in the gardens of the neighbouring houses, ensuring the AP stationary will be utilised this week. In tit-for-tat retaliation, Dave informed the opposition goalkeeper that his kit would clash with ours and would have to change. That’s Blockbusters! The game began as quite cagily with AP struggling to find the cohesion apparent at EBOG the week before. This was mainly due to the greater amount of pressure Poly were putting on the ball, and with two powerful runners up front it looked as though we could have our work cut out. The game might have been done and dusted before the first half hour if not for the industry of Dan Gunyon in the middle of the park but as it was, AP weathered the storm and managed to carve out a warning shot after some neat play down the left resulted in a glancing header by Tom Spencer eeking wide. The warning evidently went unheeded though, as Jay Hughes broke down the left in similar fashion and squared the ball for Spencer to arrive just before the defence and open his account for the season with the most delicate of finishes.
After the success of Mike Hubbard’s defensive display last weekend, and Ozan’s much lauded spell in goal for the first team, it seems converting attacking players into defenders is de rigueur at AP currently. So what – you may wonder – would happen if we took the second highest goalscorerfor the Reserves last season, and popped him at the back? Luckily, it just so happened that Mike Graves was on hand to conduct this experiment, and let me tell you the results were remarkable. The G-Man was voracious in his desire to cut out all supply to the opposition strikers, and at one point transformed into a force that could even alter reality itself. In a Derren Brown style illusion – he managed to transform what looked like a goal into a world class goal-line clearance. “He was practically touching the net” was a cry from their striker, so it was no surprise that when half time arrived with our clean sheet still intact, there was many a grumble heard from the opposition.
For a team that struggled with availability in preseason, our strength in depth now is proving to be a telling factor a few weeks into the season proper. The introduction of Nye and Connor gave the team fresh impetus just when we started looking a bit jaded. Indeed it was the latter’s fine deliveries from set pieces that were making the difference in the second half, as a pinpoint corner set up a bullet header from Monkey Alan which doubled our lead. When shutting up shop it certainly helps to have one of the finest shot stoppers to fall back on, and there are few finer than Mike Bardgett. The talented goalkeeper was in full Tourette’s mode after missing last week and it was nice to see that – after spending most of the match berating his goal kicks – he garnered himself some positive auto-feedback in the aftermath of one of many fine saves, letting loose a yelp of satisfaction before hammering the post with joy.
I must admit I have a touch of Tourette’s on the pitch too, although I tend to save my vitriol for the ref and the person I’m marking. I came to rue my loose tongue though,shortly after Poly managed to break down the left and pick out their striker who arrived between Graves and me to slot past Bardgett. My winger took this opportunity to punch me on the stomach (despite not being involved the goal) and exclaim “Yeah!” whilst pumping his fist at me. All this because I’d claimed he’d been switched to the right wing as he was horribly ineffective on the left, which was, admittedly, more of an observation than an effective sledge. As I went to protest this display of unsportsmanlike conduct to the referee (who I’d also been questioning throughout the game) he took his revenge by shooting me a cockeyed grin and quipping, “Oh right, is that why you let in the goal?”. Cheers ref. Up against it now, we resorted to ‘seeing the game out’ tactics in order to eek the win. With their subs now acting as deep gully fielders, we searched for the boundary with our clearances. Peeved by this, the fielders took to returning the ball with a few full toss deliveries that Stuart Broad would be proud of. After taking one of these throws to the midriff, canny veteran Tom Spencer seized the opportunity to waste a few more minutes by wanly wandering towards the referee, ball still in hand, and casually asking “Did you see that?” This put the referee in a bind. Having made the mistake of admitting to seeing the incident, he was torn between acknowledging that this may be a ploy to waste time and accepting that it was his duty to intervene. He reluctantly strode to the touchline to have a brief word with the offender, who in a display of petulance managed to talk himself into a yellow card. This wasted more time than we could ever have hoped and broke the flow of the onslaught, drawing the game closer to its inevitable conclusion.
This concludes the story of how we managed to lift the curse of the white AP kit. Now let the sweepstakes begin on which striker will be next to make the defensive conversion? Dare I say..? We may have found a use for Mr Fullerton? Take my advice, Kurt – if it happens, play badly or accept your fate!
MOTM – Hammond – monster performance out of position.