Lineup: Hutchinson, Laing, Wensley, de la Haye, Seymour, Shaw, Tierney (Brooks), Peel, Chadwick, Tulip (Golding), Guttridge
Goals: Peel, Guttridge (2)
After thrashing West End Village 13-0, the Baby Blue Army had only scored one goal in 3 games throughout December, but had also only conceded 2 and lost 1 game in that time – meaning they remained solid but lost pace with new table toppers Chessington at the end of 2018.
They kicked off the new year by welcoming Merrow to the Aspire, a team they’d encountered in the barren December run and who were clearly a different outfit this season. Tulip was able to name a strong team and squad with Tierney slotting into the centre midfield alongside Shaw, and Wensley and de la Haye sticking together at CB with Torr off doing holidays again.
The game began with Merrow immediately causing Cubo problems with the energetic number 9 and 7 swapping position constantly and the pacy no.9 in particular looking very dangerous. Two early one on one’s were missed and then saved well by Hutchinson. Cubo were solid but unable to get any attacking flow going barring a couple of early dribbles for Tulip and Chadwick. A combative opening 20 exploded into life after great work from Chadwick along the right side found the forward on the edge of the box, controlling a bouncing ball well to play a sharp sideways pass to the onrushing Peel who controlled just inside the 18 yard box, set himself well and slotted home left footed into the bottom corner for the opening goal. The goal whilst slightly against the run of play, demonstrated the attacking prowess of the home side, 1-0 Cubo.
Almost immediately the game looked to have swung back towards Merrow. After a ball became loose in Cubo’s box, both the Merrow striker and full back Seymour set off to be first to the stationary ball, and the already-committed Seymour got there 2nd with his lunge bringing the striker down for a clear penalty. Fortunately for the Cubans, the spot kick cleared the bar and almost cleared the Southfields cage, which stopped the ball from clearing South West London. Merrow followed up with a couple more set pieces which didn’t trouble Hutchinson.
Soon after, Cubo found themselves 2-0 up after getting a free kick right on the edge of the box, but wide enough to give resident set-piece maestro Peel a puzzle on whether to shoot or cross in. The no.10 opted for the latter (understandable given recent assist) and swung in an inch-perfect cross on to the head of Guttridge to put Cubo into a very impressive 2-0 lead, and despite shouts from the Merrow manager that the impressive centre half was ‘bullying’ the Cubo forwards, the scoreline said otherwise. Half-time chat focused on getting better organisation off the ball to track the erratic running of the Merrow forwards, but a key focus was also to allow the away team to play out from the back, given they had shown no danger of penetrating the Cubo shape, and then press as a team.
Within 10 minutes of the half, that exact tactic paid off beautifully as Cubo waited for the Merrow CB’s to play out, before immediately harrying and pressuring the midfielders as a team. Shaw dispossessed the centre mid, Peel then expertly back-heeled the ball to Guttridge and the striker grabbed his second of the game by running through and slotting home for 3-0. A fantastic team goal that came from excellent shared communication. With Merrow continuing to threaten, Cubo remained resolute and focused on defensive shape, being led in the middle by the absolutely superb Tom Shaw who wasn’t beaten in a duel all game and remained right on the limit with the referee in a good way. Cuba’s back line were showing no signs of being breached in the 2nd half with Laing and Seymour shutting down the flanks and Wensley and de la Haye winning the aerial battle. Tulip was able to bring on 2 impressive subs in Brooks and Golding who steadied the tempo and ran their arse off respectively, closing the game off. There was still one moment of magic left though, as Hutchinson pulled off the save of the season in flying to his right to stop a bullet free kick from the edge of the box.
Final score and a brilliant start for Cubo to 2019, proving they can soak up pressure, and a return to goalscoring form is a welcome boost for the team going into their biggest game of the season next week away to league leaders Battersea.
MoM: Mentions to Peel for his goal and 2 assists, and Laing for continuing his good form at right back. But Tom Shaw was simply an unstoppable force all game – it’s always a good sign when he struggles to walk after the 90 is up, and rumour is he cannot be killed using conventional weapons.