Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Long J, Welsh J, Byatt, Parsons; Abussnena, Salgado, Lewis, Nawrocki, Kent; Huws; Subs: Nabil, Cromie
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Galy, Irakiza, Welsh J, Byatt; Kent, Nawrocki, Lewis, Shore, long J; Huws; Subs: Salgado, Nabil, Abussnena
Bobby Mimms reports
What an excellent start to the league season for Convocation – it’s only a shame that it didn’t even last until half time. For about thirty minutes after Liobians got this first game of the new campaign underway on Wyncote’s artificial pitch, decked out in unconventional yellow-and-black (it was the first time your correspondent has ever seen them play not in green) it seemed as though they might be on the end of a mauling, as their hosts sparkled and scored twice without reply. But then the visitors were gifted a way back into the game via a preposterously-conceded penalty and Convo’s swagger disappeared almost in an instance, and while they may not have been exactly hanging on by the end their second half was very much an exercise in not losing.
With McNally still… well, who knows where he is, but Jon Welsh was once again in charge, and he picked a starting line-up consisting of Alex Hendry in goal behind a back four of (l to r) Liam Byatt, himself, Thanos look-a-like Dave Bastow, and champion of the seagulls, John Farrell. Ahead of them Divin De Buffalo Irakiza and Andy Parsons manned the flanks, with Andy Welsh, Matty ‘C’ Shore and Mike Nawrocki in between, and up front on his tod was Anthony Lewis.
McNally may have been away on holiday (we assume) but his doppelganger was once again playing for Liobians, although he didn’t last long as inside the opening ten minutes he injured his shoulder in the process of executing a foul throw (or maybe the foul throw was because he did his shoulder in – what came first, the chicken or the egg?) and had to be subbed. By then, however, his side had already had a couple of sniffs of goal, both times at corners: the first chance was missed despite being scandalously unmarked, while the second was when, after a bout of head tennis, Bastow eyebrowed the ball back to Hendry in the middle of a melee, as cool as you like.
They were false dawns though, as it was up the other end of the pitch that things really looked interesting. Possibly under some sort of external mind control Farrell went streaking deep into the middle of the opposition half and played a lovely low pass forward to Irakiza inside the penalty area, and with a sort of swivel/half volley he sent a shot just over the horizontal; moments later the Convo Chairman was forced into more conventional duties back in defence, although he was no less impressive in hassling an opponent who’d been played in (although he looked offside) and under his pressure the ball eventually trickled harmlessly through to Hendry.
In the twentieth minute though, Convocation made their growing superiority count after the Bic-headed Irakiza was pulled back on the corner of the visitors’ penalty area when it looked as though he might slip clear through. Shore took responsibility with the resultant free kick and blasted a low shot on target, via a slight deflection off the defensive wall, and though the hefty Liobians ‘keeper attempted to stop the thing with an outstretched leg he could only redirect the ball up into the roof of his net.
Within three minutes it was 2-0 to the hosts. A Liobians free kick on the edge of the Convo penalty area could be described as ‘nothing to trouble the scoreboard operator’ if you were feeling charitable (or ‘fucking miles over the bar’ if you weren’t), but from the subsequent goal kick the ball was played forward to Shore in the centre circle, and from there he played a lovely prod down the inside-right channel for Parsons to run on to, and when he slipped into the box and then squared a pass to Lewis as the goalkeeper advanced the forward had the simplest of tap-ins.
The bright, sunny afternoon (as ever at Convo HQ the master of the heavens was shining across the 4G pitch) seemed to complement the way Convocation were playing, and when Parsons was sent scampering down the right again not long after the second goal, and then curled a low cross into the middle it seemed that the in-rushing and unmarked Irakiza only had to make contact with the bouncing ball to add a third, and yet he sort of half sliced, half bundled his shot wide. It would turn out to be a costly miss because within three minutes Liobians humped a hopeful pass forward into their opponents’ eighteen-yard box and Byatt ran up behind the recipient like Frankenstein’s monster doing the Charleston, and referee Mr Page couldn’t ignore such a blatant shove in the back: it did seem momentarily that the home side had been reprieved because the man in yellow who marched up to the spot took his penalty in the manner of Diana Ross and Hendry saved it easily, however the same fellow was first to the rebound and didn’t falter the second time.
The change in mood around the game after that goal was almost palpable; suddenly the visitors were infused with a confidence they’d previously been lacking, while Convocation were no long passing the ball with panache, although both full backs continued to forget themselves and go looking for glory: Farrell kept legging up the line and then ambling back all the time, to no avail, which was entertaining enough, but Byatt completely lost all sense of defensive duty and it became clear that someone had switched him to maverick mode. With ten minutes of the half remaining Liobians nearly equalised through a free kick on the edge of their hosts’ penalty area, only Hendry’s fingertips (and the crossbar) preventing them from doing so, while five after that only the good positioning on the goal line of Convo’s malfunctioning left back stopped an unmarked header at a corner from finding the back of the net.
Byatt also had a great chance to score a couple of minutes before the break, although only after several of his colleagues had also had a go. Irakiza had been played in down the left but as he neared the six-yard box he could only poke a shot at the Liobians ‘keeper, which he blocked, and when Lewis squared the rebound to the nearby Parsons the winger took an eternity to fire off his attempt, by which time a combination of the #1 and a yellow-shirted defender were in place to block it, and yet the fun was far from over. The loose ball ended up back with Lewis, who smashed a low drive from close range that the man in the gloves – who evidently appeared to think that those gloves were only for show – turned over the crossbar with his outstretched leg, and from the resulting corner Byatt miskicked a waist-high effort at the back post spurning his chance to grab a goal. And still the home side kept piling on the pressure, and moments after that it was Arse-over-tit Ahoy! for Welsh (A) inside the visitors' area, but despite the official putting his whistle to his lips no penalty was forthcoming for the foul – the Convo bench enquired whether he was waiting for confirmation from VAR.
When he blew for half time shortly after that the ref legged it off the pitch in apparent panic, but it turned out that he was just desperate to go for a wazz behind one of the floodlight pylons. Welsh (J) insisted that “the next goal’s crucial” but once the game restarted no one seemed to want to score one, and the first seven minutes of the second half were uneventful to say the least. But then Welsh (A) accidentally tripped an opponent out on the left flank, about ten yards inside the Convo half, and the resultant free kick was punted into the box – the home side's line was far too deep, and with marking being so last season one of three free Liobians players in a row was able to get up without resistance and direct a header towards what had been the near post, where it crept into the net. It was agreed on the sideline that the ball had travelled a long way for no one in hoops to have attacked it.
While it wasn’t necessarily so that Liobians’ equaliser was ‘crucial’ as had been posited at the interval, for about fifteen minutes after it was scored it seemed quite possible that it could be conducive to them going on and winning the game because it knocked the stuffing out of Convocation and they began to wobble worryingly. In an attempt to steady the ship they made their first change just before the hour mark, with (Tim’s) Tom Cromie the first Convo cab off the rank and a fare to the left wing, while Irakiza moved to centre mid and Welsh (A) went to right back to replace the hooked Farrell.
Things did improve slowly for the hosts and as the game entered its final quarter Irakiza almost took the Liobians net off after getting on the end of a low Parsons pass/shot towards the back post, but as The Buffalo was pretty much on the goal line when he blasted home the referee correctly ruled him to have been offside; on two other occasions during the second period Convo got the ball between their opponents' sticks but both times the whistle had long since been blown for early runs. But despite those close calls Convocation continued to struggle on the wings, the wingers' plights not helped by a startling lack of movement throughout the rest of the team – it was almost as if pre-season hadn't happened.
Irakiza was replaced by Matt Round – who'd only turned up to watch – with about twenty minutes remaining, the incomer going on up front while Lewis dropped back into midfield, but even his fresh legs quickly seemed to be overcome by the general listlessness within the ranks and the hosts continued to flounder. Parsons somehow got away with a handball inside his own penalty area not long after the substitution, and then on a rare Convo venture into the opposition final third Shore was able to fire off a shot from about twenty yards out that only just drifted high and wide of the target, and despite Liobians' greater influence over the game since the break everyone was reminded that it was only two-all and everything was still to play for.
Only the visitors though, paid any heed to that, and they went close to snatching the lead when one of their players attempted to latch onto a long ball over the top of the Convo defence but on the stretch could only scuff a shot across the face of the goal from just inside the penalty area, his effort bobbling just wide of the furthest post. To the strains of the racing commentary coming from the watching Second Team Captain Andy McLaren's phone – just like the good old days – Liobians had another chance to score moments later, but they were thwarted on that occasion by a great save from Hendry and, as it turned out, the referee's instinct for an offside.
As the game neared its final five minutes it was clear that everyone, on both sides, was buggered, and at times it was almost like watching geriatric walking football. Parsons drilled a low diagonal shot from miles out that was probably not as close as it looked from the sideline judging by the 'keeper's (non) reaction, while when the same Liobians man (accidentally) hoofed a high ball towards the Convo bench and out of play the racing-fixated McLaren astonished everyone when he pretty much back-heeled it back onto the pitch as it dropped out of the heavens. Equally as farcical was Nawrocki trying to win a throw-in by back-heeling the thing against an opponent who was right up his arse, with predictably hilarious consequences (he knocked it against his own leg and conceded the throw).
The final chance of the afternoon fell to the visitors after Welsh (J) and Hendry had got into a bit of a mix-up and a corner was conceded, from which an unmarked player in yellow headed just over the bar, but there was still long enough left after that for Welsh (A) to get clattered for the umpteenth time in the half (undoubtedly pay back for his manhandling of the opposition before the break) and for the wandering Byatt to continue his tour of the pitch as though he were powerless against some sort of footballing osmosis. Almost the last kick of the game though, was a ridiculously overhit pass from Shore to… well, it's impossible to say as it was so far away from anyone – somebody suggested that he might want to “take a bit off that”, as if it was the first minute. If only.
The draw was probably the fairest result, as in a game of two halves Convo were the better team in the first and Liobians in the second; the visitors didn't give their hosts much of a chance to grab a winner once things were all square and looked the more likely to snatch victory, but at the same time Convocation were only undone by two set pieces. Nonetheless the Wyncote boys allowed themselves to be dragged down to the level of their opponents, a poor team, so can't complain about the outcome. And their afternoon hit a new low back at the APH when, in amongst Hendry being teased about having to wear an electric zapper now that there are sin bins (for whenever he challenges referees), no one was aware of who Rentaghost's Miss Popoff was! What kind of club is this?
Man Of The Match: Byatt deserves a mention for his sheer entertainment value, while the other (starting) full back, Farrell, also gets a shout after having his best game for ages. It's Shore who wins the award though, as he shone when Convo were doing well and didn't die as much as most when they deflated in the final hour.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Byatt, Welsh J, Bastow, Farrell; Irakiza, Welsh A, Shore, Nawrocki, Parsons; Lewis; Subs: Cromie, Round
Bobby Mimms reports
“It’s up for grabs now,” screamed Brian Moore on the television, as Michael Thomas bundled his way with the ball through Liverpool’s back line, slotted past Bruce Grobbelaar, and made a fourteen-year old future match reporter tear up. The trauma of that moment has never been completely salved for Reds fans (even though it was nothing compared with the trauma of the season as a whole), and thirty years on, on Tuesday night, fate dealt Convocation a similar harrowing hand, although admittedly there was a lot less at stake. With all four teams in this season’s South Liverpool Cup level on three points going into the final round of games the lads from Wyncote knew that a win against Alumni would give them a great chance of taking home the cup (that doesn’t exist), and when it became clear that Woolton were winning quite comfortably in a feisty encounter on the next pitch it seemed that Convo only had to match their outcome to triumph (having beaten them a fortnight ago).
In their own game they’d been 2-0 and 3-1 up, and even 4-2 to the good at the interval, but once their opponents halved the deficit early on in the second period, thanks in no small part to a penalty award that made less sense than astrology, they were never comfortable and always open to a sucker punch. With two minutes remaining an Alumni player was granted far too much space in the final third of the pitch and managed to get off a shot from the edge of the Convocation penalty area that wasn’t hit well but which still bobbled only inches wide of one of goalkeeper Jonathan Sharp’s uprights, and with that it really was time for Convo to heed an umpteenth warning.
But then, with the regulation ninety up, Steve McMahon long since having signalled one minute to go, an Alumni man barged his way through midfield and led the Convocation defence a merry dance along the edge of the eighteen-yard box, twisting and turning to evade challenges before finally belting a low shot on target that Sam Prendergast deflected high over the crossbar – all Convo had to do was successfully defend the corner, but when it came in they adopted a rather louche approach towards man marking and an opponent in an orange shirt ran up unimpeded and nutted the ball past Sharp.
The referee blew for full time before the net had stopped billowing, and Convo had managed to draw despite those last few milliseconds being the first time they hadn’t been in the lead since the fourth minute. They only had themselves to blame as there’d been numerous scares before the equaliser, but also because they’d had (and fluffed) plenty of chances of their own in the second half to put the game to bed.
They’d been much more clinical before the interval, although it still took lone forward Mabon Huws three attempts to finally break the deadlock. Within sixty seconds of kick off he was played clear through down the right, but as he entered the eighteen-yard box, one-on-one with the ‘keeper, he sent an effort zipping off the wet surface (it was spitting for a while at the start) across and wide of the target; two minutes later he walloped a shot from the edge of the area but it was straight at the #1, who parried well. It was third time lucky moments after that though, when, despite the Mersey Road grass having been cut since last week, an Alumni defender played a woeful back pass to the man between the sticks and the Welshman intercepted it, ran on, and netted to make it 1-0.
There was no doubt that Alumni had been caught cold by Convocation but after falling behind they got their act together and the game became more balanced yet somewhat end-to-end, albeit without any chances being created. But then Huws and an opponent challenged for the ball in the middle of the latter’s half causing it to loop up in the air in the direction of Andy Parsons, who was offside by a country parsec, and he then struck an effort from the edge of the ‘D’ that glanced off his Welsh colleague’s back (the forward had run on for a return pass) on its way past a poor dive from the opposition ‘keeper. Naturally the Convo Dubious Goals Committee had to make a decision on who scored, but it decided that if the referee wasn’t going to penalise Parsnips then why should they?
The (young) man in black must have realised that he’d goofed because, when Alumni attacked down their right straight from the restart (and towards the allotments, where a massive sunflower was growing not far behind the goal) and one of their players inside the penalty area squared the ball to an unmarked team mate as Sharp advanced, he turned a blind eye to the fact that the subsequent tap-in was also from an offside position. Prior to kick off Ollie Sawle had commented that this referee always explained his decisions, but he had an awful game and throughout it must have been constantly explaining his reasoning for being so bad.
Convocation went close to re-establishing their two-goal lead just after the quarter-hour mark when Jon Welsh hoofed a free kick up the pitch from inside his own half and Matty Shore ran onto it but flicked his attempt just over the crossbar. Not to worry though, as not long after the twentieth minute the Alumni ‘keeper (who was extremely colour co-ordinated with his team mates – all black except for orange boots) played a terrible goal kick straight to Mike Kent, lurking near the centre circle, and despite protestations that the Convo man had fouled an opponent to win the ball he knocked it forward to Huws who then motored into the penalty area, rounded the #1 and rolled the thing into the unguarded net. That didn’t go down well with the orange-shirted #14 who, as had been noticed in previous encounters, had half of Harry Ramsden’s stock on his shoulders: “We’re 3-1 down to crap!” Praise from Caesar, indeed.
For about ten-to-fifteen minutes after that the game went through a faze that didn’t exactly satisfy the dictionary definition of controlled, and very little of note happened; indeed, on the sideline the highlight was a discussion about Jamie Long playing far too narrowly. He was positioned on the left-hand side of a five-man midfield, across the sward from Parsons, with Shore, Kent and Mike Nawrocki in between, while behind them the back four comprised of (l to r) Sawle, Prendergast, Welsh (J) and Divin De Buffalo Irakiza.
That defence hardly covered themselves in glory, with a little under ten minutes of the half remaining, when Alumni attacked down their left and put a low cross into the Convo box that Nawrocki could only spoon high up into the air (there was a lot of that about on Tuesday). A seemingly interminable bout of head tennis then ensued but the hooped shirts could not clear their lines, and eventually a man in orange punted an achingly slow shot into the top corner of the goal from about fifteen yards out.
Shore fired just wide not long after that, after he and Parsons had traded flicks and passes following a Sharp set piece, deep inside the Convocation half, which had been conceded by the lovely Alumni #14 – his foul did not look accidental. Then, shortly before the interval, the side from Jericho Lane won a very dubious free kick in the centre circle, which was lumped forward, flicked on (Alumni were rather a tall team), and then another man in orange stabbed a shot goalward from about six yards out, but the Convo #1 prevented another concession with a fantastic point blank save.
But then with seconds of the first period remaining Alumni won a corner but wasted it, their hooped opponents broke quickly through Huws, and from out on the right he played the ball inside to Parsons who cracked a lovely shot into the bottom corner of the nets without breaking stride. The game restarted and the official blew for the break almost immediately; Convocation had scored with pretty much the last touch of the half – that sort of thing doesn’t happen too often.
The general consensus during Convo’s half time confab was that they had deserved their late goal, but Sawle also had a quibble about the monopedalness of the side: “Are we all right footed?” he enquired, somewhat sarcastically, and probably referring to the fact that most of the first period had been played over on that side of the pitch. It’s written in the club’s scriptures that such comments must be followed by egg on the face, so you shouldn’t need telling what happened within sixty seconds of the game getting underway again when a golden opportunity arose for the full back to use his left peg…
Convo almost started the second period the way they’d ended the first, as inside the first two minutes Shore played a beautiful pass forward for Huws to chase and once he rode a robust challenge and then rounded the ‘keeper the goal seemed at his mercy, but the tight angle he faced was against him and his effort went scooting across the target and beyond the furthest post. Shortly after that, at the other end of the pitch, Alumni dragged a poor shot wide from the edge of the eighteen-yard box, but then they received an unexpected present when Welsh (J) was adjudged to have shoulder barged one of their ilk in the penalty area and a spot kick was awarded; it was a coming together at best, the ‘fouled’ player in question appeared to (unintentionally) clip his own heels to go down, and you couldn’t even be sure if it was inside the box – but apart from that it was another fine decision by the referee. The taker then sent Sharp the wrong way to make it 4-3.
It was astonishing that the score stayed like that for 35+ minutes because both teams had plenty of chances to grab the bull by the horns and over the following bouts of interchange especially the game was once again very end to end, although in that time only Shore managed to get off a shot, and the less said about that the better. Convo were continuing to spurn the full width of the pitch, but it had become fairly obvious after an hour that this was mainly down to Alumni’s tactic of abandoning the wings themselves; it was particularly noticeable that Long was mirroring his opponents rather than playing his own game as he could frequently be found fifteen yards in from the sideline, although in such a congested midfield it was observed (from the bench) that he was “remarkably wriggly for a man of his girth”.
He had grown into the game since the break though, having been fairly uninvolved before it, and in the ten minutes after the hour mark he was regularly in the thick of the action. He kept putting the Alumni #5 (who was wearing Edgar Davids-esque sports glasses) on his fundament through a combination of muscle and fancy hip swivels, and also fired a twenty-five yard effort just wide of one of the opposition uprights at one point. But his contribution to the game that will have kept Long awake on Tuesday night came about after Huws was sent through on goal (the Welshman looked offside, while there had been a naughty looking Convo challenge in the centre circle moments earlier – unsurprisingly the inconsistent referee ignored both) and the opposition #1 advanced well to block him, causing the ball to ricochet free perfectly for the in-running winger, but he blasted miles over the bar a shot that was probably given a mention on the following morning’s Shipping Forecast.
The game continued to flit back and forth like a Newton’s Cradle and Alumni were the next to go close: one of their players attacked down their left and from almost on the byline pulled a cross back towards the edge of the area where an orange shirted colleague struck a low shot that Welsh (J) deflected over the bar for a corner that came to nothing. At the other end of the pitch Convo won a free kick down the side of their opponents’ penalty area with about fifteen minutes remaining, which Shore attempted to curl into the box but only succeeded in hitting the defensive wall – the bouncing ball rebounded to Parsons in a central position but it got stuck under his feet as he went to shoot and it took several seconds of masquerading as a shire horse trying to negotiate a cargo net before he could set himself up for a second chance, but under pressure his effort glided just past the angle of the goal frame.
With ten minutes remaining Nawrocki started to cramp up and was replaced by Andy Welsh, while not long after that the referee – and you’re never going to believe this – made a total mess of awarding Convocation an advantage when an Alumni player in the centre circle deliberately handled what looked likely to be a rearguard-splitting pass, and one of his colleagues immediately intercepted the loose ball; despite protestations from those in hoops, they weren’t getting a belated free kick. Within about fifteen seconds though, Parsons regained possession and knocked a poor cross into the opposition penalty area from the right that for some reason caused all sorts of trouble between a defender and the ‘keeper: the former cushioned a header past the latter, who then had to sprint back and just about batted the danger away with inches to spare. Thinking his team were about to concede a fifth a snidey scrote in orange turned to the Convo bench and sneered, “D’you still not want the advantage?”
Having been overcast all evening it had started going dark towards the end, while, like Alumni’s puerility, the Mersey Road Midges also turned up to be a late annoyance in the gloom. No one in hoops seemed that bothered though, for as the clock ticked past the ninetieth minute Convocation had one hand on the championship, and the party was about to begin…
As much as it sticks in the craw you can’t say that Alumni didn’t deserve their late goal, because the draw was the right result on the evening. Neither team was helped by the official’s erraticism, but the penalty he awarded against Convo at the start of the second half was a killer for them as it changed the dynamics of the game, and without it it’s doubtful that their opponents would have kept going until the end. But, such are the snakes and ladders of football, and anyway two trophies in one year might have looked a little greedy.
And if 1989 is anything to go by then Convo will eventually benefit when the scorer of the equaliser – the Alumni Michael Thomas – comes to play for them in a year-or-two’s time.
Man Of The Match: Huws or Parsons? Huws or Parsons? Daddy or chips? They can’t be split so they’ll have to share it.
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Sawle, Prendergast, Welsh J, Irakiza; Long J, Nawrocki, Shore, Kent, Parsons; Huws; Sub: Welsh A
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Byatt, Bastow, Irakiza, Long J; Millson, Shore, Davies, Welsh J, Parsons; Lewis; Subs: Kent, Volkes-Russell
L1: Bullet header at a corner.
L2: Irakiza mistake – Liobians player ran through, rounded Welsh and slotted.
L3: Thirty-yard lob that Welsh fingertipped onto the bar, only for a second Liobians player to follow in and blast home the rebound.
C1: Ninety seconds remaining – Huws scored at the second time of asking following a great initial save from the Liobians 'keeper, and having had a rocket of a shot pushed onto the crossbar ten minutes earlier.
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Byatt, Prendergast, Irakiza, Farrell; Long J, Welsh A, Long M, Kent, Sawle; Huws; Subs: Nawrocki, Millson
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Sawle, Prendergast, Railton, Welsh A; Kent, Salgado, Shore, Lewis, Huws; McNally; Sub: Byatt
Bobby Mimms reports
The Hells Angels were in town for Convocation’s opening fixture in this season’s South Liverpool Cup – well, the geriatric wing of it anyway. As the players turned up for this first ever meeting between Convo and MSB Woolton, the smell of barbeque wafting in the air and wisps of smoke blowing across the pitches from the adjacent allotments, an old girl clambered onto a hefty three-wheeled mobility scooter with huge Harley-Davison handlebars and zipped around outside the changing rooms, no doubt looking for trouble, before disappearing off out the gates and down Mersey Road, never to be seen again. Whatever the reason for her presence – and it was certainly worth quite a few points in the I-Spy Book of Amateur Football – it was a nice metaphor for how Wyncote’s finest would go on to perform during the game, as despite initially looking quite vulnerable they ultimately proved to be rather dangerous and ran off with the spoils.
Decked out in blue-and-white hoops Convocation had fourteen players at their disposal, but the starting eleven saw Jonathan Sharp once again keep goal, behind a defensive quartet of (left to right) Liam Byatt, Sam Prendergast, Divin De Buffalo Irakiza and the returning Ollie Sawle (who’d played against Convo on Saturday). As is his wont Captain Chris McNally occupied the lone forward role in his preferred 4-5-1 formation, while the midfield comprised of Matty Long, Mike Kent and Owen Davies in the centre flanked by Jacob Millson (l) and Andy Parsons (r). The referee was everyone’s favourite Ulsterman, Ray McLaughlin.
The start of the game was explosive, with a trio of goals in the opening five minutes, although somewhat amazingly by that standard it still took three minutes after Convo got the ball rolling before the first of them was scored. Woolton played a long ball down their right flank and a player who couldn’t have been any faster if he’d been sat atop one of the trains going past on the nearby Northern Line every quarter-of-an-hour left Byatt for dead, ran on into the penalty area, and fired off a low howitzer of a shot that Sharp had no right to get a hand to, but even though he did such was the power on the thing he couldn’t keep it out (and even if he had another Woolton player was running in unmarked at the back post so would probably have netted the rebound anyway).
Immediately from the restart Convocation attacked and won a throw-in near one of the Woolton corner flags, which McNally took. Having already produced the first of a number of those thirty-yard dribbles across the pitch that he specialises in, the ones that are pretty much parallel with the halfway line but which advance no more than six inches nearer the opposition goal, the captain was clearly in the mood and you could almost see his nostrils flaring as he hurled the ball into Davies at the near post, who in turn flicked it on to the back where Parsons was waiting, and he had no trouble finding the bottom corner of the net.
Woolton (donning a fluorescent green kit) seemed slightly miffed by that and so nipped straight back down the other end and scored again. Long lost the ball for Convocation not far from the centre circle and his dispossessor knocked it out wide, where the same player who’d scored moments earlier nearly created a sonic boom as he flew past Byatt again and notched an almost identical goal to his first, the big difference being that Sharp couldn’t get a body part to this one. It was suggested that Convo might want to consider piling up a few sandbags down the left-hand side of their box.
If the way football worked was by extrapolation then after that start the game should have finished something in the order of twenty-all, but things calmed down after that, although Woolton still looked the more the likely to score again. That said, it was Convocation who found the back of the net next when a Kent shot from just outside the area struck McNally and deflected past the opposition ‘keeper, but it wouldn’t stand as it was disallowed for a figment of referee McLaughlin’s imagination (he claimed the Convo captain was offside, when he wasn’t).
Either side of that though, those in hoops persisted in flattering to deceive, and even occasionally threatened to turn rogue: a kamikaze Irakiza back pass sent one opponent clear through on goal, but at the last second he accidentally toed a touch too hard and the Convo #1 managed to sit on the ball before it could pass him; several minutes later, and causing even more of his team mates to soil themselves, Byatt also fell afoul of the Mersey Road groundsman’s laissez-faire approach to pitch grooming and another man in green nipped in to intercept his attempted return to Sharp, but at the subsequent one-on-one the ‘keeper got the better of his adversary by pouncing at his feet and snaffling possession as he attempted to go around him.
Convocation’s wobbliness wouldn’t have been so bad if they could actually win a couple of second balls in midfield, but their opponents were first to everything and in the twentieth minute they should have increased their lead when from a right wing cross one of their players bulleted an unmarked header inches over the crossbar. It was a poor miss, especially as within ninety seconds Convo equalised again. Just like their earlier goal it originated from a throw-in near the same Woolton corner flag, only this time it didn’t need a flick on: the ball was hurled into a melee in the six-yard box and Long leapt like… well, whatever the opposite of a leaping salmon is, but the thing still plopped onto his head where it was redirected into the nets.
Suddenly Convocation started to look half-decent, but something had changed in the mentality of both teams and Woolton no longer seemed as confident. Sawle could have given the Wyncote boys the lead for the first time when he fired off a rocket of a shot that was deflected wide, and when Parsons then hoofed the subsequent corner straight out behind the goal it was quite easily the most hopeless kick of the ball all evening… and good on him.
It was just before the half-hour mark that Convo did take the lead for the first time though, when Kent played a lovely dinked/curled pass forward from the centre of the pitch and Long ran on into the penalty area with it; hassled by a defender the midfielder was pushed wider and wider until he was almost at the junction of the six-yard box and the byline, and yet somehow he not only managed to get off a low shot he also got it past the #1 and into the back of the net from the narrowest of angles. Instrumental in the build-up to the goal, and indeed to all that was good about Convocation on Tuesday, had been Davies, and he tried his luck moments after the restart but directed his effort straight at the ‘keeper, the only minor blip on what was an otherwise excellent performance from the youngster.
For long periods of what remained of the game Woolton had no answer to him, and at one point towards the end of the first half one player in green summed up his growing frustration at the way his side were now getting outplayed by letting out a startling, very high-pitched primal scream in centre midfield, followed by a “Fuckin’ shit!” at, apparently, no one in particular. Surprisingly his tantrum briefly reawakened Woolton and ten minutes before the break they equalised when they attacked down their right, put a lovely cross into the box and an unmarked player gave Sharp no chance with his header.
They should probably have retaken the lead in the sixty seconds immediately before half time when they dinked a pass through the Convo backline and only a fine last-ditch block by Prendergast prevented a goal. Sawle then dawdled over clearing the danger despite an opponent bearing down on him, and after a ten second spell of pinball in the penalty area a Woolton man chipped a shot just over the crossbar.
The second period was pretty much a washout, both literally and figuratively, as the rain that had started with a little bit of spitting earlier in the game got continually heavier and heavier until its end, and there was almost nothing football-worthy to report other than Convocation’s three goals (and there’s no news on what Mrs Lincoln thought of the play). They should have had a penalty in the opening couple of minutes of the half but for some reason Mr McLaughlin decided to ignore the most extraordinarily flagrant hand ball by a green shirt – he was definitely having one of those evenings – while later on Irakiza did extremely well to prevent Woolton from scoring when a low cross through the Convo box seemed destined to be slotted home at the back post, but the defender flicked it past the man running in and out for a corner from more-or-less off the line.
Otherwise the worsening conditions, Woolton’s crescendoing apathy and awfulness – it was staggering just how different they were to the vibrant team of the opening twenty minutes – and a succession of interrupting and stymieing substitutions from both sides made the second half quite difficult to watch; just before the hour mark Jay Railton and guest player ‘Niall’ made their entrances in place of Long and Millson (there were numerous positional switches as well but it was getting a tad difficult to record such things due to the rain), although the latter returned for the final fifteen minutes when the exhausted McNally was told to call it a day by his vice-captain, Jon Welsh.
By then though, Convocation had retaken the lead. Byatt gained possession just inside his own half and played a carefully-weighted pass to Kent, who had his back to goal some fifteen yards away, and as an opponent ran up from behind the midfielder turned him with a delightful roll before sending an equally exquisite ball into the path of Parsons out on the right, and he ran on into the area and placed the thing past the ‘keeper and into the net.
By the time the game entered its final quarter-of-an-hour it was absolutely tipping down, to the extent that you could hear the ball fizzing every time it sailed through the air; the evening had become so grotty you would have sworn blind that it was the end of November not the middle of August, so it was no real surprise that the already unenthused Woolton began playing like they already had a collective foot back in the changies. Having said that, there was no real sign that anyone would score again, but when Convo did it was a thing of beauty: Sawle won possession in the middle of the pitch and knocked a pass out to ‘Niall’ on the left, who then put in a twenty-odd yard looping cross to the back post where Millson arrived right on cue to cushion an effort into the net for his first goal for the club.
Although they’d appeared to give up long ago that was the point at which you could almost see the last jot of self-belief forsake the Woolton players, and they knew the game was gone. It was no surprise then that inside the final sixty seconds of regulation time Convo scored again, when Millson turned provider by drilling a low cross into the goalmouth, the ‘keeper spilt the ball as if he’d just buttered his gloves, and Sawle was on hand to stab it home from inside the six-yard box.
The game nearly got a (very) late twist when Woolton unexpectedly pulled their collective finger out for the first time in aeons and, straight from the restart, advanced and won a free kick about thirty yards from the Convo goal following a silly foul by Irakiza. The ensuing dead ball was curled over everyone towards the target and Sharp, who had started coming out off his line, had to beat a hasty retreat and tip the thing over his bar at the last second to prevent himself from being lobbed; a green-shirted infringement at the resultant corner was penalised and full time was blown immediately, five of the nine goals having come in two three-minute spells at either end of proceedings.
Quite annoyingly the rain stopped completely several minutes after the final whistle, although at least the players could change into dry clothes. Taken as a whole Convocation’s performance was fairly decent against unknown and potentially dangerous opponents (any surprise will be gone when the teams meet again in the league over the coming months) and at this time of the year that’s not to be sniffed at. It sets them up nicely for next week’s clash with fellow opening-day victors, Liobians, and a win then will see them in with a great chance of winning the competition; lose, and the start of the season with threaten to turn into a squib as damp as the weather was on Tuesday.
Man Of The Match: Davies, who mixed brawn with gracefulness and was integral to the majority of what Convo did well. His garish pinky-red boots were a bit stomach churning, mind.
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Byatt, Prendergast, Irakiza, Sawle; Millson, Davies, Long M, Kent, Parsons; McNally; Subs: Railton, ‘Niall’, Welsh J (not used)
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Byatt, Prendergast, Irakiza, Long J; Kaye, Long M, Salgado, Shore, Huws; Lewis; Subs: McNally, Davies, Millson
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Sawle, Prendergast, Irakiza, Carnacina; Long J, Kent, Long M, Shore, Kaye; Huws; Subs: Welsh A, Welsh J, McNally
Good close game for 60min - then multiple subs and fatigue set in and it finished with a cricket score in their favour.
Convocation (from): Round, Farrell, Prendergast, Halliday, Sawle, Long J, Long M, Nawrocki, Kaye, Lewis, Welsh J, McNally, Abussnena, Carnacina