Merrow 1-2 AFC Cubo

Date: Sat 17th August 2013

Venue: The Urnfield, Merrow

Starting Line-up: Rob Sadler, Rob Jones, Richard Gough, Alan Clarke, Chris Grayson, Tom Golding, Ben McGeown, Rufus ‘Shedders’ Shedwick, Sabby Sabahatin, Stevie T, Martin Ansell

Substitutes: Jim McGeown, Hung Nguyen, Oli Watkins

Scorers: Stevie T, Shedders

Man of the Match: Alan Clarke

Cubo began their third season in the Surrey Elite at newly promoted County Cup winners Merrow, whose run to the final of that competition had seen them beat some of the better teams in the SEIL including Horsley and Coulsdon Town.  As such the Baby Blue Army were expecting a tough game against a side accustomed to winning and no doubt keen to make a statement in their first league fixture.  Cubo were once treated to some excellent facilities, with the pitch in immaculate condition, a pre-game burst of rain meant that the ball was zipping around beautifully.

With new gaffer Ian Clarke opting out of the first month of the season whilst he comes to terms with signing his life away, Club Chairman Ben McGeown took on management responsibilities with Goughy taking the armband for the day.  The early start to the SEIL season meant that Cubo were without many regulars, most notably keeper Gareth Stewart, though luckily for Ben McGeown Rob Sadler was able to act as a stand-in.  Despite the side was a strong one with a very physical presence at the back where Alan Clarke was rewarded for some impressive performances at the back end of last season with a start and Chris Grayson came in at left-back to fill the ‘Big Aussie’ quota in Jake Flower’s absence.

Goughy’s first input as skipper was to lose the toss and Merrow, sensibly, chose to play with the wind, which was howling across the pitch towards the Cubo goal.  The home side started the brighter of the two and soon had Cubo on the back foot, particularly as Sadler was struggling against the elements to get his goal-kicks out of his own area.  The first chance of the game fell to Merrow when a sloppy pass out of defence was picked off and the Merrow no.7 beat one covering defender before pulling his shot wide.  An even better chance followed when Sadler came to collect a through ball only to see it squirm from his grasp and fall to the Merrow striker.  Fortunately for Cubo, the angle proved too much and he could only put his effort into the side netting.

Having survived these early scares Cubo began to get the ball down and some neat passing moves almost saw first Martin and then Sabby released behind the Merrow backline who were holding a very high line.  The wind was proving tricky at both ends as the Merrow centre-half misjudged a long throw into the box that held up in the air before bouncing over his head and falling invitingly for Shedders.  Unfortunately the clubs resident ray of sunshine on the pitch couldn’t control his volley which sailed over the bar.  The man with the personal account at Niketown was involved again when, having intercepted a pass in midfield, he set off on a driving run towards the Merrow goal before being obstructed just outside the box.  Merrow were furious with what they considered to be a soft decision and would be even more agitated by what followed.  Sabby stepped up to curl an effort over the wall but without enough pace to seriously trouble the keeper who stepped across his goal to collect.  However, in a moment to forget, the ball slipped from his hands and dropped to an onrushing Stevie T, who forced the ball home from 2 yards out.  A great goal for the away side who up until that point had probably been second best in the half.

The goal gave Cubo a boost and they almost doubled their lead shortly afterwards when a cross from the left just evaded Stevie T at the back post.  Merrow remained a threat and were half way to celebrating an equaliser when their no.6 side-stepped a challenge on the edge of the box and thundered a strike against the underside of the bar.  A suggestion of a touch from Sadler made all the difference as it cannoned down a metre from the line before being scrambled clear.

Cubo emerged for the second half with the wind and a slight slope on their side safe in the knowledge that they would get chances against opponents who would have to attack, leaving ever larger gaps in their backline.  The key for Cubo would be showing patience in their ball retention, historically not an attribute of the boys in Baby Blue.  As expected Merrow came out strong in the second half, and despite the wind were on top of affairs, forcing Alan and Gough into some desperate last gasp challenges to prevent an equaliser.  The best of these coming when a cross into the box fell to the Merrow striker with the goal at his mercy.  He confidently struck the ball towards goal only to see Alan Clarke throw himself in front of it and somehow deflect the ball wide for a corner.  It was to prove a game-changing block.  Minutes later and with the Merrow defence pushing up to the half way line, a long pass from right back took a deflection before Shedders raced onto it and coolly rounded the keeper to make it 2-0 Cubo.

It was at this point that Cubo really should have put the game to bed but credit to the home side they came flying back at their opponents from kick off and when a free kick from out on the left was only half cleared their no.7 was on hand to nod home and bring them back to within a goal.  Cubo will be very disappointed with the timing of the goal and the nature of it given that they had at least two chances to clear the danger before the ball ended up in the back of the net.

Suddenly a game that appeared to be in the bag had become a defensive ‘backs to the wall’ exercise for Cubo, whose defensive discipline was really being tested by Merrow pushing men forward and leaving players up the pitch (at one stage they had 4 men stationed on the right wing).   Hung and Jim were introduced to help shore up the back line, whilst a lack of composure on the ball continued to haunt Cubo as they continually gave the ball away cheaply whilst attempting to hit long passes on a skiddy surface.  On the few occasions that they did look after the ball almost saw them get a third with a well worked move involved Sabby Ryan but a desperate block by the Merrow centre-half deflected the ball over the bar.   With Goughy and Alan holding firm against the aerial assault Cubo were able to see out the remaining minutes to secure a vital first three points of the season.

A hard fought victory for Cubo against a dangerous side who will no doubt do well this season.  Whilst it would be fair to say that Cubo rode their luck at points they looked dangerous when going forward and with greater composure could have saved themselves the frantic defending that took place in the last 25 minutes.  Nonetheless given the limited nature of pre-season this is a great start to the season and sets them up nicely for next weekend’s fixtures at Virginia Water and local rivals Tooting Bec.

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