OTFC IVs – 1 : 1 – City of London IIIs
Having avoided the trek to Reigate the week before, OTFC IVs were keen to return to the Saturday delights of the AFC South Division 8 with a convincing win. However, a challenging fixture lay ahead, in the shape of City of London IIIs – top of the table, having only lost 2 games all season. The IVs were not to be put off, as they diligently went about their meticulous pre-match preparation, slicing shots over the bar, half-hearted attempts at stretching, and of course, sweeping the puddles off the pitch. A cold rainy night in Stoke would be a walk in the park for these seasoned veterans. The 1.30pm kick off time came and went, and with no sign of the opposing team, frustration began to show on the faces of the ever-professional IVs. Eventually, City of London traipsed onto the pitch, and the match begun, a mere 45 minutes late, after requests to “start anyway” were rejected by the ref.
Against a slick opposition, the IVs started brightly, with centre-midfielders Ollie Robini and Joe Yates breaking down attacks with numerous interceptions and tackles. Centre backs Conrad Bell and Steve Newby were dominant in the air, reducing City of London’s chances to a handful of through balls. As the match progressed, it was clear that striker Steven Dwyer was more than a match for the opposition centre-backs, running tirelessly, supported by the height and presence of Dom Lundle. City of London’s biggest threat proved to be a tricky right winger, however, he was effectively neutralised by left back and captain Charlie Hughes, who released left winger Ed Lambourn several times higher up the pitch, only for him to be frequently and unfairly sent flying by the opposition right back and winger.
The first goal came through fortuitous circumstances, after City of London were awarded a free-kick 30 yards out. With reliable keeper Nader Meradji (who has already made several good saves) unlucky to spill the shot, the ball was bundled over the line. Surprisingly after going a goal up, City of London seemed to be hell-bent on self-destruction, with several fiery exchanges between their striker and right winger. After looking increasingly like a fight would emerge, the match was halted, and the striker was ordered off the pitch to be substituted. Rumour has it that the player has already received a 3 match suspension from the FA referees panel – an appeal is said to be underway. As the half time whistle blew, the IVs were unlucky to be behind, and were confident they could turn the game around in the second half.
As the second half began, OTFC began to grow in confidence, with substitutes Ahmed Alhelfi and Dylan providing a burst of energy. As the opposition pushed higher and higher up the pitch, the IVs increasingly found time and space on the ball to counter attack, with the midfielders and strikers linking up well. The defence remained solid, with right-back Marian Vrabie and utility-man Dan Peake making some excellent challenges – the latter performing more and more like his doppelganger Gary Neville. The opposition were becoming increasingly frustrated with their inability to score, with more excellent keeping from Nader keeping the IVs in the game. Ed was unlucky to get his first goal of the season, as he was put through by a towering heading from Stephen, however, he blazed over the bar from 15 yards. In the rest of the season, goals are sure to come from this talented winger. [Editor’s note: The similarity in names between this player and the writer of this article is merely a co-incidence.]
It was moments later that OTFC got their reward – clinical striker Stephen received the ball 25 yards, and after beating two defenders, slotted the ball coolly past the stranded keeper for his 15th goal of the season. No more needs to said about Stephen’s ability, other than the fact he didn’t score a hat-trick this game is considered a “poor performance”. Rampant celebrations from the IVs were accompanied by accusations and arguing from City of London, as the players returned to the centre circle.
The final 20 minutes saw good chances from both teams, Stephen was unlucky to add to his tally, and some heroic challenges from centre-back Steve kept the scores level. Joe and Ollie continued to work hard in midfield, restricting opposition attacks to the wings, where they were kept at bay by the equally capable defence.
The final excitement of the game came with City of London attempting to make a substitution, only for their only sub (who hadn’t yet come on) insisting he “didn’t play left back” – needless to say, he came on anyway. The final whistle blew shortly, bringing an excellent game to a close.
With tired legs and the satisfaction that came with keeping the league leaders at bay, the IVs returned to the dressing room to view the stats that saw them safely in mid-table , with several games in hand – third place is certainly achievable for the end for season. Man-of-the-match went to vice-captain Steve Newby, for a highly composed and solid performance at centre back. The standard of the performance was shown by 6 other players receiving man of the match nominations. With a fantastic performance and valuable result under their belts, the IVs are sure to have an easier game next week, against Old Wokinghams – rooted to the bottom of the table.