Carshalton. The kind of place that only exists in the anodyne, mechanical virtuality of tannoy speaker announcements; given a vague sense of reality due to it’s proximity to more tangible locations like Sutton and Epsom. I could vaguely remember a trip to the ground two years ago by virtue of the fact that it aced my “What am I doing spending my Saturday in the ass end of nowhere” test, which I base on how close the ground is to an Ikea (3 miles to Ikea Croydon). This years commute pledged to make our destination seem even more remote as we arrived at a busy Kings Cross station to discover that the train to Carshalton had been cancelled. A quick trip on the underground to Victoria, a brief coffee break and a wild goose chase to an arbitrary platform later, and we were ready to depart for Surrey…. well, most of us anyway: two hectic weeks of juggling football with an opulent social life had unfortunately taken it’s toll on Mike Graves, who dropped out a little before our meet time. Having also lost three of our best players to first team duty we were looking a little sparse, but having the formidable trinity of Fevzi Demir, Mark Taylor and Johnny Hammond back in the fold, as well as the frightening directness of James Spencer bolstering our ranks, we felt we had enough about us to take home the three points. Buoyed by our exceptional performance at the Christmas Quiz the weekend prior, we quickly dove into a football crossword to soak up the journey. Our initial enthusiasm quickly gave way to apathy though, once we discovered how much the crossword relied on a comprehensive knowledge of the SPL over the last two decades (as well as a lack of answers that could be verified by Shazaam).
Frustrated but still in good spirits, we arrived at Hackbridge station eager to put this early disappointment behind us, only to be scuppered by another problem pitchside: The referee ostensibly decided to blow out the match in favour of some more fulfilling pursuit than being called a dick by myself. After about 20 minutes trying to stay warm a surly Scottish man who happened to be the club chairman stepped in to officiate and laid his cards on the table early doors with a pre-match lecture which stated the following:
- He was going to try and let play flow as much as possible (which is code for all fouls just shy of assault will be ignored)
- He wasn’t going to take any abuse (I was screwed)
- “I’m going to have two linesmen, but they’re only going to call throw-ins a) so that they’ll get less stick from the opposition and b) because they might be cheating c**ts”.
Three paragraphs in and you may have realised the actual “match” part is missing so far from this match report. This is simply because the match wasn’t very good to be frank. The journey there was far more interesting (and that seems pretty dry now I’ve read back through it). We got under way on a spongy, but reasonably flat surface and spent the first half trying to avoid getting a foothold on the game by hoofing the ball aimlessly up the park for the most part. The ever composed Dan Wilding was the only member of the back four getting his head up and actually trying to pick out a pass. In our defense, Carshalton were doing a solid job of getting support for the flanks so we just seemed to run into cul-de-sacs when trying to find our usually dependable outlets. What little joy we were getting revolved around glimpses of genuine quality from Mike Hubbard dropping into the hole and buying himself a bit of space with some neat trickery. One such incident started with a clever drag back which managed to take two players out of the game. He used the time this bought to efficiently chip the ball towards the penalty spot. The delivery had their defender beaten all ends up, and despite throwing a despairing hand into the mix, the ball still proved elusive. Thankfully Ozan Gunes was on hand to put him out of his misery by roofi ng the ball with a nononsense volley over the keeper. 1-0.
Offensively Carshalton were just relying on isolating the centre backs and getting behind us with individual bits of skill. With the surface holding the ball up a little bit we were able to cover enough to limit them to potshots from outside the box. This changed towards the end of the half with a corner that found its way to one of their players on the left side of the six yard box. The ball was duly smashed towards the far post only for Mike “the Onion” Bardgett (like the nickname? It’s got layers!) to pull off a fine reaction stop with his left hand. This wasn’t the end of the danger though as not for the first time this season we found ourselves switched off at a corner. The ball rebounded to their striker in acres of space and the goal at his mercy. Somehow Johnny Hammond managed to position himself in the right place at the right time to make a goal-line block that was every bit as impressive as Bardgie’s save, and thanks to their heroic efforts we managed to find ourselves going into half time with the lead.
Maybe we were just a little sluggish in the first half because of the delay to kickoff, or the late scare from the corner made us realise we weren’t going to just coast this game. Either way, we started the second half with a renewed impetus. James Spencer was showing buckets of heart on the right hand side, always eager to receive the ball and move us up the field with pace and trickery. Although we didn’t seem to be bearing fruit through open play we were amassing a helluva lot of corners, one of which Tom Spencer had already planted on the bar. Wilding’s deliveries had been exceptional throughout the game, so it was with a sense or irony that his worst delivery thus far resulted in us doubling our lead. The ball squirmed along the floor towards the penalty spot where Gunes laid in wait. The talented midfielder has done a bit of a Prince this season, re-imagining himself as a tireless deep-lying midfielder in a bit of a Sami Khedira mould. With Taylor partnering him in the middle, he had a little more license to roam at the weekend, and his second finish showed he’s getting back to his best in front of goal as well. Using the pace of the delivery and the inside of his right foot to steer the ball apologetically past the despairing keeper and deliver us a 2-0 lead.
Knowing the game was slipping away from them now, Carshlaton decided to change to a narrow 4-5-1 which had the wingers moving in-field. It was a similar formation to the one that proved effective for Old Actonians earlier in the season, and seemed to have similar results against us today. Their number 15 was finding all sorts of space on account of this and a swift break from right to left had me closing him down, which in turn gave their rather rotund lone striker a free run at our goal. The Onion had been immaculate all game, saving another point blank effort earlier in the half which pretty much ended their second striker’s game and prompted the formation change. This time however he was victim of a cruel bit of gamesmanship: as he steered the attack wide and sprawled, the striker moved the ball further out and cannily trailed his leg to buy an easy penalty. As the referree pointed to the spot Mike laid into himself with trademark self-deprecating furore, but accepted his fate – somewhat relieved that he wasn’t picking up another fine in the name of club duty. He almost kept his clean sheet too, but the fingertips of his left hand weren’t quite enough to keep their penalty out.
Ten minutes to see the game out and Misfortune reared her calamitous head, forcing Monkey Alan off with tight hamstring. He had gritted his way through a good 15 minutes injured, and according to who you believe had been unable to sub because our chairman didn’t fancy it on a cold December afternoon in Carshalton, or was legitimately cold enough at this point to be a liability to the team, as well as his own body. In his defence he was stuck with linesman duties which denied him the opportunity to properly warm up. The argument against was there for all to see though, as with his first touch – whilst moaning about not being able to feel his feet – he collected and dinked a delightful pass with his weaker foot out to James on the wing. Indeed with your back to the wall, their is no better player to have in your defence. Some no-nonsense clearances all round, and we managed to see out the game with no further threat to our goal.
So there’s you go. It seems we’ve learned the old United Ferguson trick (or more recent United Van Gaal trick) of winning ugly, and if not for an improbable 12-0 win for EBOG we would be sitting pretty at the top of the table. We do have the impending weekend to personally address this imbalance, as we play hosts to our North London neighbours. It will be another game where we’ll have to dig deep once again, but if recent weeks are anything to go by we certainly wont lack any heart or character.