35 minutes until kickoff and a text message goes out from the chairman announcing a total of four players have already made it to the changing room so far. Not a good start, and possibly indicative of a laissezfaire attitude that can come from going ten league games unbeaten. It was fair to say that despite an unconvincing performance last week away to HSBC, our confidence was higher than Laurence Fernee’s before a tinder date.
Even with the late start we seemed to ebb into the game fairly efficiently, transitioning from some small sided keep-ball to riding an early high press from Merton. Someone in their camp must suffer from insomnia as it appears they’ve read my match reports and looked to take advantage of our well documented tendency to start slowly. Not so today though, as by the time they’d managed to create a chance that hit the side netting, we’d already squandered three very presentable opportunities. That’s became the pattern for most of the half. Matt Thompson was very ably filling in for Mike Bardgett; he looked assured when coming out to claim everything that fell behind the back four and was kicking superbly considering the unpredictable nature of the quaggy pitch. Mark Taylor was once again dominating the space in front of the defence and the squad on a whole was doing everything right up to the final ball. The jury is out as to whether runs weren’t being made into the right spaces or deliveries were going to the wrong spaces, but either way, things just weren’t clicking up top and sustained periods of pressure without scoring have a habit of coming back to haunt the team in the ascendancy. Cue five minutes before half time as we seceded possession too easily from a corner. The ball looked to be breaking down the left, but a big switch found their midfielder racing down the right in acres of space. I managed to get across to him in time to bag a front row seat for an unstoppable curling effort into the far corner.
Half time and a shell-shocked AP side tried to pick apart the performance so far. Although we were creating chances, we were lacking a cutting edge, exemplified by the fact that we were yet to draw a save from the keeper. Hopefully the introduction of our talisman striker Tom Spencer could make us that little bit more clinical in the second half. We began with the aggressive indignation that was so noticeably missing in the first half, piling on the pressure to quickly earn ourselves a corner. The opposition had been packing out the near post thus far, so when Mike Hubbard swung a peach high into the back post, Merton were left a little exposed with Ozan purposefully striding in to capitalize. The versatile playmaker is in fine form at the moment, scoring four in his last three games. He rose early and seemed to hang for a lifetime before connecting decisively with the cross to make it five in four and put us back on par.
With the impetus on our side it seemed the perfect opportunity to press home the momentum, but instead we lulled back into the torpor of the first half. Chances were few and far between and as the pitch deteriorated further it became difficult for either team to put any decent passages together. The only bit of quality proved decisive and unfortunately fell to the opposition as the field opened up to allow their defender to slide their number 12 through. The guy had the amiable self-assured public school bantz of a young Richie Hancock, but unfortunately for us he didn’t share the first team winger’s turn of pace as he showed a clean set of heels to race through and lift the ball calmly into the far corner.
The rest of the game devolved into park football. Injuries and the need to press for an equaliser left our shape a little ragged, and apart from a few penalty shouts and a goal-bound effort blocked (inexplicably for a goal kick), we lacked the cuteness and composure to find a way back into the game. So a disappointing, but not entirely unexpected result. Our third defeat this season is one that’s especially galling considering it’s the second time we’ve been dominant in possession and just lacked that cutting edge. The other game was a 3-0 drubbing to Bank of England. That was our first match of the season and also next weekend’s opposition. We’ve come a long way since then and with that and events around the club considered, we certainly should not be short of a reason to put in the kind of performance that we know we’re capable of.