Scorers: Spencer(3), Lohasu, Graves, Manu
Red Card: A.Smith
RESERVES MARCH ON.
Scribed by Tom Spencer
There’s a good atmosphere in the reserves at the moment. We’re playing some good football at times and there’s no club in the league who should be looking forward to an easy game.
Welcoming Merton, who’ve had a fairly indifferent season so far, to the Racecourse on Saturday the team was missing two big characters in Jay (who made a scoring return to the first team with his new boots) and Ozan who had to work.
In a game that was eventually won by force of character, it says something for the depth and spirit that we came through without them.
Having not had Keith for the trip to Old Actonians last week it was good to see him continue his recovery and add his calming and confidence giving presence to the touchline of a home pitch that really isn’t a good surface at the moment. In previous years we’d have lost this game to the weather before we even put our boots on, though, so we won’t complain.
The game lurched from end to end in schoolboy fashion at times, and flowed at others. There were too many goals to go into much detail, so I’ll take a leaf out of Match Report 101, the Erudite Edition which usual scribe Andy Smith references and offer you bullet points for the major incidents.
0-1 We don’t start quickly. An early error gave them a start against the head.
1-1 A great header from a goal kick by debutant Billy set Ives away behind the line. He unselfishly slipped the ball inside as the goalkeeper advanced for an easy tap in for me. (Thanks Ives)
1-2 Another mistake – the back four were uncharacteristically nervy.
2-2 From a corner not dealt with at the near post, Ives sent it back across goal to the far corner from beyond the back post. An accomplished finish made to look straight forward slotted through a crowd.
2-3 An entirely forgettable goal to concede. Not yet forgotten, because we must learn from it. fter several chances to clear our lines (as had happened before this game and season) a hopeful cross was lofted to the back post where their oncoming midfielder wanted it more than the AP defence. He bundled it in. Awful goal to concede.
3-3 Undeterred and looking dangerous every time we got forward, Ives creating havoc on the left led to Mark collecting about 30 yards out – he spotted an exquisite reverse pass to the edge of the box, I was upended (maybe in the area…?) and we won a pen. Having missed one last week I didn’t expect the honours, but when no one stepped up…
4-3 After more pressure from a corner the ball broke in the area and Graves contorted himself brilliantly to retrieve it from behind him on the half turn and control a half-volley home. Again, the exceptionally difficult made to look easy.
Finally the game was back in the hands of the better team after repeated sucker punches. But there was a rabbit punch still to come.
The Sending Off
Andy Smith, after a marauding Stretch Armstrong endeavour, having been crowded off the ball, made a ball-and-man tackle that would have been heartily cheered when i was a lad, but which now seems to always result in a yellow card. Andy is a great footballer, he’s quietly spoken, articulate and very smart. When he speaks you listen and believe his considered words. Unfortunately he judged that getting a yellow meant the ref was unlikely to send him off after his cool, calculated delivery of the line “You are the worst referee I have ever seen.” And he reached back into his pocket for a second yellow. Andy was off. It’s not the first time a ref has taken exception to his in-game commentary this season and won’t be the last. It was a harsh decision and Andy’s languid skill and ability are worth his occasionally loose tongue every time. But still, he’s too smart to be sent off like that. His contrition was later appeased with a generous apology jug behind the bar after the 90 were up. Classy.
Down to ten at half time the talk was positive. We were more than one player better than these guys. No more mistakes and we’d get home.
And so it proved.
Despite sustained pressure, organ grinder Dave Mac and Monkey, Alan held together a very tight defence and dealt well with everything as we dropped off a bit and stopped them getting in behind.
5-3 came when we started to gain a foothold again just after the hour. Good work from Les, now operating on the left led to a half chance from range for Mark. He didn’t catch is as cleanly as he’d have liked, but got plenty enough on it to take it past the sprawling keeper after being diverted by my lunged out hopefully big left toe. We deserved it.
5-4 rather than see it out comfortably, we conceded a well taken goal and the game was back in the balance.
6-4 An astute substitution bringing on the pace, speed and power of Les up front against a tiring defence paid dividends as he effectively finished the game with a cultured curling effort from twenty yards that the keeper did well to get a touch on. This time we had finally broken a spirited Merton side that lacked the quality to really trouble us. Fewer mistakes and the margin would have been larger, but the win was one of hard work, flashes of quality, and strong character.
A few sundry points to make, from the 90 and some shout outs and this essay will be complete.
Merton had a former AP player who showed why we don’t miss him. None of their players liked him because of his attitude and some awful tackles. The worst, one which nearly ended Graves’s game after ten minutes.
Their tattooed striker was quick and pretty good. Well dealt with, but keep an eye on him in the away fixture.
Mac and Monkey were awesome in the heart of defence in the second half. Some poor team decisions and mistakes in the first half cost us very meek goals. Fevzi is very important to this team, he and Andy ALWAYS set the tone for playing good football. Dan Wilding’s delivery was excellent again and he is very comfortable and accomplished on the ball. Ives and Les were both excellent – Merton just couldn’t handle either of them and they both capped great performances with deserved and well taken goals. New boy Billy slotted straight in to any position required and proved more than capable, an impressive, stylish and vocal debut. Box to box midfield work from Graves was top drawer again, and Hubbard, who lost out on minutes due to the sending off, had a good first half in the number ten role he seems most comfortable in. Which just leaves the MOM performance from Mark. He was a monster in the middle of the park and Merton bounced off him, couldn’t get around him and generally cowered in his wake. His passing was much better this week too. Fast looking like a brilliant signing for the reserves despite our embarrassment of riches in centre midfield.
Great win – the type that keeps momentum. Cut the silly mistakes and we’ll have an easier time of it. Well done to Merton for being a decent bunch and putting a few quid behind the bar after full time. Good to hear from Billy who has worked up through the teams this season that he’s been impressed by the club ethos of playing passing football.
And a final shout to the fours who lost on penalties in the later kick-off at the Racecourse. They should have won in 90, then in 120 but were robbed by a couple of odd decisions. They lost on the shoot-out. Brought a tear to the eye to watch skipper Pat come and manfully pick up Forbes who missed his kick. Football is a game of small margins – the same player was millimetres from being the hero when he hit the post in extra time – but it wasn’t his day, today. Pat probably said something like “Ah, I’m glad about it mate – we are concentrating on the league this season.”
March on reserves – I was impressed by Poly when we beat them earlier in the season – despite their league position, I think they will be a stiff test next week. Let’s go and get the points.