Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Byatt, Welsh J, Welsh A, Galy; Ahmed, Irakiza, O’Sullivan, Nawrocki, Kent; Lewis
First game ended 3-2. [Farrell] gifted them the lead with a grave misjudgement, allowing the ball to bounce over [him] and the striker to nod home from a yard. Although this followed a fine save from a free kick minutes earlier. Adel equalised, but we went in 2-1 down at HT thanks to a cross that was whipped in, eluding everyone in the box and into the far corner past a stranded Farrell. Adel equalised with a fine free kick int he 2nd half. They were reduced to ten men for the last ten minutes of the game for a scything challenge on Parsons from their LM. Their striker turned Ali inside out in the dying moments of the game, and scuffed a shot in off the post for a 3-2 win for the visitors.
The second game saw Wood Street take the lead after 20 mins or so, Farrell lobbed with the striker bearing down on goal. Farrell then managed to exceed his gaffe from the first game, allowing a through ball that was shielded by Ali from the on rushing striker to go through his legs, with the striker through to tap into an empty net. The second half began with an early away goal, the winger bearing through on goal and smashing in for a 3 nil lead. A complacent WoodStreet (one of their players bellowing "lets get the goal difference up) allowed us a route back into the game, with our aging (or should that be experienced) front line helping themselves to a goal apiece. But the final word went to the visitors, the sub LM curling a magnificent effort into the top left corner, a shot that Farrell got fingertips to but only managed to push it further into the top corner, making it actually look an even better goal. 4-2 Wood Street at the final whistle.
MOTM? A lot of the lads hustled well, as we had to with a bare XI, but Adel gets the vote for the first game with his brace, and Round for his whole contribution in the second game.
Convocation (4-4-2): Farrell; Byatt, Welsh J, 'Ali', Parsons; Ahmed, Irakiza, Nawrocki, Kent; McNally, Round
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Byatt, Roberts, Welsh J, Railton; Galy, Kent, Irakiza, O'Sullivan, Parsons; Lewis; Subs: Ahmed, Nabil, McNally
Came from 1-0 down to win.
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Byatt, Welsh A, Roberts G, Railton; Ahmed, Lewis, Nawrocki, O'Sullivan, Kent; McNally; Sub: Nabil
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Byatt, Welsh A, Roberts G, Farrell; Nabil, Lewis, Huws, Welsh J, Galy; McNally
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Sawle, Welsh A, Welsh J, Galy; Huws, Kent, Long, Schofield R, Parsons; Round; Poole G
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Byatt, Welsh A, Welsh J, Galy; Ahmed, Huws, Bollard, Kent, Kaye; Williams S; Subs: McNally, McLean, Williams M
Bobby Mimms reports
Well, this was one hell of a case of going from the sublime to the ridiculous. Three days after Convocation’s excellent win against the unbeatable St Margaret’s and the launch of Taha Abussnena’s Disrespect campaign they hosted Old Xaverians for the second time this season and unfortunately appeared to be back on the Night Nurse again. The visitors had been a little lucky to leave with all three points back when these sides last met at Wyncote on the first day of the campaign (a return fixture at their place was called off several weeks ago due to the elements – something some people only found out when they, yet again, turned up at an empty ground), but this thumping was fully deserved.
The conditions matched Convocations performance: it was a miserable, overcast evening, having rained on and off all day, while a bluster blew diagonally across the pitch throughout the match – it makes you wonder why Second Team Captain Andy McLaren would have wanted to come along and watch. As usual the blue-and-white-hooped hosts lined-up in a 4-5-1 formation, although making his first competitive start for the Firsts in goal was Jack Morgan. Ahead of him the back line comprised of Liam Byatt, Andy Welsh, Jay Railton and Ollie Sawle, while the five-man midfield saw Divin De Buffalo Irakiza, Graham Roberts and Jon Welsh bookended by Gerome Galy (left) and Andy Parsons (right). Chris McNally began as the lone forward, and waiting their turn on the benchless bench were John Farrell, Anthony Lewis and Ben Prince.
Due to, ahem, travel complications – Hic! – your correspondent didn’t reach Wyncote until twenty minutes after kick off, and by then the home side were already in big trouble. The claret-and-blue liveried Old Xavs had taken the lead when a long throw into the Convo box was only half cleared and a follow-up volley from eighteen yards out flew into one of Morgan’s bottom corners.
Before long the lead was doubled when one of the visitors slipped through the Convocation back line and into the box, Railton went across to challenge him for the ball, needlessly apparently, and young referee Sam Worrall subsequently awarded a penalty on the basis that you’re not really allowed to snap opponents in half. The spot kick was then duly converted.
A third Old Xavs goal was netted before the midpoint of the half was reached when one of their scamps chased a loose ball down the middle of the pitch and, taking advantage of some classic non-defending from his opponents, fired past Morgan again from just inside the home side’s area. The well-padded Roberts tried his luck from about thirty yards out not long after that, his effort sailing easily over the visitors’ crossbar, but even so Convo were never really at the races and their guests were in the enviable position of being able to pick them off whenever they felt like it.
It looked momentarily as if they had scored a fourth, about ten minutes before the break, when one of their players fired low from the corner of the penalty area past a despairing Morgan dive and from certain vantage points the shot appeared to hit the back of the net, although it actually rebounded off the foot of the furthest upright and fortuitously into the arms of the prostrate ‘keeper. The reprieve didn’t last long for Convocation though, as their guests did indeed grab another, with the last kick of the half, when a strike from just outside the eighteen-yard box seemed to have been blocked by the #1 down to his right until the ball somehow span up and over him and into the centre of the goal.
The third quarter of the game was as good as it got for the home side, as, with the wind behind them, they didn’t concede and even managed to go close to pulling one back as well, although Welsh (J) still failed to get his drive from the edge of the area on target. There were a couple of substitutions during that time that may have helped their cause – Lewis replaced Roberts as Convo switched to two up front, and Prince went on in a straight swap with McNally – but their brief respite may just as well have been something to do with the Churchillian rhetoric of the Captain during the break; his Second Team equivalent was not so sure and accused him of talking “a load of bollocks”, while Farrell’s contribution to motivational speech – “I know it’s a cliché, but let’s try and win the second half” – will be perfectly logical when the double headers come into play in a few weeks’ time.
There was more to the club secretary than just run-of-the-mill common sense though, as he spent the fifteen minutes that he shared the sideline with McNally doing his best to wind him up, which was much more enjoyable than the rubbish going on on the 4G pitch even if it did seem to be going over the Mancunian’s head. The floodlights flickered on about fifteen minutes into the second half to further cheer the spectators (there was actually a slight huzzah), but by then the Old Xavs #9 had given warning of things to come by leaving Sawle (who’s no slouch) in his slipstream and going on to hit a shot against one of Convo’s posts.
The home side had struggled to keep their opponents under control in the first period when they were playing with five in midfield, so having switched to four they were sitting ducks to quick counter attacks, something that Old Xavs were set up to exploit once they had a guy on their left flank who could probably outrun pyroclastic flow. In the twentieth minute of the half he was at it again, leaving Parsons and Sawle for dead and then drilling a low cross-cum-shot into the Convo six-yard box that Morgan got down to and palmed away, but despite the defence’s close proximity to the player in claret-and-blue that the loose ball fell to – not as close as they should have been, of course – no one was able to prevent him from swivelling on the spot and smashing a shot into the net.
If it hadn’t been beforehand it was obvious after that goal that the remainder of the game was going to be a case of damage limitation for the lamentable home side. In fairness, Galy and Parsons did make some efforts to get back and help out their respective full backs, Byatt and Farrell (the latter having returned in place of Sawle), but the little fight shown by those in hoops only contributed to a losing battle, as Irakiza and Welsh were thoroughly outplayed in the middle of the park, while Prince and Lewis might as well have not been on the pitch such was the way they were completely frozen out of play. So it was no surprise when, with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, the visitors scored a sixth, having knocked the ball around the edge of the Convo penalty area for a while until eventually one of their number was slipped through the back line and dinked it over Morgan as he’d advanced.
The visitors were clearly enjoying themselves and an (easily pleased) centre half kept referring to anything his team mate’s did as “Class!” (so that it rhymed with ‘arse’), something that McLaren started parroting in an ever-so-slightly irritating manner. They had every right to be pleased with themselves though, as, even without taking into account the poor performances of their hosts, Old Xavs were playing rather well and their alacritous #9 continued to terrorise from the left flank. One particular sortie ended with a shot over the crossbar from about ten yards out after he’d sent over a pass (‘a clarse parse’) to a colleague in the middle, but then, with about three-or-four minutes remaining, he helped to apply the coup de grace to Convo’s wretched evening when his low pull-back into the box from more-or-less on the byline was intercepted by Welsh (A), but with a spot of footwork at the near post that Fred Astaire would have been proud of the defender back-heeled the ball past Morgan and into his own net – it wasn’t too dissimilar to Djimi Traore’s moment of magic against Burnley back in the day.
This was possibly the worst that the First Team have played since McNally became captain; they were unfathomably abject (well, unfathomable apart from the fact that they’re Convo) and as a result all their guests had to do to run up a mini-rout was keep reloading and shooting like at fish in a barrel. Hopefully it was just a pretty bad day at the office so it’s probably best to put it down to experience and never mention it again (and hope that the players weren’t missing Abussnena), because these two teams meet in the Alan Brown Trophy semi-finals in a couple of weeks’ time and if Convocation have got any chance of reaching their first ever league-affiliated final they can’t be brooding over this debacle.
Man Of The Match: Like the performances of the team in the last two games, this award has gone from one extreme to the other and is withheld.
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Byatt, Welsh A, Railton, Sawle; Galy, Irakiza, Roberts G, Welsh J, Parsons; McNally; Subs: Lewis, Prince, Farrell
The talk after this match should have been all about a fantastic Convocation performance on the back foot, leading to an unexpected victory against a top side who hadn’t been beaten (in the league) all season. Instead, years from now, it will be remembered for the foolishness, petulance, and lack of restraint of one individual.
Convo made the short journey south to Aigburth Road for their first game in four weeks, the weather having once again wreaked havoc on this cursed season; having said that, it did mean that they were unbeaten in a couple of months and on a winning streak of two (one in the league, one in the cup). Still, few would have expected them to get anything from this meeting with arguably the best team in the division, especially when they turned up to find the home side’s changing room door adorned with a banner wishing one of their players (it would turn out to be their goalkeeper) a happy eighteenth birthday – suffice to say, everyone associated with the visitors felt old upon seeing it.
Even when Convo took the lead inside the first quarter of an hour common sense dictated that it would be short lived: a free kick out on the left wing of the unkempt pitch was swung into the St Margaret’s box and Liam Byatt of all people was on hand to bundle the ball into the net at the back post. That would prove to be the only real chance the visitors had to score and for the rest of the game their goalkeeper, Matt Round, was in the thick of the action, making a number of saves and blocks to preserve his side’s lead, albeit saves and blocks you would expect him to make.
Convo had started in their familiar 4-5-1 formation with a back line comprising of (from left to right) Andy Welsh, Byatt, Jon Welsh and Second Team vice-captain Ben Prince, and a midfield quintet of John Farrell (on the left wing!), Jerome Galy (on the right), Anthony Lewis, Taha Abussnena, and one of the latter’s friends, whose name went unrecorded but whose utter enervation at the interval, having been substituted, was unmistakable. Mike Nawrocki took over from him in centre-mid for the second half, but only lasted a little over five minutes before his hamstring blew up (it didn’t stop him returning to the APH after the match, though); having played up front on his own for the first hour of the game Captain Chris McNally was relieved by one of two other guest players (again they were friends of the soon-to-be-disgraced Abussnena but their names went unrecorded) – Farrell being replaced by the other – who seemed willing but rather clueless.
It was shortly after the last of those Convocation substitutions had been made that a couple of misdemeanours lay the groundwork for a bigger confrontation that was to follow. Galy flew into a rage at the referee, Mr Andy Pownall, about something and was rightly cautioned for dissent, while minutes later one of the St Margaret’s players followed him into the book when he quite deliberately hacked Welsh (A)’s ankles in the middle of the visitors’ half, and it was only the quick intervention of the Convo man’s team mates that prevented him from also seeing yellow when he sprang up like a jack-in-the-box ready to dust the perpetrator’s jowls.
There then followed the main event, between the official and Abussnena – and there was only ever going to be one winner in that battle of wills; apparently there was history between the two of them, and while the player didn’t go looking for trouble on Saturday, he didn’t try and avoid it either. His danse macabre started when he was, again quite rightly, booked for hurling abuse at the whistler after being penalised for straying offside, so when minutes later he was adjudged to have made another run too early and pulled back it was not the wisest of moves to kick the ball away. He didn’t boot it into the next county; it barely rolled ten yards; and when was the last time anyone in the Old Boys League was dealt the full letter of the law for such a minor misdeed?
But why would you take the chance?
He knew immediately he was in trouble, the sight of the referee rummaging around in his arse pocket again (for his yellow) would have made sure of that, and just as he had for his first booking the Convo man went to great lengths to act aloof in the face of his comeuppance, thus winding his nemesis up more. And with Abussnena refusing to acknowledge the official he had no clue as to his whereabouts and the two of them collided. It was accidental, and the miscreant’s split second reaction, to push the other away, did seem to be impulse rather than anything nefarious (not that it matters, but it was hardly Paulo Di Canio and the late Paul Alcock; the ref had 20 lbs on the player and barely took a step backwards), but if he hadn’t been acting the giddy goat he wouldn’t have been in a position to have his intentions misinterpreted. He received a straight red card instead of the second yellow he would have got anyway, while worse was to follow as McNally returned from the changing rooms to read him the riot act as well. Ouch!
The remaining quarter-of-an-hour was the footballing equivalent of Rourke’s Drift, as St Margaret’s pretty much set up camp twenty-five yards from their guests’ goal and rained in shots at it at a regularity that can’t have been far off one a minute. Continually retrieving wayward strikes from the hinterland behind his nets, Round was warned by Mr Pownall on numerous occasions to get a move on but played the game of brinkmanship perfectly – bearing in mind what had gone before it was a wonder how he didn’t follow the others into the referee’s notebook. You could argue though, that the home side’s players were the biggest timewasters as their efforts were almost all too high or too wide, while no matter how many times Convo tried to clear their lines the ball constantly kept coming back at them as it took a remarkably long time for someone to figure out that, with no one playing up front (where Abussnena had been), there was no one to put a foot on it – eventually Lewis was sent to the halfway line to try and do so.
Almost as regular as St Margaret’s’ shots on goal were their sometimes manic appeals for a penalty every time the ball entered the visitors’ area, but despite a number of you’ve-seen-em-givens the man in black was never impressed enough to award one. They almost got the equaliser their pressure deserved, if nothing else, when one of their ilk swivelled far too easily past Prince’s Sgt Wilson-esque defending at a throw-in but blasted into the side netting, while deep into injury time they smashed an effort against the outside of one of the uprights from a tight six-yards. Eventually though, the referee brought the fifty-one minute second half and the game to a conclusion, and Convocation had secured one of their most impressive victories of recent times.
As previously suggested though, it will be remembered in the future for the wrong reasons, and it seems likely that Abussnena’s next Convo appearance will be a long time in the future because the League is probably going to throw the book at him. He was a little unfortunate so he shouldn’t be hung out to dry by the club, but it cannot condone his behaviour and he does have to be disciplined. Sadly, on Saturday it wasn’t St Margaret’s’ eighteen year old goalkeeper who could have done with growing up.
Man Of The Match: Team award, with the obvious exception of Abussnena, who almost spoilt it for everyone – he is the Andy Willis de nos jours.
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Welsh A, Byatt, Welsh J, Prince; Farrell, Lewis, Abussnena, Unknown, Galy; McNally; Subs: Nawrocki, Unknown x2
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Byatt, Railton, Welsh A, Farrell; Abussnena, Chadwick, Welsh J, Ahmed, Galy; McNally; Subs: Nawrocki, O'Sullivan, Chivers
First 20mins were pretty tight with them maybe controlling the ball slightly more. We picked them off on the counter twice from Anthony and Taha, two really good goals. We stayed resolute at the back. The 2nd half was even, they tried to go more direct but we stayed strong and worked the ball well up the pitch. Last 20 they got a bit more joy and had a couple of chances. One saved on the line then they got a goal from a bit of a scramble. They put on more pressure but we got a goal on the break from Taha and killed the game.
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Byatt, Roberts G, Welsh A, Galy; Kent, Nawrocki, Irakiza, Chadwick, Lewis; Abussnena; Sub: McNally
Bobby Mimms reports
Half a century on from Eddie Waring (sort of) uttering his famous commiseration for a dejected Don Fox after the guy had fluffed what would have been a last-minute winning conversion in rugby league’s Challenge Cup Final, a similar sentiment was universally offered to Anthony Lewis following Convocation’s Intermediate Cup quarter-final loss on Saturday when he failed to find the net in the penalty shoot-out while everybody else scored. At the culmination of a contest played in occasional drizzle (it was hardly Watersplash at Wembley, 1968), in which Convo had come back from two down to take the tie to spot kicks, he cut a dejected figure both immediately after his miss, and again a minute-or-so later when it became clear that it was crucial, and was rightly consoled by his team mates, his plight once again demonstrating that footballing fortune is never more vicious than when it is decided from twelve yards out.
One of the few slivers of comfort that Convocation can take from losing while within sniffing distance of the semis is that their opponents weren’t a shower of arseholes; defeat can be bearable when it’s to good winners. However, when the draw for the quarter-finals was made and they were paired with a side (supposedly) from Norris Green it wasn’t just the snobs in the club who’d feared the worst – a nice game against nice opposition couldn’t be found in any of the brochures on the Wyncote coffee table – but despite the visitors rolling up at Mather Avenue with that archetypal symbol of footballing hoodlummery, the yellow loon kit (albeit one with blue shorts and mucky-grey socks that looked like they may have been white before a bad wash), they were near perfect guests and their style of play contributed greatly to a frequently anarchic and incompetent match that was very much to Convo’s palate. Rumours that the visitors usually participate in the Christian League – surely that doesn’t exist – also helped to alleviate pre-match worries that the contest might be a little feisty.
Although those (understandable, considering the status of the fixture) concerns that Norris Green were a brutally efficient and effective football machine and would inflict a bit of a hiding on their hosts would quickly be assuaged, it still took a bit of time for the penny to drop in the Convocation mind-set that they were actually nothing particularly special. The visitors played the first half with an icy wind blowing the length of the pitch from behind them, and whether by accident or with intent route one became a favoured tactic – and it was in using such Big Sam shenanigans that they took the lead, around about the ten-minute mark, when one such long ball sailed over the combined midfields, the Convo centre halves and full backs had differing opinions on whether to play offside or not (Stop the press!), and a player in yellow ran on and slotted past Alex Hendry in the nets.
That uncoordinated rearguard comprised of Liam Byatt and Graham Roberts, who’d tried to trigger the offside trap from their position in the middle, and Ollie Sawle and John Farrell on the flanks, who (probably correctly) hadn’t. The two full backs had differing afternoons, with the former ‘enjoying’ some quiet time, which at least meant he did nothing wrong, whilst the club secretary regularly livened up proceedings with gaffes that would usually drop his colleagues in it. The two centre backs, on the other hand, recovered from their uncharacteristically disorganised start and, offside qualms out of the system, spent the latter three-quarters of the game with their opponents under control (although not their own teammates).
Further up the pitch the five-man midfield was split into two tiers, with the pairing of Mike Nawrocki and Jon Welsh supposedly sitting just in front of the defence (and therefore probably just as culpable for the inability of the defence to prevent the visitors from scoring the opening goal), and Lewis, Divin De Buffalo Irakiza and Adel Ahmed in a more attacking role just behind the lone forward, Mabon Huws. All of the ‘front four’ managed to fire off some sort of tame effort at the Norris Green goal during the opening half, while both ‘keepers were in the right position on numerous occasions for shots struck straight at them during the same time; both ‘keepers were also wearing tights – the state of the modern game, eh?
Both Lewis and Huws had opportunities to equalise for the home side in the ten minutes after Norris Green took the lead, and indeed the former of the two actually got the ball in the opposition net but his effort was disallowed for offside (when it probably wasn’t); the young Welshman’s chance was a wayward shot from just outside the penalty area, and all-in-all he struggled to get into the game as much as he had on his debut a few weeks ago. The visitors, in stark contrast, were still enjoying the upper hand that Convo’s languorous start had afforded them, and even though one of their players was booked and told to pipe down by the referee after a spot of back chat – a fairly incongruous incident overall, but one for which he will presumably have to serve some sort of penance – they doubled their lead just before the half-hour mark when they swung a corner kick their hosts’ six-yard box and a grey stockinged leg bundled the old pigskin over the goal line at the back post – the old ones are still the best.
Due to Convocation’s less-than-stellar start to the game that concession seemed rather ominous and the worry was that the visitors might start running away with the tie. Or at least it was until the blue-and-white hoops restarted again and the ball was quickly shifted to Irakiza, who thought he might try his luck from the middle of the Norris Green half of the pitch, whereupon his ‘shot’ was deflected by one of their rather podgy defenders (half of the yellow-shirted side were little more than glints in their fathers’ eyes, although the back line looked as though they’d been around long enough to have formed good friendships over the counter of Sayers) and looped up over the ‘keeper and into his net. There can’t have been twenty seconds playing time between the two goals.
Although he scored Irakiza was otherwise the least influential of the trio of attacking midfielders during the first period, as both Lewis and Ahmed caused the visitors regular problems from the flanks and it was only good yellow-shirted defending and a lack of insight from hooped colleagues that prevented the pair from adding to or assisting with goals. The latter of them in particular frequently looked like he was traumatising the visitors, even if only in donning a pair of the most nauseating yellow boots you are ever likely to see; he just cleared the Norris Green crossbar with a shot from about twenty-five yards out midway through the half, and then shortly before the interval he went on a lovely jinking run down the right wing that would have left numerous opponents chasing their own shadows had the sun been out, before putting an excellent cross into the box that would surely have been redirected into the net had the rest of the Convo troops not been attacking in whatever the opposite of droves is.
With half time came Convocation’s first changes, and Lewis and Byatt were hooked in favour for Taha Abussnena and Andy Welsh respectively, a decision that was described as “ludicrous” and “preposterous” (admittedly, by Byatt); a little over five minutes after the visitors got the game going again Farrell was also replaced (by Andy Parsons), and after a bit of a stinker he’ll be lucky if, for a long time to come, he’s not passing to Charlie Church-types in his sleep whenever he has cheese before bedtime. They were undoubtedly proactive substitutions though, especially as Convo now had the wind behind them and Norris Green looked as though their only plan for the second period was to try and defend their lead.
It became clear pretty quickly that that wasn’t going to be as easy as they would’ve liked as their hosts had realised that, with a bit of effort and concentration, victory wasn’t beyond their grasp. Convo did of course equalise during the second half, while they also had a handful of other chances to add to their tally during that time, but the first of their efforts, just before the Farrell substitution, was a ‘shot’ from Nawrocki that only just made it to the ‘keeper and was so lacking in belief it’s a wonder the #1 didn’t try and convert the ball when he finally received it.
Huws was put out of his (relative) misery just after the hour mark when Chris McNally replaced him up front, and over the following five minutes there was all sorts of fun at both ends of the pitch. Parsons got the ball in the Norris Green net although, with his eyebrows having possibly been beyond the last defender, the referee – who, according to pitchside photographer Ben Prince, appeared to be sporting “the start of a Bobby Charlton comb-over” – had long since blown for offside by the time he did so. Moments later it was the visitors’ turn to go close when Welsh (A) conceded a corner (necessarily), which was played short and pulled back towards the penalty spot from where another of their players rattled a shot against Hendry’s crossbar; ninety seconds later they headed just over from close range.
It was just after that though, with the game entering its final quarter, that the home side got the equaliser that their overall performance deserved. A player in yellow challenged Irakiza for the ball, several yards inside the Norris Green area, and actually cleared the thing into touch, although for reasons only known to himself he seemed to feel that he’d get away with going through the back of the Convo man to do so – penalty. And in a sign of things to come there would be more than one, because when Ahmed converted with ease at the first time of asking McNally, usually the footballing equivalent of a traffic cone, had encroached so much he was almost level with him, and the referee wasn’t going to allow that; cool as you like, Ahmed Panenka-ed the retake down the middle as the opposition ‘keeper dived out of the way.
If Convo had grabbed the bull by the horns at that point then they would probably have won the match, as to say that their guests were wobbling after the equaliser wouldn’t be a disservice to efforts of jelly. Seldom can a team in the quarter-finals of a cup competition have looked so terrified of having the ball and not having it at the same time, and they were there for the taking, but having clawed their way back into the tie Convocation suddenly took their foot off the pedal. Whether or not nerves kicked in, well, we’ll never know, but what is undeniable is that for nearly a quarter-of-an-hour the game itself became very jittery and was in something of a lull.
It was snapped back into life though, with perhaps ten minutes remaining, when Ahmed was sent clear through on goal by a deep pass from his own half and it seemed inconceivable that he wouldn’t put his side in the lead. With the Norris Green back four totally suckered by their opponents’ well-timed move, having been camped out on the halfway line for some reason, there wasn’t another outfield player within twenty yards of the Convo man as he approached the ‘D’ of the penalty area, but then… Well it’s possible that he was startled by Nawrocki’s bellowed advice of “score” from way back down the pitch – a call that earned its proclaimer sixes across the board from the ‘stating the bloody obvious’ judges – but what we do know for sure is that as he went to shoot he just crumpled into a heap on the ground (it’s possible he may have kicked the floor instead of the ball); rumours that a split second later the barrel of a gun appeared to be pulled in from a nearby book depository window remain unfounded.
It would be the last clear-cut chance for either side in the ninety minutes, although the visitors finished the game (there would be no extra time) with much more conviction that they’d played the majority of the second period, and even earned themselves a second yellow card for a foul on either Welsh (A) or Roberts (your correspondent was too busy trying to find out why there was what appeared to be a vat of racehorse piss on the Convo side line to be paying attention) on the corner of the hosts’ area. There’ll have been some prayers for forgiveness said in Norris Green on Saturday night…
The closing stages of the game were spent mainly in preparation for the penalty shoot-out that everyone seemed to have settled for. Farrell, in charge of manoeuvres on the Convocation bench, enquired of the referee whether takers had to be on the pitch at full time: “Of course” he replied with the sort of incredulity someone might use if asked about whether the LCFA frowned upon genocide, although his demeanour surrendered most of its disdain a couple of minutes later when he trotted back over and re-informed the hosts that there would be no extra time and the tie was about to go straight to spot kicks. With that in mind, again, the club secretary made an executive decision as the final whistle loomed and subbed Nawrocki (who might well have thrown his shirt him if it was in his nature), sending Lewis on in his place – somewhere the bell of destiny started tolling ominously.
Norris Green also made a late substitution, swapping goalkeepers with Dutch abandon, but aside from Sawle getting involved in a silly squabble concerning throw-ins in the last seconds that’s all normal time had to offer. Penalties it was.
Most of them were quite Teutonic in their ruthlessness, although sadly for those in hoops one of them was more English in luck than anything else. They were taken at the end that the hosts had defended in the second half, the one with the chill wind blowing from behind the goal, and were in the old-fashioned order rather than the more contemporary ABBA one – the winner would still take it all though. Ahmed (managing not to boot the ground whilst scoring in the bottom right corner), Welsh and Abussnena (both netting in the bottom left) all did what was necessary with Convocation’s first three kicks (with the latter of the trio also managing to dupe the opposition ‘keeper so much that he did nothing more to try and stop the respective shot than just plop down onto his arse), although each time they were followed by equally successful efforts from Norris Green that kept the shoot-out level.
But then came Lewis’ turn. It would be easy to say with hindsight that he didn’t look confident on his walk up to the spot from the centre circle where both sets of players were congregated in team huddles, but in fairness none of the other takers did either. His kick rebounded away to safety off the higher region of the left-hand upright (as he would have looked at it) with a cruel sounding ‘ping’ that seemed to exaggerate just how close he’d been to having taken an exemplary penalty – look at what you could have won – and when the visitors scored with their next one…
Irakiza delayed what felt like the inevitable when he smashed his kick into the right side of the nets, but when the visitors then did likewise (although to the left) despite Hendry once again guessing the correct way to dive it was they who progressed to the next round, leaving Convocation glancing enviously at the Bullseye caravan, further involvement in the competition limited to pressing their noses up against the glass window of the semi-final draw.
So, Jesus wins again. It may be of little comfort to Lewis but it has to be reiterated that the Norris Green lads were a nice bunch and not what most of their hosts were expecting, which possibly was to Convocation’s advantage by allowing them to (eventually) play so well and go so close to winning. And it can’t be emphasised enough just how well everybody did play, not just in this match but in the tournament as a whole, even if it’s difficult to deny that they must have had the luck of the draw along the way. Sadly now that they’re out their run in the competition is in danger of becoming a ‘what if’ albatross around their necks, just as Italia ’90 and Euro ’96 still are for England, because it’s likely to be a long time before they get such a good chance to reach the semis again.
Man Of The Match: Sawle did alright at left back and was probably the most effective of the defenders, but Ahmed was the best player in hoops on Saturday, was (eventually) the driving force behind Convo’s comeback, and converted all three of his penalties under great pressure.
Convocation (4-2-3-1): Hendry; Sawle, Byatt, Roberts G, Farrell; Welsh J, Nawrocki; Lewis, Irakiza, Ahmed; Huws; Subs: Abussnena, Welsh A, Parsons, McNally
Convocation (4-5-1): McNally; Parsons, Roberts G, Byatt, Galy; Ahmed, Kent, Irakiza, Lewis, Welsh A; Abussnena; Subs: Huws, Chadwick
Bobby Mimms reports
The road to hell can’t be the only thoroughfare paved with good intentions because wherever it is that Convocation’s First Team is going it’s far too wet to be anywhere near Hades. It’s beginning to look like their offer to take a double promotion during the summer was a big mistake as, no matter how many brownie points their sucking up to the powers that be may have earned them, out on the pitch they are not holding their own against much tougher opponents than they were used to last season, and this one is beginning to look ominous. In the league at any rate: in the Intermediate Cup they can’t be faulted, but once again on Saturday their split personality was plain for all to see and they were outclassed when it came to football’s so called bread and butter. Their plight isn’t helped by the fact that the dreary weather of recent months matches the mood of their Division Two campaign; that this long damp winter shows no signs of ever ending.
That, of course, has a lot to do with them averaging a (competitive) game only every four weeks at the moment – they may as well be hibernating – the incessant rain wiping out huge chunks of the league calendar in recent times and building up a hell of a backlog that’s going to take some sorting out come the spring. Last weekend’s scheduled fixture in deepest darkest Halewood was another to fall foul of the elements so this one against Collegiate at Wyncote was Convo’s first of the new year, but unfortunately they turned out to be as generous as all good hosts should be and served up plenty of belated goodwill and gifts to the visitors. Playing as though they were suffering from some sort of footballing Seasonal Affective Disorder they were quite abject for the most part, but particularly immediately either side of the interval, when they were especially miserable.
Convo did threaten to make a contest of it for a while, creating a handful of chances to score – some shots were even on target – but they were exceptions to the overall rule. They’d started proceedings with Alex Hendry in the nets, behind a back four of (from left to right) Andy Welsh, Liam Byatt and Johns Welsh and Farrell, while the midfield quintet saw Lawrence Chadwick, Mike Nawrocki and Mike Kent flanked by Divine De Buffalo Irakiza and Andy Parsons; Taha Abussnena was fated to plough a lonely furrow up front. The game was once again played on Wyncote’s 4G pitch, the young referee was a humourless-looking fellow by the name of Luke Davies, and for those of you reading in black and white the home side were decked out in their new blue-and-white-hooped kit (like QPR’s but with a darker hue), while Collegiate’s livery was yellow.
And it was Abussnena who had the first of those aforementioned chances when, about ten minutes into the game, he gained possession just outside the Collegiate area and advanced into it, but having been pushed wide by strong defending he could only shoot low, straight at the opposition ‘keeper from a tight angle (although it was nowhere near as tight as the shorts he was wearing, which looked as though they’d been painted onto him). Later on in the half Kent was particularly guilty of adding to Convo’s ‘shot’ tally without ever looking like scoring when, firstly, he had an effort from about eighteen yards out that disappeared off to wherever it is that pitiful half volleys go to die, and then shortly after that when he received a cross from Welsh (A) but simply scuffed a tame lentil-roller from the edge of the ‘D’, again, straight at the advancing #1; both attempts were under mild pressure from one of the visitors’ centre backs who looked like a cross between Leo Sayer and Carlos Puyol, or “Payet” as the flat-cap-wearing Big Sam Prendergast (to give him his full name) kept referring to him as from the Convocation sideline.
Despite his side’s overall dominance the Collegiate ‘keeper looked a little dodgy throughout the game and wasn’t averse to a bit of flapping whenever the hosts had one of their occasional corners. And when Convo forced the visitors all the way back to the #1 from having to defend a quadrant kick themselves he put his side in all sorts of trouble with a poor pass back out to a defender that was intercepted by Abussnena – when he then squared the ball to Chadwick, running in from the other side of the penalty area, it should’ve been a great opportunity to net but instead of cushioning the pass the midfielder displayed the delicate touch of Ted Bundy and the chance went begging.
No fault could be laid at the goal custodian’s door though, when Convocation went their closest to scoring in the first period, a little over five minutes before the interval and just after the pitch had been invaded by a Collegiate supporter’s mad dog. Irakiza won a free kick when he was crunched a yard or two prior to the edge of the opposition ‘D’ and Abussnena, in no mood to stand idle and let the chilly breeze blowing across Wyncote whistle about his hot pants, curled the dead ball over the defensive wall but against the face of the crossbar, whereupon it rebounded out wide to where Welsh (A) was running in, but he could only fire a low shot into the side netting. It wasn’t really a turning point as Convo had already been well outplayed, but had either of the hooped shirts managed to find the back of the net their side’s subsequent quick collapse might have been prevented.
As it was, already two down before that free kick, the home side then conceded three times in the following several minutes of play (either side of the interval) and any hope that they may somehow fluke a decent result despite their clear shortcomings were scuppered. Collegiate had taken the lead before Abussnena’s earliest attempt (the one from the tight angle) when they had attacked down their left and completely bamboozled Farrell before a cross into the area was met by an unmarked tap-in past Hendry, Convo’s defensive tattiness in the matter going on to become a leitmotif of their afternoon.
The Convocation goalkeeper would have one of those afternoons that all Convocation goalkeepers have now and again, wherein he couldn’t do anything without making it look cack-handed and ungainly, including at one point tipping a deflection that was going well wide of the target out for a corner, and indulging in a succession of hoofs into the air (from back passes) towards the end of the half that suggested that he was really channelling his inner Simon Mignolet. Nonetheless, he’d been faultless when the visitors had doubled their lead just before the quarter-hour mark, although the same couldn’t be said for his right back: if he could have his time again then Farrell would surely think twice before playing the blind pass into the middle of the Convo half of the pitch that was easily intercepted by an opponent, who then ran on and under mild pressure from one of the centre backs slotted past Hendry. Mind you, if he could have his time again Farrell might well choose to sit the entire game out.
In fairness to the home side, from thereon they did hold out until just before the break before imploding. But then, whilst on the attack themselves, they lost the ball on the edge of the opposition penalty area and their dispossessor was allowed to streak without molestation all the way down the middle of the pitch before netting past Hendry from about fifteen yards out.
Even then it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if Convo had got to the break just the three goals behind, as stranger things have happened after a half-time breather than a resigned second-period stalemate, but it wasn’t to be. Irakiza received a goal kick on the edge of the centre circle, but in dilly-dallying while he attempted to work out how to proceed he was promptly relieved of possession and the yellow-shirted player who did so noticed Hendry, for some reason, off his line and promptly lobbed him – oh, Alex…
That was the last kick of the half, but the interval was only a temporary reprieve for the home side as things continued to go downhill once the game recommenced, particularly for their ‘keeper. Within thirty seconds of proceedings getting under way again Collegiate had been allowed to get a shot off into the Convo side netting; about two minutes later they went one better and found the back of it. Once again Convocation were actually on the advance, but when one of the visitors hoofed a clearance up the pitch from the corner of his own box it sailed over the hooped shirts defending on the halfway line, forcing Hendry to fly out of his area to try and intervene, although almost immediately he passed the point of no return and it was obvious that he wouldn’t – thirty-five yards out, an opponent knocked the ball past him, ran on and placed it between the sticks.
Having had a first half to forget Farrell had been replaced at the interval by the lesser-spotted Jay Railton (although during his recent absence the incomer’s attendance at post-match drinks remained unchanged), but while the club secretary had been the poster boy for the blundering of the opening forty-five minutes his withdrawal exposed the indifference of the rest of the team, who’d been hiding in his shadow. Convo did have a couple of ‘chances’ before the visitors scored their sixth – a Kent free kick that was straight at the ‘keeper; an Irakiza shot from twenty-five yards out that flew high, wide and not so handsome – but then with annoying echoes of their fifth Collegiate netted once more when a long ball forward (from their left back) cleared the home side’s rearguard and one of their forwards tapped it past another doomed Hendry challenge (albeit, one that had been more likely to succeed than the previous), ran on and rolled it into the yet-again-empty net.
Although no one had suggested otherwise the Collegiate associate armed with the assistant referee’s flag, who’d crossed diagonally over to the Convo side of the pitch at half time so that he could continue to keep tabs on their attack (why he couldn’t do it from his own line is anybody’s guess), was sure that the scorer had been onside, despite being nowhere near the action: “you’d know better if you were where you should be” he was informed. Somewhat sheepishly he took the hint and retreated back to where he’d been in the first period.
Collegiate would go on and grab their seventh, twenty minutes into the half, when a cross played low through the Convo box from near one of the corner flags was met with more Terracotta Army defending and a man at the back post stunned a shot under a desperate Hendry dive. By then though, the home side had received an injection of carpe diem through the introduction of debutant Mabon Huws (for the ineffectual Nawrocki), who almost netted within seconds of going on when he picked up possession about thirty yards out and forced the opposition ‘keeper into tipping his dipping shot over the crossbar. Several minutes later though, the young Welshman went one better and scored with a low drive from a little nearer after the ball had been pinging around the edge of the penalty area for longer than is recommended for a supposedly competent defence.
Once the prospect of a clean sheet was gone Collegiate seemed to lose interest in proceedings, and although Convo had the slight motivation of not conceding double figures they knew that there was no chance of them getting anything productive from the game, so its last quarter became something of a non-event. That was probably just what the doctor ordered for the centre-back pairing of Byatt and Welsh, who may have left the blatant Grade A goofs to others but had hardly covered themselves in glory through their anonymity either, and they must have been grateful that they were no longer required to do much defending, or non-defending. Elsewhere on the pitch there was a non-foul on Railton, who was guilty of a terrible dive near the sideline that could well have been choreographed by erstwhile player Chris Lamb, and a non-chance for Abussnena who hit a shot from the edge of the visitors’ eighteen-yard box that nearly went out for a throw-in. Out on the right flank Parsons was just ‘non’.
The game was fizzling out and needed someone to inject a little sparkle into it – apropos of everything, Chris McNally entered the arena with a little under twenty minutes to go, replacing Irakiza in the middle of the park. Stripping off on the side line before his introduction to reveal that he’d been wearing a gilet under his hoodie you may have thought that the Captain had already done enough to stoke the passions of those around him, but then he went on wearing black mittens and those passions were raised a notch-or-ten further in the form of mockery directed at him from his own charges. He wasn’t finished there though, oh no, because when the ball squirmed through to him six yards out from goal, a couple of minutes later, he somehow managed to hit the Collegiate ‘keeper who was already spread-eagled on the floor having anticipated a shot several seconds earlier when it seemed impossible not to score. Drink! To make matters worse for poor Chris the ground then absolutely refused to open up and swallow him.
One person in hoops who didn’t have to worry about such ignominies was Huws, who continued to ridicule any notion that the Convo shirt can be too heavy and smashed another great effort against the top of the Collegiate crossbar after the ball had been slipped through to him on the edge of the area by the momentarily animate Parsons. Nobody seemed to have pointed out to the newcomer that the white flag had long since been raised, and thus he was like a breath of fresh air in amongst the miasma of indifference around him. He looked to have that rarest of commodities on Saturday, a clue, and was a menace for the opposition back line from the moment he went onto the pitch; its’ fair to say that he caused them more problems in thirty minutes than the rest of his team mates did together in ninety.
There was too much ground to make up for anyone to do it all on their own though, and at the other end of the pitch the visitors had a late flurry of chances to add to their score, although it was probably only fair and reflective of the overall game that they never took any of them. There was a succession of long-range shots straight into Hendry’s midriff that would have required the ‘keeper to be chased from Wyncote with pitchforks and burning torches had he let any of them in (admittedly, not altogether an impossibility on Saturday), while another twenty-five yard effort just cleared the Convo crossbar and had the spectating Jerome Galy purring, for some reason. The final move of note almost ended the contest on a high, when a low cross into the hosts’ penalty area was deflected onto the roof of the net by Railton – mere inches sparing him from an own goal. Sixty seconds later Mr Davies’ full-time whistle brought the game to its conclusion, to (genuinely unironic) cheers from the Convocation sideline.
So let’s talk about the hoops – what do they do if it’s stripes that are supposed to make you look slimmer, or faster? They certainly don’t seem to make you play well if Saturday’s game was anything to go by, although you could argue that even if the vast majority of the Convo players hadn’t phoned in their performances they would still have lost as Collegiate were rather good. As previously mentioned Convocation are looking a little out of their depth, so as their bipolar season continues apace perhaps they should concentrate on the cups; in the meantime these two face each other again next week in the reciprocal fixture: on the evidence of this one it’s difficult to envisage anything other than a similar hellish result.
(Still, at least McNally went back to the APH after the match for a pint with the lads – silver linings and all that.)
[Editor’s Note: The return fixture against Collegiate was subsequently (and unsurprisingly) cancelled due to the weather.]
Man Of The Match: You could argue that it was Simon Crockett, who’s been on a phenomenal scoring streak since rupturing his ligaments a couple of years ago, but in all seriousness it can only be Huws. Making his debut at the fourth time of asking, he was the only person who really looked interested in the game once it was beyond recovery – or, to put it another way, he was the only person who wasn’t suffering from Convo fatigue – and he could easily have netted a hat trick. MOTM.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Welsh A, Byatt, Welsh J, Farrell; Irakiza, Chadwick, Nawrocki, Kent, Parsons; Abussnena; Subs: Railton, Huws, McNally
[A] friendly against Ramblers... at the JMO Sports Park in Skem (Ramblers home pitch was waterlogged, so it was moved to a 3G astro).
[A] really good performance from ourselves. McNally started in goal, Ben donned the gloves in the second half with Chris taking up his role of "tallest right back in Merseyside" in the second half.
Convocation (4-5-1): McNally; Sawle, Railton, Farrell, Prince; Ross, Kent, Madeloso, Schofield R, Holder; Kaye; Sub: Abussnena
[JF] A 7-1 win, and we're into the quarters. I'm not sure if we've ever been this far to be honest!
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendal; Parsons, Welsh A, Welsh J, Galy; Nawrocki, Ahmed, Salgado, O'Sullivan, Lewis; Abussnena; Sub: McNally
Truth be told, we never really got started.
Sacre Coeur took the lead after a few minutes, and we never really looked like getting back into the game, despite a few chances created. Most notable of these chances was a penalty, but Taha was the latest to suffer from "I cant find the net from 12 yards" syndrome, a condition that seems to affect most who pull on the famous silver jersey.
2 nil at half time became 4 nil at full time. Welsh was booked for a late challenge, Byatt for a handball. They scored their third from the resulting free kick.
MOTM was hard to choose as everyone was so dreadful. Jonny Welsh and Anthony deserve it for coming down to watch the atrocity that unfolded before their eyes, especially as we were away in Crosby. Anthony got some great action shots that can be seen on Facebook if anybody wants to relive the memories, but who would want to. In terms of on the field, Hendry got my vote for a fine point blank save, and for probably being the only one who didnt do something abject at least 5 times in the game.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Parsons, Roberts G, Byatt, Farrell; Abussnena, Welsh A, Salgado, Nawrocki, Galy; McNally; Subs: MacDonald, Kent
Tremendous victory in a mud bath.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Sawle, Byatt, Roberts G, Farrell; Parsons, Chadwick, Irakiza, Welsh A, Galy; Abussnena; Subs: Salgado, McNally
Breno missed a penalty, Al gave one away which they duly slotted for the win. We went full Convo. And you should never go full Convo. We were terrible.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Galy, Byatt, Welsh J, Farrell; Abussnena, Ahmed, Lewis, Nawrocki, Irakiza; Salgado; Subs: McNally, Chadwick, Parsons
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Griffiths, Railton, Byatt, Farrell; Abussnena, Nawrocki, Kent, Parsons, Galy; McNally; Sub: Welsh J
Went 2 nil down through some standard poor defending. Lawrence made it 2-1 from the spot, before Jay equalised with a header. I think Taha then put us 3-2 before some more suspect defending and keeping made it 3-3. Galy had us 4-3 up at the interval.
A raft of changes at and just after half time saw McNally and Salagdo enter the fray, and they put us 6-3 up, before Liobians got a 4th. Despite our best efforts, this turned out to merely be a consolation for them.
Oh, and it lashed down.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendal; Farrell, Railton, Byatt, MacDonald; Galy, Chadwick, Nawrocki, Ahmed, Parsons; Abussnena; Subs: McNally, Welsh A, Irakiza, Roberts G, Salgado
Bobby Mimms reports
Well, if nothing else at least it’s another point nearer to safety. Quite how it wasn’t three is more-or-less the story of Convocation’s (almost) forty-four years of existence, and whether the lost two will come back to haunt them at the end of a season when they have to worry about relegation again will be part of the narrative to come, so for the time being we’ll just have to remain intrigued by this first campaign back in Division Two. It’s still unclear where they fit into its pecking order, although it seems that no matter what level you’re playing at Liobians will always be part of the cannon fodder, and if you can’t beat them, as Convo couldn’t on Saturday, then it’s not unreasonable to suspect that you won’t be troubling the Old Boys League trophy engraver any time soon.
It’s early days of course, but already there’s a worry that missed chances and rued mistakes may be scuppering the Wyncote side’s season and could lead to a sense of inevitability and resignation as it trundles on. Of their first three fixtures, they did enough to win both this week (easily) and last, and even the game they lost on the opening day was more down to themselves playing poorly rather than Old Xavs being obviously better (it’s also a result that looks more annoying after Saturday, when the latter lost to the former, Wood Street, who went top of the league in what looks likely to be one of those aberrations that crop up at the start of every campaign). But you’re far less likely to get away with coasting in this division as the opposition will be more unforgiving (even Liobians), and with it being a smaller league to boot, opportunities to put poor results behind you are going to be fewer in number and will therefore run out quicker; it goes without saying that Convo can’t afford to be throwing away winnable games.
On Saturday they led 3-2 at the interval while their guests shaded the scoring in the second half, but what that overview doesn’t reveal is that Convocation could and most probably should have been out of sight long before any comeback, or that Liobians’ goals were netted with their only four shots (of any worth) on target. Convo really were far and away the better team but they were undone by those old dual fallibilities of slack finishing (with a little bit of bad luck) and slacker defending (with a little bit of bad luck), although their cause wasn’t helped by far too many of their players drifting in and out of the game or spending periods merely going through the motions.
Give the home side their due though, because many teams would have been tempted to pack it all in and go the pub as soon as they fell behind to the game’s opening goal, because of the manner of the goal. It was one dusted with the sort of misfortune that would usually befall The Fast Show’s Unlucky Alf (or Tim Jago) and it could easily have presaged an afternoon of woe for anyone getting their excuses in early (and had it not been against Liobians). The visitors won a corner and put in such a terrible low delivery to the nearest post that it seems incredible with hindsight that anything positive could evolve from it, but when the nearest defender (who went unrecorded) attempted an equally abominable clearance it somehow ended up at the feet of Mike Nawrocki in the middle of the six-yard box. He’d not long had the contest’s first shot, an unsuccessful attempt up the other end of the pitch that had never looked like troubling the target from the second he’d given it the hoof, but several minutes later when he could have done with putting his laces through the ball and missing everything in front of him he only managed to blast it into the face of a nearby opponent, whereupon the bloody thing rebounded back past him and goalkeeper John Farrell – who, decked out in black top and tights, and red shorts and socks, looked like a cross between a roulette wheel and some Bizarro world Superman – and into the back of the net.
Nawrocki pretty much phoned in the rest of his performance after that amusingly-low point and went missing for the remainder of the game, but thankfully the rest of the five-man midfield that he was part of didn’t, and two of them combined a couple of minutes later to equalise for Convocation. For the majority of the afternoon the home side controlled the middle of the park, with Breno Salgado and Anthony Lewis more than making up for the subsequent anonymity of their red-faced associate, and it was the latter of those who slipped a delightful pass through the heart of the Liobians defence for left winger Mike Kent – as alive and alert as his namesake wasn’t – to run onto, and from about fifteen yards out he then wellied a shot into the top corner of the net.
Their early set-back apparently forgotten, Convo were by then in the ascendency and with the quarter-hour mark having been passed they went and took the lead when Jay Railton got on the end of an Andy Parsons corner to bullet a header into the visitors’ net against minimal resistance. Both players were part of defensive quartet that also included Liam Byatt, in the middle with the scorer, and Andy Welsh at left back, and for the best part of the first period they had little trouble to contend with from their opponents. There were occasional signs that they couldn’t afford to get complacent or let their minds wander – the odd misplaced pass or a moment of lax marking – but on the whole there was nothing to suggest that they would end up conceding four, especially as the one to that point had been so bizarre.
And when their colleagues up the other end of the pitch doubled the lead anything other than a Convo victory seemed rather unlikely; although only half-an-hour had been played Liobians looked quite toothless, while their hosts seemed in the mood to fill their boots. Kent side-footed into the visitors’ net at the near post to make it three-one after right winger Craig Kaye had put a lovely low cross on a sixpence for him, but by then the home side had already had two further glorious chances to increase their advantage, although only the second of those – a blast wide from just inside the opposition penalty area by lone forward Taha Abussnena, when the only other player within twenty-five yards of him was the rabbit-in-a-trance goalkeeper – was actually their doing. The other was, instead, nearly a lovely own goal, twice: Parsons lumped a free kick into the box from out on the right wing and one of the green-and-red-shirted defenders rose highest to head the ball against the back post, from where it bounced down along the goal line, up against the other upright and then, sadly, out into the arms of the bewildered #1.
All seemed rosy in the Convocation garden, but despite the sun shining hazily across the 3G pitch and regularly forcing their bench to shield their eyes from its glare, there were (hypothetical) storm clouds gathering on the Wyncote horizon. Had the home side got to the interval without conceding again then it’s quite likely that they would have gone on and won the fixture, but with a handful of minutes remaining young referee Joel Worrall awarded Liobians a free kick just inside their hosts’ half (on the edge of the centre circle) and when it was punted forward into the throng in and around the ‘D’ the grey-shirted defenders (that’s everyone who should have been defending, not just those who were playing in the back four) made an absolute mess of clearing their lines allowing one of the visitors to squirm through and round the advancing, denier-heavy Farrell, before squaring the ball to a team mate who tapped it into the open goal.
Having put in a shift that was the footballing equivalent of one of those magic eye pictures, where if you’d stared long and hard enough at the pitch you might have suddenly noticed him, Abussnena was substituted during the break, his need to go to work saving him from the ignominy of being hooked for having done the best part of bugger all for forty-five minutes; Lawrence Chadwick replaced him, although it was Kent who was actually pushed up front in his place. Salgado though, remained, unsubstituted, despite concerns that he’d actually spent the first period auditioning for Strictly rather than playing the game.
If Liobians’ plan for the restart was to make an impression then their right back seemed to have taken it to heart, as within the first sixty seconds he had his particulars taken down by the official after wiping out Welsh – who’d referred to himself in the third person when demanding a throw-in, just before the break – and in increasingly blowy conditions there was briefly a worry that the Convo man, not exactly made of ballast, might get carried away by the wind before he landed. Equally as lightweight were the home side’s appeals for a free kick when Kent chased a back pass but, in the name of a shot, ever-so-slightly toe-poked the ball at full stretch to the opposition ‘keeper without anyone else in grey noticing the touch.
It’s possible that the growing breeze was being intensified by Farrell in the Convo nets, whose flapping would’ve put an Everest flag to shame; a succession of Liobians corners gave the club secretary ample opportunity to continue demonstrating his captivating hot potato approach to goalkeeping, although when the visitors did actually score again, levelling proceedings in the process, you couldn’t fault him. A ball was played out of green-and-red-quartered midfield down the inside-left channel for a player who was miles offside (the referee got pretty much every such call – whether on or off, and against both teams – wrong in the second half), but as the glover came flying off his line to make himself as big as possible he was unable to stop a dink past him that eventually crossed the line at the back post.
Perhaps ten minutes of the second period had elapsed when Convo made a double swap, taking off Kaye and Parsons for Olly Griffiths and Ewan MacDonald respectively, the latter having been camouflaging his grey top up until then with a grey jumper (?). The change was inspired though, as within a few minutes the two incomers combined along the left flank to lay the ball off to Lewis in the middle, and when he played a perfect pass through the Liobians back line – who, yet again, looked as though they were auditioning for the job of sectioning off lanes on the lead up to the new bridge – Kent ran onto it and from just inside the penalty area wafted a lovely little effort over the advancing ‘keeper for his third of the afternoon.
Such is the way of things the hat-trick hero was subbed almost immediately, replaced by Chris McNally (or “an old broken gazelle” as he’d been described at half time), and the Captain looked in the mood to continue his colleague’s predatory penalty-box prowess when he almost scored moments after his introduction. The Liobians #1 made a fine save at the feet of the Convo man to deny him when he tried to take advantage of a bout of utter mayhem in the box and flick the ball into the net from six yards out, but despite the home side’s continued ability to create chances it was quite noticeable whenever their guests made a rare attack of their own, such as when one of their ilk blasted a screamer of a shot across the face of Farrell’s goal several minutes later (from a quickly taken throw-in), just how nervy Convocation suddenly looked at the back and how vulnerable their lead was.
And so it came to pass that as the game entered its final twenty minutes Liobians equalised. The move that lead to the goal began when one of their players attacked down his left flank and, despite some great defensive stymieing by MacDonald, eventually managed to fire off an incredibly tame shot that Farrell should have gathered easily, but which instead he fumbled out of play to concede a corner. That led to a second, which in turn led to a third, and when that one was drilled low to the near post one of the quartered shirts either completely cocked-up whatever he’d meant to do or pulled off a lovely dummy, and a team mate behind him was in the perfect position to smash the ball into the net from the edge of the six-yard box leaving the Convo defenders (once again, that’s everyone who should have been defending, yadda, yadda, yadda) scratching their heads with confused ‘whose fault was that’ looks on their faces.
Understandably on such a warm afternoon the game entered a little bit of a lull after that as both teams, while not exactly settling for the draw, weighed up the pros and cons of going for the kill whilst also making the most of the wind’s cooling succour. Eventually MacDonald limped off after a blood-letting kick to the shin, giving Parsons an unexpected extra run out, and before long, after indulging with Griffiths and Salgado in what passes for tiki-taka in the Old Boys League, the returnee put a deep cross into the Liobians box that McNally headed just over the crossbar after getting away with pushing his marker halfway across the goalmouth.
The visitors made a number of changes late in the game, with one entrant in particular looking as though he may have just leapt out of the pages of Oliver Twist; he was also another whose lightweight frame gave serious concern that his baggy livery could act as a sail and, even in such a pleasant breeze, he’d be swept off and eventually dumped in some far-flung corner of the North West. Nonetheless they managed to create two final chances to grab an eleventh-hour lead, the first of which was a twenty-five yard drive that disappeared over the top of the target, but the other was an almost carbon copy of their fourth (and perhaps the first): the near-post dummy at a corner. Convo survived that one with their goal unbreached, but talk about ‘fool me once…’
Griffiths failed to last the course after he retired with several minutes remaining because he felt ill and was replaced by that trooper, MacDonald, who showed his colleague just what it means to battle through the graze (Parsons was pushed up onto the wing). After that Byatt had the final footballing word when he nearly took advantage of a mix-up at a corner at the Liobians end but blasted a close-range shot straight at the opposition #1, although it was Kaye who had the actual final word, proclaiming at the full-time whistle that the referee (whose performance apparently hadn’t been up to the Convo man’s scratch) wasn’t getting one of his “special handshakes” – and each individual reader can make up their own punchline to that.
Despite Kaye’s tongue-in-cheek sanction Convocation can only blame their own shortcomings for not finishing the game with all three points; it was a thoroughly enjoyable affair and Liobians were jolly good eggs (as usual), it was just a shame about the result. In modern times not winning this fixture has often acted as something of a barometer, suggesting that all is not well, and on the evidence of Saturday the side from Mersey Road are going to struggle to not finish bottom, so where does that leave Convo in the grand scheme of things. As always they won’t worry too much about that, especially as they’re perfectly capable of going out and beating the eventual league champions (whoever that may be) next time out, but that will be as close as they get to the top of the table this season. They need to be more clinical and capitalise on whatever chances come their way as much as possible, although of course, on their day they are capable of turning any promising situation into a lesson in futile endeavour.
Still, at least they’re another step nearer the magical eighteen* points safety mark (*based on forty points supposedly guaranteeing safety in a twenty-team league).
Man Of The Match: It’s got to be Kent – easily the best Convocation player on a day when too many of his team mates fell short of their usual standards.
Convocation (4-5-1): Farrell; Welsh A, Byatt, Railton, Parsons; Kent, Salgado, Nawrocki, Lewis, Kaye; Abussnena; Subs: Chadwick, MacDonald, Griffiths, McNally
So our first point of the season duly earned, and only at the second time of asking! Convo are truly moving up in the world this season!
An absolute deluge of rain the days preceding Saturday meant that there would be some rejigging required in order to get both First and Vets on the all-weather astro pitch at our glorious Wyncote home. Friday night was spent by the club secretary on the phone to all manner of league representatives, successfully ending in the Vets having a 3pm KO with younger statesmen of the club welcoming Woodstreet to Mather Avenue for a 1pm KO.
A couple of early morning dropouts, most notably Kent who would spend the next few hours changing a tire (doesn’t that take 10 minutes? Taha would mention before the game), meant that we’d have only 11 men for our Division 2 clash. Ah yes, 11 men, and not a trusted goalkeeper in sight. A conversation between the skipper and club secretary would end with the latter in goal. I think the words were ‘yeah, lets just see how it goes eh’. At least it would get us out of watching the debacle that was happening at the Etihad ….
So we’d line up as follows: Farrell making what has become a semi regular appearance in between the sticks, protected by a back four of Parsons (facing a player described as ‘as quick as Sadio Mane’ before the game), Railton (facing his former club), Byatt (facing a team in a league he’d chosen to desert only a week earlier) and Galy (facing …. Well he doesn’t know who he was facing, as he nursed the after effects of a hard rum session the previous night). Taha and Craig, also facing a former ‘employer’ took to the wings either side of a midfield three of Lewis, Salgado and Divin, leaving the skipper McNally to stoically lead the line.
Against a team of proven quality (we knew a couple of their players to be very capable), we went about our business well in the first half. Defending with an air calm that is usually absent all season from the fields of Mather Avenue, Convo were looking solid against the visitors, creating little initially but not really being tested too much either. Railton and Byatt were marshalling the backline excellently, with the full backs doing their duties well against pacy widemen. When the ball did get through on those rare occasions, Farrell was on hand to sweep up the mess. Yes, he actually looked like a keeper, with his feet at least. The handling was still somewhat off, but comfortable anyway. The midfield continued to be dogged and McNally won his aerial duties as we got to half time. 0-0.
The second half was much more open. A couple of Woodstreet free kicks were watched wide by the home keeper during a sluggish start to the second period by ourselves, but we then kicked on into our groove, making a few decent chances, driven forward in particular by the midfield three of Irakiza, Salgado and Lewis, all of whom were performing superbly. The away team would have another gilt edge chance from a corner, the taker who it must be said had an absolute peach of a delivery on him. Railton headed one away from danger before an away central midfielder contrived to head over from a yard out. Convo would soon punish this.
Fine play down the left hand side from Convo, which included all of the midfield, would eventually find itself in the box. With the ball at Kaye’s feet, there was little doubt what the end result would be, given his fine recent form. The ball was clipped into the net, causing scenes of joy on the Convo bench. Not that anyone on it was fit to play mind, but Crockett and Welsh celebrated anyhow! Woodstreet nearly fired back within minutes, Farrell forced into a fine save to his left to divert a low drive behind and away for a corner, which was duly dealt with.
The final 10 minutes contained several big moments. You know us, save the best until last. Or should that be worst ….
Taha beat the offside trap to race clear. Rounding the away keeper and with just a centre back to beat, he twisted and turned himself inside out, and end at an acute angle to the goal. Resultantly, a wild hack at the ball saw the shot fly wide. 2 nil could have made the game safe. Instead ….
Woodstreet ramped up the pressure in the final 10 minutes, Convo down to ten and a half men due to an injury to the superb Salgado meaning he could only limp around the pitch, and a series of corners and free kicks were duly conceded. One such delivery was initially well cleared, but was sent back into the box with a wild slice of a forwards boot. The arching trajectory of the ball had the hapless Farrell backtracking quickly, but all he could do was grasp thin air as the ball eluded his, admittedly, short reach and nestled in the back of the net. 1-1.
The final minute saw a contentious penalty decision for Woodstreet waved away by the referee, with the away forward going down under a challenge from … it was one of us, I can’t really remember in reality. However, the referees whistle sounded and both teams were left to pick up their first points of the season, with a draw being hard to argue as a fair result from a game both teams had chances in.
MOTM – tough one this week, as the team excelled (no, honestly!). However, this observer will give it to Lewis, as he seemed to win every tackle he went in for, before dribbling past another man to set up home attacks. Top stuff.
Bobby Mimms reports
And so, after all the practice and training, the first Saturday in September rolled around once again and the moment had arrived for a multitude of fine athletes – no, not the start of the Old Boys’ League season, but the Braemar Gathering in Scotland. One of the meetings known collectively as the Highland Games, it is often attended by the Queen and includes events known as ‘the heavies’, such as tug-o-war, hammer throwing, tossing the caber, and putting the stone (an event at which Geoff Capes was rather nifty); for those not so physically substantial there are also pipe and dancing competitions, track events and the notorious hill race, which climbs twelve hundred feet in just three miles. Rather delightfully in this age of aggressive health and safety it is sponsored by Glenfiddich, and it goes without saying that you have to be on the top of your game to participate.
But then again, the same could be said for those teams cast into LOBAL Division Two this year, one of whom happens to be our own dear Convocation after they’ve benefitted (?) from a double promotion over the summer when they didn’t really earn one. Their first lesson in just how tough it’s going to be came in the season’s opener on Saturday when a rather average-looking Old Xaverians made off from Wyncote’s old tennis court pitch with three points despite their hosts’ best efforts, leaving everyone wondering whether Convo are up to the task or if they’ve been over-elevated.
Even when the visitors were reduced to ten men for the final half-hour they proved to be too capable for Convocation, in as much as they never gave in to the wobble they suffered, when teams in Division Four might well have. It was the first time for several years that these old foes had met, but nothing seems to have changed in the case of Old Xavs, who were their usual niggly selves from the off: long before their #10 was given his marching orders for an awful two-footed challenge on Divin De Buffalo Irakiza (to give him his full name) he’d been guilty of several unpleasant tackles on opponents that went unpunished, and while his team mates were only too happy to let him bask in the hatchet-man limelight the majority of them were no shrinking violets either.
Jay Railton was on the receiving end of one particularly nasty clattering midway through the first period (an incident that almost led to the argumentative Alex Hendry being sent for an early bath), Anthony Lewis was forced from the pitch just before the interval following a naughty challenge that again went without official comeuppance, while Jerome Galy was so incensed by the repeated hacking he suffered from one particular opponent towards the end of the game that he momentarily seemed to be under the impression that he was Hulk Hogan and stopped proceedings by trapping the ball before wagging a finger at his assailant and hissing a furious “You!” at him through pursed lips.
The sending off aside, referee Brian Cluskey – who was limping even before the game had started – seemed to have it in for the Convocation players more than their overly-aggressive opponents. He screamed threats at Hendry from almost half-a-pitch away when the ‘keeper swapped some not-very-Enid Blyton-esque language with one of the Old Xavs substitutes, minutes before he was given his previously-mentioned final warning (the guy on the sideline got away scot-free), and then flipped on Irakiza after the break when he suggested that the visitors were giving as good as they were getting after yet another free kick was awarded against Convo (the official appeared to have inferred that he was being accused of cheating) – the poor lad was contrition personified long after the ensuing thirty-second bollocking.
You could argue that his ire was misdirected, but the chastisements were definitely over the top as for the best part of ninety minutes Convocation’s performance was rather tame, on several levels, so you had to laugh when one of the visitors complained, without any apparent hint of irony, that he was being kicked all over the place; on the whole the grey-shirted home side struggled to get near their opponents, and the general consensus afterwards was that Old Xavs had been much fitter than any team they’d faced last season. They weren’t to know that beforehand, but it’s still to their credit that they took part in a cliché-ridden warm-up before the game – their ‘first in years’ as someone pointed out – although it will be interesting to see how long that palaver lasts.
With a thirty-yard effort that was always rising Lewis had Convo’s only attempt on goal during an opening forty-five minutes in which, for most of the time, they looked about at threatening as a Hari Krishna on Ecstasy; moments later he received the clump on the ankle that forced him to hobble off, and was replaced by Breno Salgado. At the other end of the carpet-of-a-pitch pickings weren’t quite so slim: the visitors were gifted their first opportunity of the afternoon when Mike Kent gave the ball away carelessly inside his own penalty area and within seconds a maroon-shirted opponent fired off a shot from a rather tight angle straight at Hendry. By then the #1 was donning a yellow jersey having started in white (he’d initially been ordered by the referee to wear a red vest as his top was too similar to the outfield players’ grey), and moments later, when he was called upon to smother a low drive from the edge of the ‘D’, the jettisoning of the pacifistic attire looked even more of an smart move as an afternoon for goalkeeping pluck seemed increasingly on the cards.
As the half-hour mark loomed he was called into action again when his two central defenders fluffed their lines at an Old Xavs punt up the pitch: Railton just missed what would have been an intercepting header and his partner, Graham Roberts, turned like a chunky Queen Mary when an opponent took advantage, but after that the home side got lucky as the player who’d gained possession attempted to score from twenty-five yards out yet fired his shot straight at the ‘keeper when he’d had plenty of time to get closer in the one-on-one. By then though, the visitors were already leading after their #5 had skinned Convo left back, Andy Parsons, down the flank and played a lovely low cross along the corridor of doom (nee uncertainty) when Hendry’d had to approach, allowing an unmarked colleague in the middle to side-foot the ball into the subsequently vacated net.
The final fifteen minutes of the opening period didn’t seem to drag or lull, but there was no penalty-area action or goal-scoring chances either. With Convo around, of course, that doesn’t mean nothing happened, although the only memorable episode that actually involved football was when lone forward Craig Kaye gave an opponent a slight push in the back near one of the Old Xavs corner flags but couldn’t have been more injurious had he ran him over in a car at high speed; god knows what befell the toppled guy but he was down for what felt like an eternity… which at least gave everyone time for a well-earned breather on what was a rather warm afternoon.
Elsewhere (well, on the sideline) things were less sensible, as the overpowering aromas emanating from some nearby barbeque seemed to drive everyone a little gaga. The perpetually-injured Simon Crockett implored right back John Farrell to get a move on by cheering “Run Faz, Run”, before musing that his call had sounded like a kids’ book, while late in the half the also-spectating Jon Welsh invoked the spirits of early nineties rap brats Kris Kross by responding to a lofted ball with the advice “Jump, jump”. To top things off, as the interval whistle was blown, the still-on-the-bench Galy appeared to be singing Step By Step by New Kids on the Block, which he surely isn’t old enough to remember!
Convo got the second half underway playing into the sun and with no changes in personnel, and fashioned its first goal-scoring opportunity when Mike Nawrocki got on the end of a Kaye semi-cross but headed tamely straight at the Old Xavs ‘keeper. It had been Kent who’d played the ball inside for the grey shirts’ forward to create that chance, but just as with his opposite on the left, Taha Abussnena, the winger was neglecting his duties on the back foot. It put unfair pressure on their full backs, but more of a defensive worry was Railton, who, having spent the first period suffering from Steven Gerrard Syndrome, spraying ridiculous Hollywood passes all over the pitch (and usually to Kaye), was by then showing all the positional awareness of Wayne Rooney driving home from the pub, and regularly stationing himself half-a-dozen yards behind the rest of the back line, a la Andy Willis.
Ten minutes into the half the home side made a double substitution, with Farrell making way for Galy, and Kent for the recently-rebuked Irakiza, and the latter of those was involved in one of the game’s big moments, and potential turning points, almost immediately. For it was he who, having received possession on the edge of the centre circle, ‘provoked’ the Old Xavs #10 to channel his inner Dave MacKay and launch into a dangerous two-footed challenge that had ‘leg snapper’ written all over it; the referee seemed genuinely angry that such a thing should have happened and issued the miscreant with a straight red card and a flea in his ear, while on the sideline Welsh revealed that he’d known the jerk would do something like that eventually.
It wasn’t long after that that Convocation made another swap, bringing (the not-as-crocked-as-at-first-thought) Lewis back on for Lawrence Chadwick, who upon leaving the field of play suddenly went all medieval and asked that “someone stretch me”, conjuring up images of the rack in the process. Although he hadn’t been involved in any of his side’s (few) chances the central midfielder had had an excellent time on the pitch, dictating the tempo of the game around him and covering the area in front of the back four as though he actually owned that patch of Wyncote grass and was determined to defend it at all cost. It’s fair to say that the home side would have been in a much sorrier state without his contributions.
It was a little harsh on Chadwick then, that Convo enjoyed their best period of the game either side of his substitution. Abussnena did his bit to drag the home side’s shot count up, kicking and screaming, when he tried his luck with a gradually rising effort from somewhere outside the penalty area, but then, with a little under twenty minutes remaining, an equaliser did finally arrive. It had the sort of good, pinging build-up that you could imagine Spain at the start of the decade revelling in, with Galy knocking the ball to Salgado, who in turn slipped it out to Lewis on the right, and when he put a low cross into the Old Xavs goalmouth from down the side of the penalty area Kaye squeaked in (almost literally – at times during the game he sounded like he’d been sucking on a balloon full of helium) between a couple of idling defenders to side-foot the thing into the net.
The visitors were rocking and their rearguard looked rather more vulnerable than it had before the interval; their (already poor) discipline also seemed to be on the wane and the #8 followed his uber-aggressive team mate into the referee’s notebook before long for kicking out at an opponent off the ball. On the flip side of the coin Convocation were getting livelier and livelier and created two good chances to take the lead within a minute and a half. Firstly Irakiza inadvertently set up Railton when he attempted a cross that wouldn’t have frightened Dracula and it was cleared to the defender, loitering ten yards outside the Old Xavs penalty area, although his shot always had a little too much lift on it and the ball just cleared the crossbar. Moments later Lewis tried his luck from a similar distance, but while he kept his effort low enough it was more-or-less straight at the #1, who stopped and clutched it confidently above his head, on his goal line.
Convo made another double substitution at about the time Paul Owen-Browne turned up to watch, ominously accompanied by Zico, the Firsts’ unlucky mascot: Kaye was hooked for Chris McNally (the Captain having previously informed his sideline colleagues that he was “covered in paint and scratches from brambles”), who looked much more physically equal to the Old Xavs back line than the diminutive goal scorer had, while Kent returned in place of Abussnena, who had to go to work (where he spent just as much time on the Wyncote left wing as he had while on the pitch). The changes spelled trouble though, and within sixty seconds the visitors had retaken the lead against the run of play. One of their ilk hurled a throw-in into the Convocation penalty area, whereupon Roberts inexplicably flicked the ball on into the goalmouth instead of clearing it, and another man in maroon leapt higher than Galy and headed past Hendry via the underside of the crossbar.
For all but a couple of seconds of the remaining eight-or-so minutes it only ever looked as though Convo could score, while Old Xavs’ rearguard manoeuvres went back to leaving a lot to be desired. There was absolute mayhem in their penalty area at one point, with bodies falling everywhere like the start of Saving Private Ryan, and yet McNally almost netted by simply walking the ball through the chaos and towards the goal, although it was eventually hoofed out for a corner from off the line. From the resultant quadrant kick Roberts nearly equalised when he was given the freedom of Wyncote on the edge of the six-yard box to direct a header on target, but once again it was blocked with mere inches to spare, and though the rebound came back to him, at the second time of asking he could have put more pace into his shot had he blown it through a straw, and finally the visitors were able to clear their lines.
Chadwick returned for the final few minutes when Salgado twisted his ankle and performed his weekly dying swan routine, while elsewhere on the pitch other Convo players were cramping up left, right and centre, leading Crockett to bemoan the lack of water on the sideline. One person who was having no such hydration problems though, was Irakiza, who almost claimed an assist when he put a lovely deep cross from the right onto Railton’s noggin at the far post, but from a tight angle the defender’s bullet header was just about scrambled around the upright by the Old Xavs #1.
That corner came to nothing, but when Lewis won another in the ninetieth minute the general consensus was that Convo had nothing to lose so everyone poured into the Old Xavs box except Hendry (who was still deep inside the opposition half) – a shiny penny for anyone who can guess what happened next. The visitors cleared the in-swinger with the minimum of fuss and one of their players broke with the ball, ran the full length of the pitch, bypassing the ‘keeper well outside his area, and then smacked the thing into the empty net from about fifteen yards out despite Galy, the only outfielder to make an effort to get back, attempting to block his shot as if he were Clint Eastwood in In The Line Of Fire.
There was enough time left to restart, and for the home side to immediately win another corner, and on the sideline it was noted how very typical of Convocation it would be to score a second now that their opponents had netted a third. Rather amusingly they almost pulled off the exact same stunt as moments earlier, with everyone going forward and getting caught by a quick clearance again, although on this occasion the Old Xavs break away was foiled before the player in possession could reach the other penalty area, and the referee’s whistle signalled the end of the contest within a pace or two of the interception.
There may not have been a ‘Play Up, Convo’ to get the season underway – how disappointing – but there was enough spirit in the side (a little too much at times, Mr Hendry) to suggest that whatever the footballing gods throw at them it’ll be business as usual for the Firsts; they may have been complicit in their own downfall on Saturday, but since when has that been news. As it’s Convocation’s first game back in Division Two we won’t know for a while whether this was a (relatively) respectable result – common sense says probably not, as despite winning Old Xavs didn’t look that good – but if it wasn’t then they should kick themselves, for they didn’t play well either and as a result have given up a realistic chance of three precious points. Let’s hope that like September their opponents will blow soft, till fruit be in loft, and everything will come good as the season wears on; Her Majesty won’t be visiting Wyncote if Convo’s plight gets as tough as the going at Braemar.
Man Of The Match: Nobody played poorly, but few stood out either. Kaye deserves credit for persevering despite looking like he was lost in land of giants for most of his time on the pitch, and for finally getting his goal, but it was Chadwick who was orchestrating all that was good about Convocation on Saturday, and it’s easy to believe that they could have lost more heavily had he not been playing. He’s this week’s MOTM.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Parsons, Railton, Roberts G, Farrell; Abussnena, Chadwick, Nawrocki, Lewis, Kent; Kaye; Subs: Salgado, Galy, Irakiza, McNally
Just needed another 8 to win the cup!
Prendergast started CM in his final game, but once we went 2 nil down he was given the hook by McNally. Divin came on a scored a beauty to make it 5-1 (already it had the 'consolation goal' feel to it). 6-1 at half time, 7-3 at full time. At least we won the second half .....
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Parsons, Railton, Roberts G, Galy; Kaye, Kent, Prendergast, Nawrocki, Abussnena; McNally; Subs: Irakiza, Farrell, McCormack, Byatt, Lewis
Finally some success! Pre-season has been a tumultuous one to say the least for Convo, a long injury list and summer unavailability having a detrimental effect on our results, culminating in defeat on the first day of the South Liverpool Cup. A narrow 1 nil defeat to Cardinal Newman left us on the back foot as we attempt to defend the Cup, but this week brought about a newly reformed optimism.
Arriving at Mersey Road for our game against the hosts, Liobians, we found out immediately that we would have to undergo an impromptu kit change, with a colour clash on the other pitch between Cardinal Newman and next week’s opponents, Alumni. And so it came to be that we lined up against Liobians in the black and blue of Alumni, with a team sheet that read as follows:
Heider in goal, protected by a back line of Parsons, G. Roberts, Prendergast and Griffiths. Taha, Nawrocki, Divin, Salgado and Kaye were the midfield quintet charged with supporting the lone striker McNally. And fine support they would provide. Subs included Farrell, Kent, McDonald, Liam (continuing his trial with the Convo) and those two lovable, late rogues, Railton and Lewis.
The first half hour or so was a largely scrappy affair, with neither side creating too much. An early injury to Griffiths saw a weary Farrell enter the fray at left back, fresh from a 3 day bender at an Irish wedding. If there has ever been a more amateur league preparation for an amateur league game, then send those suggestions in fan(s). Prendergast, soon to leave these scouse shores for pastures new, kept up his rough and tumble approach to the game, having several words with the opposing striker. Heider made a couple of good stops from range to keep the scores level, before Kaye was taken out by the opposing keeper on the edge of the box. In a league game, this may have warranted a sterner punishment from the referee, but with it being pre-season and a time of goodwill (hey, it’s sunny), the ref kept his cards in his pocket. Not that it mattered, as Nawrocki’s free kick drifted harmlessly over the bar.
Minutes later though, he’d turn provider. A Rory Delap-esque throw was launched into the box, and there was McNally, on hand to nod the ball into the net. The big man had been causing Liobians problems with his willing running and heavy touch (sorry, passes) out to the wing. He’d soon double his tally, getting on the end of a cross into the box to steer past the home keeper, after fine work from Divin and the selfless Taha. 2 nil up and cruising, Convo were looking good. Good enough for Prendergast to utter the prophetic words to Farrell ‘nothing is going past us here lad, it’s fine’. Yeah, about that …
A mix up between the big Yorkshireman and his centre back partner Roberts gave a sense of the danger that the home side could still pose, firing wide with their gifted chance. The warning wasn’t heeded though, a break down their right side saw Liobians pull one back, their strikers finish giving Heider no chance. He would pull off an outstanding save just before the break though, as Liobians piled on the pressure. A powerful drive from the edge of the box was tipped over by the latest in our long line of keepers. Half time, 2-1.
A raft of changes shortly after the interval saw Lewis, Railton, McDonald and Kent enter the fray. Railton provided some much needed communication across the back line alongside Prendergast, the Yorkshireman determined to make the most of his final few days as an active member of the Convo bandwagon. Kent and McDonald linked up nicely down the left side while Lewis was presenting a different, more mobile problem for the home defence than the man he replaced, the 2 goal McNally. Indeed it was after some great wing play from the sub that our lead was increased, Lewis plundering the Liobians right side, waltzing into the box and firing a pin point cross across the box to a grateful Kaye, who notched yet another goal in pre-season. His has been a pre-season unlike that of the team itself …. Fruitful. Let’s hope he’s not using up all of his shooting ability in the off season and saves some for the bread and butter of league football in September.
McNally brought himself back on ‘for the good of the team’ he claimed, although this was surely the thinnest excuse the man had ever uttered, bringing about bemused looks from the on looking Crockett, Welsh and Farrell, an exhausted Nawrocki insisting further changes should be made. Before this happened though, Liobians got one back to make it 3-2. And it’s only fair to concede that it was a superb goal. The ball was worked out the home right winger, who glided past McDonald and, see Heider several yards off his line, scooped the ball over Convos keeper. Think Davor Sukur against Schmeichel at Euro 96. Without the grand stage or roar of the crowd. Still, a handshake from the referee indicated the quality of the strike.
There was some sustained pressure on the Convo goal for the final few minutes, as Farrell and Liam entered the fray again. However, with the seconds ticking down, Salgado bulldozed his way into the box like a mid-90s Ronaldo (O Fenômeno, not Christiano) before being scythed down. The referee, who’d had a fine game in fairness, pointed to the spot. Cue cries for the spot kick from Farrell (looking to extend his run of 1 from 1 in penalties) and Railton (je just fancied a goal I think). However, ever the diplomat, McNally shot these appeals down, insisting that he would get the kick. He was on a hat trick I suppose. He then showed Divin exactly how to do it, but blasting his spot kick high into the roof of the net, UNDERNEATH THE BAR, giving the opposing keeper no chance. The full time whistle was immediately blow, giving the Convo a much needed win.
Man of the Match? It’s hard to look past the skipper in fairness, a hat trick that may just have been perfect (was it a left foot for his second goal?), though the endeavour of Parsons and Kaye on the right wing, and Nawrocki’s diligent defensive work, deserve credit too.
Next week, a potential cup decider, as we take on Alumni. Hopefully in our own kit next time ….
Divin missed a pen with the last kick off the game.
Convocation (4-5-1): Riley; MacDonald, Railton, Roberts G, Farrell; Parsons, Salgado, Byatt, Kent, Abussnena; McNally; Subs: Prendergast, Irakiza, Griffiths, Lewis
Our final game before the start of the South Liverpool Cup ended the way of our last two friendlies … in defeat. But take heart Convo fan(s), we’re slowly getting there!
For the third game in a row, we fielded a patched up team, borrowing a couple of players from our local neighbours, whilst continuing to give trails to prospective new players. And though it ended in defeat, this observer believes they’ll have seen enough to keep on turning out for the Uni’s finest!
The team started with Farrell (yet again) in goal, protected by back 4 of Ollie, Jay, Graham and Liam. A midfield 5 of Divin, Kent, Houston Griffiths and Nawrocki supported the lone striker Kaye, with a bench comprised of trialists, vets and a welcome return for Prendergast. He’d find himself in the heart of the action, but more of that later ….
Things started well for Convo, winning a penalty which Kaye duly converted. Having taken a similarly early lead against Newman’s other team 10 2 weeks earlier, we were hoping the result wouldn’t be similar. But some old demons would come back to haunt us. Convo actually dominated the ball in the first half, easily having more possession in the first 45, as we tried Houston’s brave rule of ‘nobody can launch it, if the opposition score it’s not your fault if there’s nobody to pass to’. This rule would come back to haunt us though, only after the obligatory game of ‘Convo musical statues’ allowed Newman to equalise from a corner, a blue shirt waltzing unmarked to the front post and nodding past a hapless Farrell.
So, no launching it then? We took that to heart, and again it must be stressed we passed the ball beautifully at times. However this became our own worst enemy twice in the space of 5 minutes. First, the ball was given away cheaply, allowing the Newman striker to run through one on one before deftly finishing past the onrushing home keeper. Things would get worse though, Railton giving the ball away cheaply, although admittedly there were few passes available. As the blue shirted striker set himself to shoot, so too did Farrell get set to save it. And palm it he did. Well, sort of, his intervention about as useful as a chocolate teapot as the ball nestled in the back of the net. 3-1, and who’d be a keeper?
We coasted in towards the break, dominant with the ball but looking like a late-Rodgers Liverpool team. Possession but ponderous with it. Chances were few and far between, Divin knocking a couple over the bar and Farrell tipping a high ball over the top of his bar (that he could reach that high is the genuinely unbelievable thing). But hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and as Houston commented, you can’t be good at something the first time you do it (cue sniggering from the onlooking Vets gaffer Malaren).
Changes were frantic at half time, with 6 subs coming on, namely Jon, Tom, Neil, Toby, trialist Liam and Prendergast. Ah yes, Prendergast, he’s back! With all the new changes it was hard to keep up with what was going on, so much so that this onlooker has forgotten about the order of the goals! However the key talking points are this. With the shackles off, and long balls now permitted without threat of heckling, Railton knocked a lovely long ball over the top which Kaye dispatched for his second of the game. A really lovely goal, and Kaye went onto seal his hat trick with a smart finish following some excellent work in the box from Byatt, who’d been moved to left wing in all of the changes. However, in the midst of all of this, Newman scored a fourth, confusion in the reshuffled Convo ranks led to a breakaway in blue shirts, the striker finishing another one on one past the despairing dive of Farrell.
A late appearance from Lewis nearly gave Convo an equaliser, but he hacked wildly over from the edge of the box. Get them out of your system now young man, we’ll need your goals once the season starts! The result was probably just about fair though. Despite Convo dominating possession, it was actually the visitors who created the better chances, hitting the bar at least three times, and Farrell making three smart stops on the break (No, honestly, they were actually decent saves). Newman also had one chalked off when the ball hit the bar, bounced down and back out. Did it actually go in? This observer would say no, but who will truly know until Wyncote installs the fabled ‘goal line technology’?
Oh and Prendergast? He made his comeback by scything a Newman player down in the box and claiming he got the ball. His actual words were ‘I played the ball back to you Faz’. If by ball he meant the strikers boot, then yeah, he got the ball. All in all the big fella did well though, coping everything that the visitors threw at him. Honourable mentions to the Ollies too, and trialist Liam who did himself no harm in his quest to win a contract with the Convo.
MOTM? Kaye’s hat trick elevate him above the rest, but Byatt and Ollie ran him close.
Next up? Well, there’s the matter of a cup defence for us!
Convocation (4-5-1): Farrell; Sawle, Railton, Roberts G, Byatt; Kent, Nawrocki, Griffiths, Houston, Irakiza; Kaye; Subs: Prendergast, McCormack, 'Toby', 'Neil', 'Tom', Kearney, Lewis
Even by Convocation's frequently incompetent standards this was a phenomenal example of them shooting themselves in the foot; a truly impressive feat of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
They were 4-1 up against opponents described as 'a semi-professional Welsh side', but then conceded four times in the final five minutes, including a last-second penalty, to lose a tie they had done more than enough to win.
No wonder Captain (and referee for all but those final five minutes) Chris McNally made a hasty departure at the full-time whistle.
Convocation (from): Morgan, Prendergast, Railton, Welsh J, Byatt, Roberts G, Kent, Houston, Salgado, Irakiza, Kaye, Abussnena, Chadwick, Griffiths, 'Steve', McNally
So pre-season has officially kicked off in earnest, with the (not so) Mighty Convo making the short trip up Rose Lane to Sudley House in a hastily arranged game with Cardinal Newman, who will present themselves as foes to ourselves in the season ahead. Hopefully we’ll give a better account of ourselves when the business of league football starts, but I’m getting ahead of myself ….
Turning up at the changing room-less, pitching marking-less pitch atop of th’ hill, 11 plucky men masquerading as Convo sought to pit their wits against Cardinal Newman, a team we’ll face later on this season following our shock, and let’s be honest, outlandish, promotion to LOBAL Division 3. This owes more to a reconstruction of the league, but hey, this is Convo. We’ll take it! The patched up XI would line up as follows:
Farrell (GK), Trialist, Railton, J Welsh, Trialist, Trialist, Nawrocki, Kent, Byatt, Abusnina, Kaye.
442, and yes that’s right, Farrell in goal, hoping that he wouldn’t concede as many as his last foray in between the sticks for us, a bruising 7-4 home defeat against Quarry Bank in 2015. 3 trialists would play as well, Ste, Ollie and Liam, who all acquitted themselves well, and can be content with their contributions.
And for a makeshift team we started well, taking the lead through a composed finished from Kaye within minutes of the start, springing the offside trap well to slot past the home keeper from within the area (I say the area, but I don’t actually know, as the pitch was marked out in cones. But hey, a goal’s a goal!)
After this promising start though, the pressure started to build. 3 offside calls came to Convo’s rescue in the opening 20 minutes, although they were probably just about right. The defensive line was holding well, with the two trialists, Ste and Ollie patrolling the wings well either side of their more established colleagues in the centre, and our other trialist Liam making inroads down the right wing. But then the sucker-punch ….
Possession was gifted away cheaply to the home side and, putting a few decent passes together, they bore down on the Convo goal. Noticing that the away keeper was, well, how to put this kindly, not of typical goalkeeper physique, the quick thinking striker chipped the ball high, lobbing the back tracking Farrell and nestling in the back of the net. The lead that Convo had held was gone, and we wouldn’t get it back for the rest of the afternoon. Cardinal Newman then nearly took the lead but for a double act of a save from Farrell, with Welsh clearing up afterwards. The next 20 minutes were goal filled, albeit most of them coming for the home team. Firstly, a decent cross from the Newman right wing was nodded back across goal by the home left winger, before another quick goal followed. Advancing down the left wing, the home player sped away from a tiring Ste before firing a shot towards goal. Now, a proper keeper would have saved this. In fat, a proper keeper wouldn’t have stood in the middle of his goal yet thinking he was actually covering his near post. Sadly, Farrell isn’t a proper keeper, and watched comfortably as the ball flew past him and into the net, when he actually thought it was going wide. Cue the obligatory hand up in the air and apology to the team.
2 more goals before half time though, and I think this order is correct … Convo got one back through Kaye, making the score 3-2, though it could and really should have been the leveller after Nawrocki skied over the top right of the goal minutes earlier (he would later admit that he was aiming for bottom left … how did he do this? Answers on a postcard please). Yet the game would slip further from the Convo grasp shortly before half time. The pacy left winger managed to elude Ste’s clutched again, the trialist really being worked hard on what was a balmy July day. Cutting inside, he fired a shot that Farrell did well to parry across goal, yet the soundtrack to this diving save was a sigh from Railton, as his man got the jump on him to knock in the rebound. 4-2 at half time.
The full backs were swapped around at half time in order to try something different against the pacy home wingers, but ultimately to no avail. Newman would go 5-2 up through a one on one finish, before a 6th was added after the ball was smashed across goal and tucked in by one of the advancing strikers at the far post. The flurry of goals proved too much for this observer, who actually can’t remember the 7th goal. There was still time though for Taha to get on the scoresheet though, slotting past the home keeper to bring a tiny bit more respectability to the scoreline. We did in fairness play some decent stuff in the 2nd half, wasting a few chances. A weak effort from Taha in particular that brought about a shout of “you’re just chippin’ it to ‘im” from Farrell sticks in the mind, something that amused the onlooking Houston greatly.
Ultimately, a lack of subs on a hot day and round pegs in square holes (I’m looking at you keeper!) cost the lads, but there were some positives to take. The three trialists performed well in difficult circumstances, and Farrell actually managed to make a few saves. Kaye also looks to have kept his sharpness from last year. Nawrocki however ….
Anyway, these things are just about fitness, and we’ll be in a loyt better shape come the season proper. Next week, we play host to a semi-professional Welsh team. What could possible go wrong? Convocation Vs Beaumaris Town, 5th August, Wyncote, KO 14:00. We’ll see you all there!