The new season was upon us, and the Merton 4s had good reason to believe that this would be one where they were more than just relegation fodder. That said, the restructuring of the SAL leagues meant that the Yellows found themselves in a division which was unlikely to be much easier. First up was Old Salesians Reserves - a team who had embarrassed us by a score of 6-1 last season in the Cup.
Determined not to let history repeat itself, Merton made an excellent start. The first few minutes saw them absorb a few dangerous attacks from the visitors with a solid shape, and what followed was a barrage of opportunities at the other end. Chance after chance came thick and fast, with Dom, Matt, Adam and Bill all going close, as the lads played the ball around with aplomb. It seemed only a matter of time before the breakthrough came in what was a brilliant passage of play.
But, as was typical of last season, the goal came entirely against the run of play. Salesians benefited from a mix up on the left, and the finish was pure. 1-0, and a gutting blow.
One soon became two, although this time it was down to pure bad luck (and a pinpoint finish). Ed did well to intercept an attack on the left, and got a decent boot on it to make the clearance. Unfortunately, it struck Akram, ricocheted into the path of the Salesians centre forward, and his curling left-footed finish from range snuck into the top-left corner of the goal.
Despite the further setback, Merton began to settle down, and once again enjoyed an impressive spell, where chances and half chances accumulated. But, yet again, they were undone at the other end - this time a mix up between Dan Gridley and Mike leaving their striker to pick up a bouncing ball, and in a 2 v 1 situation, Merton suddenly found themselves 3-0 down.
It was inexplicable really, given how the game had gone. Had the scoreline been reversed, it wouldn't have flattered Merton, who had enjoyed by far the better of the game. Yet they had no choice but to soldier on, knowing that getting a goal back before half time was essential if they were going to harbour hopes of mounting a comeback.
Finally, they were the beneficiaries of some luck, as a mix up between keeper and defender left them exposed at the back. Dom latched onto the loose ball, and showed his usual composure in a one on one with the keeper, slotting it past him with ease and grace.
3-1, and Merton had something to build on. That was how it stayed until the break, and, as the manager said, that was probably the best half of football this team had put together in a long time. Sounds crazy at 3-1 down, but it was true.
It was going to boil down to who scored next, and Merton nearly did exactly that right from the kick-off. But, for some reason thereafter, they just weren't at the races. The simple passing, intelligent through balls, and generally playing football on the deck, which had served them so well in the first half, suddenly when missing, as they began to aimlessly hoof it long.
The momentum of the game changed as a result, as Salesians began to produce waves of pressure, and it soon told, as they carved open the Merton defence to score the crucial fourth goal. It further deflated an already-flat 4s team, although they were robbed of the chance of an instant reply, as the oppo goalkeeper produced what can only be described as a rugby tackle on Dom in the box. The ref was unsighted, and didn't give it. An absolute stonewaller if ever there was one, but it wasn't to be.
Dom then became the first man to grace the sin bin for dissent, albeit that his comment was pretty innocuous. Nevertheless, it was the straw that broke the camel's back, and after Bill's lob over the keeper struck the side-netting, it was all Salesians, as Merton had no choice but to gamble with three at the back.
They scored another two goals, and probably could have had more, as Merton were basically just waiting for the final whistle. It finally came, with a 6-1 scoreline to digest in the end. Obviously a disappointing result, but plenty of positives to take from a spirited, quality-filled first half. They'll need to rekindle that - and consign what was a poor second half to history - when they face Polytechnic 8s next week.