Fireworks weekend at Alexandra Palace! What better day to spend in the solace of the AP club house, with a luke warm ale and a belly full of chicken burger and gravy. Unfortunately the gods of fixtures had other plans for the AP Reserves; one which saw the team meeting up at 11.30 to squeeze onto a train full of posh rugby louts who were on their way to Twickenham. Spared the whole journey in their company, we departed at Richmond to navigate the last hop to Old Parks home ground in Ham. … Most of us anyway. Others were still possibly shaking off the cobwebs from Halloween night and hadn’t quite managed the trip south west in time for kickoff. Whatever the reason, we still managed to cobble together a pretty motley starting 11.
Still in the spirit of the previous day, we conducted our warm up in a zombified state. It was all too apparent that without some form of catalyst we’d be doomed to continue this languor into the game. Seasoned captain, Dave McLouglin saw the signs and used his pre-match call to arms to warn us against complacency. In spite of the wake-up call we spent the first five minutes of the game misplacing passes and struggling to control the ball on a relatively decent surface. Thankfully the defence stood firm (and admittedly rode their luck with the woodwork) as Old Blues used clever give and go’s around our area to carve out chances.
Keith’s pre-match talk had focused around the need to press from the front; a feat which is much easier to accomplish when you’re given time to rest in possession. Thankfully our indefatigable colleagues further up the pitch were doing their best to carry out this request in spite of our inability to hold onto the ball. They got their just rewards around a quarter of an hour into the game, when Ives Lohasu chased down their centre back, managing to win the ball and set Tom Spencer clear with time to open his body and slot into the far post.
Buoyed by the 1-0 lead – quite against the run of play – the reserves began to settle into the game a little more comfortably. It was only through an error of judgement that Old Blues were allowed back into the game, as their ridiculously fast left winger pounced on a back pass and tapped in an equaliser. Shortly afterwards – and in an entirely unrelated circumstance – Dave Mac withdrew to the sidelines with a hamstring niggle, causing a slight reshuffle at the back.
Despite this set back, AP were still looking the most likely to score, with Jay Hughes and Tom both flashing shots wide and Ives coming within a whisker of arriving at the end of an exquisite deep Dan Wilding cross. The deadlock was finally broken when Jay managed to pick up the ball from midfield and lay it into the path of Tom. I had a decent view of this one for once, having roamed up field to mildly clatter someone after chasing my loose touch (a not uncommon occurrence). It was the finish of a man in fine goalscoring form, as rather than bare down on goal (which he certainly had the time for), he curved the ball exquisitely around the near post with his second touch.
The season for the Reserves has been slightly typified by our ability to both miss gilt edge chances and stolidly eek out results. The two aspects were certainly apparent in the second half as Old Blues looked to restore parity with growing abandon. Mark Taylor was instrumental in maintaining our lead as he patrolled, harried and broke down the play in front of our area (before generally launching a pass into touch, admittedly). Leon Brown had entered the fray at right back, and with an ostensibly more “mobile” (no offense!) defence compared to the first half, we looked to be coping more comfortably with Old Blues movement. Mike Graves was having an exceptional game, reading the play comfortably for the most part, and discretely kicking the strikers foot when that failed. He was even denied a certain goal after galloping up field for a square ball which probably should have been dispatched by Ozan Gunes. “Sorry, I thought you were Mark” was the rationale given after he fizzed a shot wide instead. Who could deny a degree of profligacy from a player who had put some hard yardage into the game though. He even resorted to using his hands to win the ball at some point (possibly reliving his short spell as a goalkeeper earlier in the season). This feat went unnoticed by the referee and might have created a chance if Oz hadn’t proceeded to fall off the pitch, presumably out of subconscious guilt. Meanwhile, the one player on our side who was allowed to use his hands was putting them to good use, pushing their best effort of the second half onto the crossbar with a fine save.
And so we retired to the Old Blues delightful pavilion / daycare centre with our slender lead intact. A fitting reward for the long trip south west. We were further rewarded with a jug from the chairman and a little taste of home in the form of a mystery post match meal with the composite ingredients of Serge’s delicacies. Congratulations to those of you who did manage to make the long trip back north to the club house for the festivities, and please spare a thought for Mike Bardgett who managed the trip only to be denied access for health and safety reasons. If we carry on this form, we might at least end the season with a bang.