Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Greene, Welsh J, Welsh A, Galy; Abussnena, Lewis, Shore, Irakiza, Kent; McNally; Subs: Salgado, Kaye
Convo scored twice in the first ten minutes, while Liobians got one back immediately after half time.
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Greene, Prendergast, Welsh A, Parsons; Kent, Lewis, Shore, Long M, Huws; Abussnena; Sub: Hughes
Convocation (4-5-1): McNally; Galy, Welsh J, Welsh A, Byatt; Cromie, Lewis, Long M, Shore, Huws; Abussnena; Subs: Irakiza, Prendergast, Walter
[AW] Nawrocki scores. Finishing off an excellent flowing passing movement with a tap in.
Convocation (4-5-1): McNally; Byatt, Welsh A, Welsh J, Farrell; Huws, Lewis, Narocki, Shore, Parsons; Abussnena; Subs: Long M, Kent, Kaye, Walter
Bobby Mimms reports
“Last game on Match of the Day” was the general consensus from the paying public near the end of this wretched affair (bearing in mind they paid exactly what the spectacle was worth), and not even a late winner was going to change that outlook. It was a very scruffy, lacklustre encounter and few of the participants could be described as having played well, while the less said about everyone’s passing the better. Convocation’s performance can be summed up by the statistic that their one and only definite shot on target came about in the eighty-third minute – even a perfect crap game was beyond them.
Their hosts, Wavertree West Derby Old Boys, were a little bit more adventurous and did manage a handful of shots, but even so those shots were, in general, either hopelessly over-ambitious or exceedingly tame. They’re still unbeaten in the league, and if all their games have been like this then you can see how, yet despite winning they must have had an off-day at the weekend, relatively speaking, because surely some team would have thumped them by now if this was their norm. Along with Convo they played with little fight in their football – although the two sides did occasionally summon up enough enthusiasm to get the handbags out – and the fare was so grim by the end that you’d swear you saw people drawing their curtains in nearby houses.
In fairness to the protagonists the ambiance of the contest wasn’t helped by the dullness of the day, and the standard of football was severely stymied by the state of the pitch. Despite having been quite bright throughout the morning it had clouded over considerably by kick-off time, and that coupled with a wind that grew stronger as the game went on (blowing, in general, diagonally across proceedings – towards Convo in the first half) gave warning that the storm predicted for that night was on its way. As for the playing surface, well, it’s fair to say that it didn’t adhere to Euclidian geometry: it had a quite noticeable slope (Convo were defending the alpine end during the first half), but was also terribly bevelled, especially near the lower goal, to the extent that it sort of resembled a giant Pringle. Hardly unexpectedly for February, it was also quite heavy and in need of a cut.
All of the chances in the first half – and that’s a gloriously over-romantic image – were created by Wavertree, but it really was slim pickings. It took them three minutes to fire off the initial shot of the afternoon, from the corner of the Convocation penalty area, but it lacked any real oomph and goalkeeper Chris McNally had no trouble dropping to his right and smothering the ball at the foot of the nearest post; decked out in a yellow jersey and with dark tracksuit bottoms tucked into equally-hued stockings just below the knee, the Captain’s nonchalance in doing so added weight to the feeling that at any moment he might nip off for a quick nine holes before breakfast.
His handling was nigh-on faultless throughout the game, something he demonstrated several minutes after that first Wavertree chance when one of their midfielders tried his luck from about thirty yards out – we’ll have none of that metric rubbish now we’ve left the EU, thank you very much – but a safe pair of mitts clasped the attempted lob in one go before it could reach the top corner. Waves of maroon continued to lap the Convocation penalty area and the ball rarely got far out their half of the pitch, but you never really got the feeling that the home side were actually on top as they seemed so lacking in imagination, and what machinations they had were so easy to read and break down. They had another go from the same corner of the box as earlier but it was just as simple for McNally to drop onto and stop, albeit to his left, while when they did manage to wriggle clear of the Convo defence on the quarter-hour mark the glover was quickly off his line to smother the subsequent shot almost from within touching distance of the boot it had originated from.
That was one of only two occasions in the first period that the visitors – once again donning Reading-esque blue-and-white hoops – were caught out, as despite being under much more pressure than their defensive cousins on the other side of the halfway line the rearguard quartet seldom looked inconvenienced. They’d begun the game with the Welsh brothers, Andy and Jon, at their heart, years of playing alongside each other serving Convocation well on Saturday, while Liam Byatt and John Farrell flanked them; Wavertree did seem to concentrate their efforts along the wings but there was no reason to believe that the full backs were being targeted purposely, although even if they were they were coping alright.
But despite the general defensive competence the back five were making a right pig’s ear of the goal kicks, even taking into account the wind being (sort of) in their faces. McNally wasn’t happy with the responsibility so regularly left it for the Welshes, but none of that trio of geniuses considered playing the ball short even though their maroon opponents retreated to the halfway line every time; the hoofs would usually hold up in the wind, barely make the centre circle, and possession would frequently be lost. At least that ongoing farce livened up what otherwise felt like aeons of bog-standard nothingness without even the nihilistic attraction of a tumbleweed or two. Perhaps the game was so poor because everyone was handicapped by having to compete with their fingers on their lips – other than an occasional instruction or grunt it was deathly quiet.
Mind you, on the rare occasions that anyone associated with the game did make an effort to communicate they were often ignored, such as when the referee, the silver-haired fox Brian Seddon, refused to take counsel from the Convo bench regarding which way a throw-in should be awarded (to the opposition) because no one was holding his flag (your correspondent was gesturing with a Biro...). Very occasionally though, verbal intercourse wasn’t necessary: not long after the midpoint of the first period two maroon shirts combined when one played a lovely pass from his own half directly onto the toe of the perfectly-timed run of the other, and while Welsh (A) couldn’t quite chase back to put the recipient under pressure, McNally’s gangly advance was enough to force him into shooting wide from just inside the penalty area. The Convo #1 was putting in a fair old shift.
At the bottom of the incline Convocation weren’t getting anywhere near their hosts’ goal, aside from a few corners, and lone forward Taha Abussnena could hardly get into the game. The pitch continued to strike you as some sort of optical illusion, in that it wasn’t that big but seemed stretched and warped as if made from melted Plasticine, while its middle third was a nuclear wasteland of decent passing. The flanks were seldom profitable for either side, with Convo’s Jerome Galy (left) and Andy Parsons (right) and their Wavertree counterparts frequently cancelling each other out; inside them the visitors had Anthony Lewis and Mattys Long and Shore but, again, similarly to their opponents, they spent most of their time trying to win back the ball after losing it. The playing surface had to be somewhat responsible for such dross, and it was difficult to believe that the game wouldn’t have been a better spectacle on one of Wyncote’s superior swards.
With a little over ten minutes remaining in the first period a seemingly innocuous coming together in the Wavertree half between Abussnena and an opponent led to a brief spot of rhubarb that ended with the Convo man getting booked for persistent lip (he appeared to be remonstrating to the referee about some sort of ‘remark’ aimed in his direction), while with very little of value happening football-wise the club Chairman piqued the interest of those watching on the sideline with one particular clearance: “Faz winning headers?” marvelled substitute Divin De Buffalo Irakiza; “These are indeed strange times,” seemed the only reasonable response. The game continued to be dire right up until the interval though, with nobody on either side seeming capable of winning a second ball, and the insipidity was even prolonged for a couple of minutes, just as the official was about to blow for the break, when one of the maroon-shirted players injured himself in the middle of the booby-trapped pitch.
Half time entertainment was provided by a family of four turning up with a mini-quad bike and scrambler, which the two kids – barely out of nappies – then razzed around the fringes of the playing fields, something they continued to do for most of the remainder of the game. At the same time Convo were forced to make a substitution as Farrell had to dart off to Manchester – poor bastard – Irakiza replacing him at right back, and though what followed was marginally better than that which had gone before everyone continued to treat the ball like an unpinned grenade.
Convo began the second half attacking in the same direction as the wind was blowing and getting progressively stronger, towards the pitch’s snowy uplands, and with perhaps a little more than ninety seconds gone a lovely diagonal pass through the Wavertree back line by Lewis sent Parsons scampering into the opposition area and, one on one, he forced the advancing yellow-topped ‘keeper into a decent block; whether the shot had actually been on target was undeterminable. Suddenly there was hope that the game might finally get going – it was a cruel trick for the footballing gods to play.
Admittedly, Wavertree did create a few chances over the following half hour, but only the first – a low rasper from twenty yards out after Convo could not clear their lines, and which was stopped by the out-stretched plus-foured leg of their #1 – was ever in any danger of troubling the score sheet. For a lot of that time the visitors struggled to get the ball up the field and away from their penalty area, and when they conceded a free kick right on the edge of that area, five minutes after the previous shot, one of the maroon shirts curled a lovely effort around Convocation’s defensive wall and towards the top corner of the target, but there was no real power behind the punt and after a peculiar hopping/skipping ‘dive’ the big paw of McNally was able to push it past his left-hand post.
The attendance dropped by one just after that when the only apparently-sane person in the vicinity, Parsons’ mum, disappeared for a while, possibly for a lie down after having experienced such rubbish at close quarters. While she was gone McNally pulled off a fantastic save at a one-on-one with the Wavertree #9 (who was filling out a smaller man’s shorts), although its relevance was deemed null and void by the official when he pulled the hosts back for offside. Nevertheless, it still left the Convo captain’s charges wondering just what the hell had gotten into him.
Shortly before that Long was hooked so that the Brazilian, Breno Salgado, could have one of his peripatetic escapades in midfield, while just after the hour mark Abussnena got a free header on a Parsons corner but couldn’t keep his powerful effort on target – it still counted as one of the contest’s better poor undertakings though. The next Convocation quadrant kick epitomised just how harrowing the overall game had become, conceded as it was from thirty yards down the pitch by an attempted back pass, the defender in question completely missing his ‘keeper near the goal and only just failing to concede a throw-in; when the ball in was half-cleared Lewis shot wide from a little outside the Wavertree penalty area.
While the more bored spectators considered finding out whether you could actually hear a pin drop the home side went close again with (what should have been) a quarter-of-an-hour remaining when, after a succession of respectable dinks along the left flank – like watching the Harlem Globetrotters, relatively speaking – one of their guys was slipped into the Convo box but choked as McNally advanced towards him and fired across the goal and wide. And then, about seven minutes after that… glory be: a Convocation shot on target. Shore hurled a long throw into the Wavertree penalty area that was only half cleared, giving Lewis the chance to smash back an effort that the opposition ‘keeper pushed wide with a fine low save; half-a-dozen yards away Parsons looked to be in the perfect position to follow up but instead he just watched passively as the danger was cleared, and on the sideline the winger’s father hinted that he wouldn’t be getting any pocket money this week.
The grubbiness of the overall game seemed to seep in everyone’s psyche and there were two more outbreaks of handbags in its latter stages, one in which Abussnena – on a yellow card remember – went sticking his oar in unnecessarily as a disenchanted opponent got a booking of his own. But then in the contest’s eighty-eighth minute arrived its only saving grace (from a neutral’s perspective); its ‘highlight’, although admittedly that honour didn’t have a particularly high bar to jump. Convo were actually on the attack in the lead-up to their hosts’ goal, but once they lost possession and Wavertree pressed down their right there was something of an inevitability about what happened next. One of their men put a deep cross into the visitors’ box that was met at the back post by a scuffed shot into the ground, which bounced up perfectly for another unmarked maroon shirt in the middle and his free header from about ten yards out passed inches beyond McNally’s desperate dive and the underside of the crossbar to reach the back of the net.
It’s football’s greatest high, the late winner, but on the other side of the halfway line Convocation suddenly found themselves in ‘smash glass in case of emergency’ territory. Far too late they piled plenty of pressure on their hosts’ area (possibly more so in the time that was left than in the previous eighty-odd minutes) and won a number of corners, but they all came to nothing. The referee, clearly some sort of masochist, managed to find loads of injury time from somewhere and then right at the knockings he awarded Convo a free kick – God knows what for – but when it was floated into the loaded Wavertree box it passed right through untouched and out for a goal kick. And that, mercifully, was effin’ that; the full-time whistle was blown immediately.
If this match lives long in anyone’s memory it will only be because of how poor it was; neither side played well and seeing as how both couldn’t lose a draw would probably have been the fairest result. Although this report began by suggesting that it would be best not to mention the passing it can’t be overstated just how awful it was on Saturday, and while the conditions and the pitch did their bit to mar the spectacle, the pass selection and execution of pretty much everybody who took part was undoubtedly the main reason for its damnation. There aren’t many games at this level that feel like a chore to watch, but this was one, and it made you envy the Premier League for its winter break.
Still, at least the rain held off.
Man Of The Match: It has got to be McNally. He’s not exactly Billy the Fish, and he didn’t have an awful lot to do, but everything he was required to do, in a supposedly alien position, he did well (unlike Jordan Pickford). There was nothing he could’ve done better to prevent the concession, and as such he was unlucky because he deserved a clean sheet.
Convocation (4-5-1): McNally; Byatt, Welsh A, Welsh J, Farrell (Irakiza, 46); Galy, Long M (Salgado, 58), Shore, Lewis, Parsons; Abussnena
Convocation (4-5-1): McNally; Byatt, Welsh, Shore, Farrell; Huws, Ahmed, Lewis, Gittins, Hughes; Abussnena
[AW] Conceded three soft goals in the first half despite playing better football. A rousing come back in the second to earn a deserved spoil.
Matty Long - Tap in after good buildup
Mike Nawrocki - Screamer from 35 yards
Matty Long - delightful lob over the keeper
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Galy, Railton, Irakiza, Byatt; Cromie, Nawrocki, Long M, Ahmed, Nabil; Lewis; Subs: Welsh A, 'Akan', McNally
Bobby Mimms reports
A new decade and a reawakening for Convocation. Having spent the autumn in fine form, playing with a bit of a swagger, the University boys had hit something of a blip in the closing weeks of the 2010s, so it was nice that as the 2020s got underway for them, footballistically, they were able to get back to winning ways. For their guests, Rhein, a team who this season have been beaten more often than an impudent Victorian child, it was a case of ‘same old, same old’, as despite their impressive pre-match warm-up making them look like they meant business they were once again on the wrong end of a comprehensive defeat.
In fairness to the visitors they weren’t as poor as the final score line suggests and for long periods of the game, especially in the second half, they had Convo pinned back in their own final third fighting something of a rearguard action; fortunately for the home side their defending was (ninety-something percent of the time) up to the challenge. A low, wintery sun glared across Wyncote’s 4G pitch making it rather difficult to see from where the majority of the substitutes and spectators were watching, while a fairly chilly breeze blew the length of the pitch and got stronger and colder as the game progressed, but nonetheless there was still plenty to admire from both sides; plenty to warm the cockles.
Despite Convo Captain Chris McNally thinking he had fifteen bodies at his disposal he was left with thirteen when Andy Parsons pulled out at the last minute [insert own joke here] and Mohammed Nabil overslept… for the two p.m. kick-off. The dramatis personae, therefore, comprised of Alex Hendry in goal, behind a back four of Liam Byatt, Divin De Buffalo Irakiza, Andy Welsh and “Lord” John Farrell, as his captain referred to him (meaning ‘Doctor’ apparently). In midfield Mattys Long and Shore, and Mike Nawrocki started in the centre, flanked by Jerome Galy on the left and Mike Kent on the right, while Taha Abussnena was, as usual, the lone forward.
Decked out in white shirts with thin dark-blue stripes, dark-blue shorts and socks, Convocation got the game going and the opening ten minutes… well, let’s just say they’re unlikely to feature on any End of Decade highlights reel; at half time Vice-captain Jon Welsh – who was one of the two substitutes, alongside McNally, but who had spent the previous three-quarters-of-an-hour running the sideline abandoned by Rhein in favour of sharing their hosts’ – suggested that, “the first ten minutes were a battle against the weight we’ve all put on over Christmas.” (So speaks a man yet to reach middle age.) But then a spot of classic Convo dithering allowed the visitors to attack along their right flank and put a lovely cross into the box that their #13 – a guy who made everyone else on the pitch seem like the Borrowers – butted past Hendry to give his side the lead. There was a suspicion of a push on an opponent during his jump but apparently it would have been harsh had the goal been disallowed, and after consultation with Stockley Park referee Jon Worrall allowed it to stand.
Although Convo would go on to win comfortably the only difference between that successful move and large chunks of the rest of the game was that it was scored; the visitors continued to make life uncomfortable for their hosts throughout the ninety minutes, albeit fruitlessly. That said, within seconds of the restart Abussnena was sent through on goal and smashed a low drive against the foot of one of Rhein’s posts, while moments after that Convocation did equalise. Kent won possession not far outside the centre circle and laid the ball off to Shore, and in a tribute to Hotshot Hamish he cracked across the thing from thirty-odd yards out (unintentionally?) bending it into the bottom right-hand corner of the net (and then through it) as the flummoxed ‘keeper took a step in the other direction.
With the quarter-hour mark just passed there was a sighting of that rarest of beasts: a chance for Farrell to score. He played a well worked one-two with Abussnena deep in the Rhein half and suddenly the path to glory opened up before him, although the opposition ‘keeper was on to his ploy and quickly slid out to claim the ball at the last second, thwarting the Chairman’s latest opportunity to net his first goal for the club.
Several minutes after that though, Convo did take the lead after Shore had scuffed the ball out left to Galy and the Frenchman streaked down the flank, eventually playing a pass inside along the edge of the area to Abussnena, who smacked a low curling shot on the run into the bottom corner of the target. It was a lovely goal.
Unlike their guests Convo were converting their chances, a point perfectly illustrated within the space of sixty seconds, shortly before the half hour. A light-blue-shirted Rhein player somehow put an effort well wide of the target from about six-yards out, although his blushes were spared ever so slightly when the referee – donning a nice yellow top – deemed him to have been offside, but then the hosts went straight down the other end and extended their lead. Irakiza collected the resultant free kick and having drifted forward a little played a long ball up to Kent, just outside the opposition penalty area, and from there he Ricki Villa-ed his way past three or four defenders before thumping a low shot across the ‘keeper and into the net. Unfortunately it would be the scorer’s last real contribution to the game as several minutes later he was forced to limp off having tweaked his hamstring; McNally went on in his stead, up front, while Abussnena dropped back onto the wing.
Kent had done well during his prematurely-terminated time on the pitch and had, like Galy on the opposite flank, covered well when need be whilst also being a constant worry to the Rhein back line when attacking in the other direction; Abussnena was just as troublesome when he dropped back into the middle tier. In between the Convo wingers Shore was probably the one pulling the strings the most, but beside him Long and Nawrocki were definitely doing their bit – the former’s ability to play a defence-bamboozling pass was as acute as ever, while as usual the latter could spot danger a mile off. There was no doubt that they were all having to work hard though, Christmas and all that.
Despite the lead and the help from midfield Convo’s rearguard still underwent a fairly tough afternoon as, from somewhere, their opponents seemed to have found a bit to clench between their teeth; redundant through it all, Welsh (J) on the sideline looked so lonesome he could have passed for Hank Williams. The home side were coping though, as no one was trying to over-complicate things, with Byatt and Farrell not afraid to find Row Z if a pass wasn’t on, and Welsh (A) and Irakiza composed in the middle, albeit not always at the same time. The latter of those two was caught out with a little under ten minutes of the half remaining when Rhein played a ball through the middle and he wasn’t quite quick enough to get across and intercept, allowing the recipient to zip past him and knock a low cross through the box that wasn’t too far away from sneaking in at the back post, but which was also just out of reach of another light-blue shirt running in – it was a worrying few seconds although Kent was a little unfair when he observed, “It’s gone to pot since I went off.”
With three minutes of the half remaining the game was temporarily halted for this week’s instalment of Hendry Feigns an Injury, the slightest of touches by an offside opponent causing the #1 to drop gracefully to the ground like Margot Fonteyn doing the dying swan. From the subsequent free kick – for the offside, not the imaginary foul – Irakiza played the ball forward to Galy, deep in the visitors’ half, and he dribbled inside along the edge of the penalty area before slipping Abussnena into the box and the forward dinked a delightful effort over the advancing ‘keeper that was so dainty it only just hit the nearest upright, whereupon it rebounded back into the arms of the grateful glover.
The final couple of minutes before the break were soundtracked by some very noisy rugby types on a nearby pitch, and one of the Rhein midfielders – who spent the whole game in a state of utter bemusement at his teammates – trotting over to the sideline and whining to his captain (of some undetermined colleague), “Tell him to stop talking to me.” The referee’s whistle that followed moments later had the dual effect of ending the half and signalling that he was off for a wazz behind the bins.
For most of the second period the sun was hidden behind a large cloud bank allowing those on the sideline a decent view of proceedings without having to shield their eyes, while the only other thing visible in the sky, a crystal clear half-moon, gave warning of a cold night to come, although the temperature had already dropped noticeably since the start of the game. None of this was of any concern to the home side though, and within sixty seconds of their guests getting things going again they’d scored another to increase their lead: a long goal kick was flicked on in the centre circle by what was described as “The Axis of Matty” (no one on the Convo bench could recall which of the two namesakes it was, although Shore claimed responsibility after the final whistle) and Abussnena ran clear of the Rhein back line, latched onto the ball and then shot low across the ‘keeper and into bottom corner from several yards inside the penalty area.
It was just as well that that gave the home side such a commanding lead because they wouldn’t get anywhere near their opponents’ goal again for well over half-an-hour and, indeed, for most of that time they found themselves very much on the back foot; the security of being 4-1 up possibly gave them a psychological advantage whilst under the cosh. They were also fortunate that Hendry was on the top of his game (even though he began sounding more and more like Norman Wisdom as it progressed), and in the fiftieth minute, after Rhein had attacked down their right and pulled the ball back from the byline, he was in the right place at the right time when a blue-shirted player fired off a shot through a throng of legs having taken a delightful first touch to control the assist.
For quite a while after that Convocation just couldn’t get out of their final third, and the ball didn’t spend much time out of it either. The midfield wasn't dealing very well with their opponents’ harrying and chasing, and as even McNally dropped deeper and deeper there was no outlet to vent the pressure; a Rhein goal looked inevitable. Even when Welsh (J) replaced Shore due to the latter hurting a foot there was no let-up for the hosts, although the advantage of the near one-way traffic was that everyone on the sideline was facing in the right direction to rubberneck the umpteen-man punch-up that broke out in that nearby noisy rugby match.
Twice in a couple of minutes either side of the hour-mark Hendry and Irakiza had to combine to prevent a goal, although on the first of those occasions a mistake by the defender had caused the problem to begin with. He was caught out doing a bad Beckenbauer impression near the centre circle and his dispossessor played the ball inside to the #13 – the big donkey up front who, apparently, kept leaving his foot in at challenges – who ran through the middle and whacked a shot straight at the Convo ‘keeper. The rebound fell to a second player in light blue, slightly out wide, but by the time he got a shot off the Buffalo had got back and blocked in the six-yard box to redeem himself.
Not long after that the visitors had two even better chances to pull a goal back. Nawrocki was outmuscled just outside his own penalty area and as a result Rhein were able to slip one of their ilk into the box and he fired off a strong, low shot that Hendry did extremely well to push away with the tip of the toes of his outstretched leg, but when the ball stayed in play and was collected by another of the visitors, about twelve yards wide of the target, it was Irakiza who cleared the subsequent attempt off the line.
Slowly but surely the pressure on the hosts abated, possibly due to Rhein becoming increasingly disillusioned the longer they failed to score, although it would probably have become more comfortable for them much quicker if target man McNally, the tallest player in the team, wasn’t taking the bloody throw-ins. Nonetheless, the visitors went close twice in a short space of time with a little under a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, firstly when a man on the edge of the Convocation area received the ball and, despite a suspicion of using a hand, flicked it up, swivelled and shot inches over the bar; a couple of minutes after that Hendry punched clear a cross into the box, and then some, and from about twenty-five yards out another player in light blue half-volleyed back, but again couldn’t keep his effort down.
The sun re-emerged for the final ten minutes, just as the Convo defence started to exhibit their latest avant-garde interpretation of an offside trap; having finally broken free from the confines of their own penalty area the rearguard as a whole had adopted a line so high that they nearly needed oxygen masks, although the central pairing of Irakiza and Welsh (A) were taking it in turns to regularly position themselves a dozen-or-so yards behind everyone else (‘the Andy Willis position’ as it's been known as for years). But despite that scenario having the makings of a good sitcom Rhein never got near their hosts’ goal again, and Convocation even scored a late fifth.
With a little over five minutes remaining Byatt got on the end of a ridiculously deep corner and hooked a shot just wide from way beyond the back post, but then with the Fat Lady beginning to clear her throat Convo did bother their guests’ net and the move that led to them doing so began with a free kick in their own penalty area. From there they eventually played the ball out to the right where McNally had abandoned his preferred position in favour of being onside, and after he’d gone gambolling down the flank in possession he knocked a lovely low cross through the near-empty Rhein box that was perfect for Abussnena, running in, to slot home.
That was pretty much it. The floodlights came on for the final couple of minutes and few were disappointed to hear the full-time whistle when it was blown as it had become really rather nippy, but Nawrocki in particular must have been glad to get back to the changies and to the pub as he looked out on his feet by end, his festive indulgences having caught up with him.
Nonetheless, Christmas came at just the right time for Convocation due to their faltering form, and there’s no doubt that this was a good fixture for them to get going again. They made hard work of it, but once they’d scored their fourth just after the interval you always suspected they would have enough capability and nous to hang on against opponents who rarely taste victory. Against a better team that might not have been the case and they could even have got a bit of a thumping themselves, but as it was they’re back to winning ways. The 2020s are off to a fine start.
Man Of The Match: Had it not been for Abussnena netting a hat trick it would have been Irakiza’s award as (one or two slight hiccups aside) he was the epitome of cool at the back on Saturday, just when Convocation needed it most. As it is, they’ll have to share.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Byatt, Irakiza, Welsh A, Farrell; Galy, Long M, Shore, Nawrocki, Kent; Abussnena; Subs: McNally, Welsh J
[AW] We took an early lead then ref gave them a dreadful penalty. Matty scored a worldly to make it 2-1 at half time.
We still looked the better side but ref was not dealing with their persistent foul play. He overlooked two blatant handballs, the first ending in a penalty for them. He then gave them a goal from 5 yards offside. Denied us a penalty for their handball in the their box. I think their fifth was a series of fouls on that they eventually won the ball and score from. Oh and their captain had threatened to knife a couple of our lads in the first half - I think once the ref heard that he decided he wasn't going to deal with it or give anything against them.
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Byatt, Welsh A, Halliday, Galy; Nawrocki, Kent, Shore, Long M, Williams; Abussnena; Subs: Nabil, McNally
Bobby Mimms reports
If only the half-time whistle had been blown thirty seconds earlier. Convocation had somehow navigated a very difficult opening forty-four minutes of this Intermediate Cup last-sixteen tie with just a one-goal deficit against them and deserved to get to the break so they could regroup. Having already edged through two previous rounds in the competition they were attempting to reach the quarter-finals for the second time in three seasons, but the form book was not on their side as after a fine start to this campaign they’ve hit their first blip over the last couple of weeks. And yet there they were, just about holding on.
But then they conceded again with the last kick of the first period and you sensed that their (admittedly slim) chance of progressing was gone; when two more were netted past them in quick succession, just after the break, nobody was in any doubt that damage limitation was the new name of the game. Concerns prior to the tie were whether Convo would be fazed by the disagreeable reputation of their higher-ranked opponents’ former incarnation, but it was the gulf in class between the two teams that made the difference; ultimately there’d been no need to worry if Roby College by any other name would smell as un-sweet.
Marshalls actually seemed like a fairly decent bunch of lads, although they subjected Convocation to something of a corybantic opening half hour, flying out of the traps all guns blazing and then some, and taking the lead inside five minutes. That opening goal originated from a whipped delivery into the box that was bullet-headed against the home side’s horizontal, the ball then bouncing down and back into play, and with the trapped nerve in referee Ray McLaughlin’s neck causing his wrist to tingle he deemed the effort to have crossed the line; the look on the face of Convo #1 and captain-for-the-day Jonny Welsh suggested he wasn’t so sure.
Within sixty seconds of the restart central midfielder Matty Long was forced to hobble off due to his Achilles shins and was replaced, in what appeared to be a straight swap, by Jerome Galy, who somewhat unexpectedly had spent the first few minutes actually putting himself out and running the line with the official’s flag. Decked out as so often in blue-and-white hoops Convo had begun the game with Matty Shore and Anthony Lewis completing the usual trio of places in the middle, Mabon Huws and Andy Parsons on the flanks (left and right respectively) and Taha Abussnena up front on his own. The back four comprised of Liam Byatt, Andy Welsh, Divin De Buffalo Irakiza and John Farrell (fresh from the Combat 18 training camp if his new near-to-the-bone haircut was anything to go by), while eventually Craig Kaye would turn up on the bench, his tardiness presumably having something to do with delivering a box of Milk Tray on his way in if his attire upon arrival was anything to go by.
The visitors didn’t take their foot off the pedal after that early goal and continued to regularly thunder down on Convocation like an express train: within seconds of the Long-Galy substitution one of their ilk attacked along their right flank and, having played the ball inside, a colleague shot from the edge of the penalty area, forcing Welsh (J) into a fine save down to his left. The low wintery sun was shining across Wyncote’s 4G pitch making it rather difficult to see from the press box, but even so those on the Convo sideline were still astonished by one of their own when a Marshalls man knocked a pass forward from near the halfway line and the voice of one of the defending hosts submitted a late contender for the most ambitious offside call of the decade, as the red-shirted recipient was easily ten yards on; he turned quick as a flash and ran on, and before you could say “Christ, he’s got a bit of pace” he was inside the box shooting past the Vice-captain-cum-‘keeper as he advanced to close him down, although the effort clipped the outside of the nearest upright and rebounded out of play.
Minutes later the visitors created another chance when they triangulated superbly down their right flank before putting a great cross into the Convo box, which one of their unmarked players got on the end of but headed straight at Welsh (J). Having spent the opening quarter-of-an-hour stupefied like rabbits caught in the headlights of a tank, that seemed to finally shake the hooped hosts from their slumber and they soon went close themselves, their opportunity arising after Parsons was snapped near the halfway line and Mr McLaughlin waved on an advantage: eventually the ball arrived at the feet of Huws inside the Marshalls penalty area and his subsequent shot forced the opposition #1 into a strong low save, although when the rebound fell perfectly into the path of Abussnena he should have done better than score three points for Wigan.
Despite that scare the side from Roby continued to bounce around the pitch full of energy, chasing everything and closing their opponents down quickly, and moments after Abussnena’s poor miss they showed him how it should be done and doubled their lead. One of their players attacked down the left and, from near the corner flag, knocked a pass to a colleague more-or-less on the penalty spot, and when he was then allowed to the take six touches in a space roughly the size of a phone box (one for the kids there), wriggling clear of Convocation defenders with nary a challenge put in, the six-yard box suddenly opened up in front of him and he had the time to fire into the top corner. It was no more than Marshalls deserved really.
There was no way they could keep up their pressure and energy levels indefinitely though, and as the midpoint of the half came around they finally had to take a breather, allowing their hosts a bit of time and control of their own. Parsons and Lewis attempted the old ‘roll the corner out of the quadrant’ trick and, with the referee on to it, the latter was able to run into the penalty area unchallenged and fire off a shot that wasn’t particularly venomous but which still ricocheted around between an inattentive defender, the nearest post and the ‘keeper until a big pair of gloves finally brought it under control. The nascent Convo press continued and before long Huws went close with a low effort from the edge of the Marshalls eighteen-yard box that fizzed inches wide of the target, but then came the most impressive piece of skill of the afternoon when the ball was hoofed out of play, over two fences and into the middle of the hockey match happening on the next pitch: there it hit the player in possession who, almost without breaking stride, hoofed it back and then carried on with his attack as if nothing had happened – it was the epitome of cool, and he did it whilst holding an effing big stick in his hands. How Freudian is that?
Possibly enthused by such spectacle Abussnena – who hadn’t exactly been starved of the ball, but had only been in the game in snippets – was played clear through and found the back of the net moments later, but the official deemed his run from near the halfway line to had been a fraction hasty and ruled the notch offside. It was clear from that though, that Convo still had a chance of getting something from the tie, especially as the midfield was beginning to get a foothold on proceedings since their opponents had eased off slightly: Huws and Lewis’ time would come after the break, but right on the thirty-minute mark the other three inhabitants of the hooped middle tier combined to score the first of their side’s goals.
Galy received the ball just inside the Marshalls half and not far from the Convocation sideline but his nearest opponent decided that the time was right to give him a mid-match cuddle, which was deemed acceptable by Mr McLaughlin for some reason. Despite clearly being fouled the Frenchman was able to square to Shore, who was on the edge of the centre circle, and from there he played the pass of the game, splitting the visitors’ defence and finding Parsons on the corner of the penalty area, and after taking a touch-or-two forward the winger knocked a lovely low cross through the six-yard box that Abussnena ran onto and tapped in. The only downside to the goal (depending on your bent) was that the scorer then got tangled up in the back of the net… “with aplomb”.
Convo went close again with a little over five minutes of the half remaining when Galy was played through along the inside-left channel by a lovely pass from midfield, but after he’d turned the only covering (and very tall) defender his low shot was smothered by the Marshalls #1. Not long before that though, the red-shirted visitors (they were also wearing red shorts and aesthetically exotic yellow stockings) had reminded their hosts that they couldn’t be neglected with an effort from about eighteen yards out that was again blocked well by Welsh (J). There was no doubt that the Convocation back line was missing the ‘keeper from their ranks as they looked nervous every time they were required to do some defending: Welsh (A) had an uncharacteristically sloppy afternoon and looked particularly vulnerable on his namesake-saint’s feast day, but whenever he was in possession Irakiza had a whiff of an accident about to happen, while Byatt and Farrell…
The shadows across the pitch were getting longer and longer as the hours of daylight neared their end, while the temperature had begun to drop noticeably, but it made no difference to Convocation and there was little doubt that they were finishing the half the stronger, or that Marshalls had definitely taken their collective foot off the pedal; you still got the feeling though, that it was vital the hoops got to the interval with nothing worse than a one-goal deficit if they were to have a chance in the second period. They nearly shot themselves in their own collective foot with a few minutes remaining when one of the visiting defenders lofted a half-arsed ball forward from forty yards out and pretty much everyone on the edge of the Convo penalty area left it, except for one man in red who ran onto the thing and dinked an effort goalward with the outside of his right peg, but point-blank at Welsh (J), who’d anticipated just such a scenario.
There was little the goalkeeper could do though, when the visitors did score again right on the stroke of half time. They attacked along their left but were thwarted down the side of the penalty area by a great tackle from Shore who, ignoring complaints from the Marshalls bench that he’d used a hand, then got up and cleared into central midfield… where possession was immediately lost. One of the players in red was sent scurrying back up the same flank and after entering the eighteen-yard box not far from the pitch’s end he fired off a shot from a tight angle that might have flashed across the face of the goal had it not taken a slight deflection off somebody; it was impossible to say who got the last touch, but once it had been made the ball crept into the net at the far post, with Welsh (A) on the line watching passively from a foot-or-two away – what on Earth was he (not) doing? It was a cruel blow for Convo; the game didn’t even restart as the referee blew for the turnaround immediately.
The home side managed the impressive feat of starting the second half even slower than the first – no Wacaday badges for them – and within three minutes of the recommencement they’d conceded again. Huws lost out in a challenge just inside his own half and Marshalls pressed forward along the inside-right channel, and after one of their players turned the Convocation defence, and then turned it again, and then turned it some more, he looped/dinked a shot from about five yards out and wide that dropped into the net at the back stick.
Not content with that shambolic offering the Convo back line continued to put up all the resistance of a wet tissue, and moments later they parted like the Red Sea to allow a red-shirted opponent a shot from near their penalty spot but got lucky when it was deflected inches wide (the resultant corner came to nothing). Marshalls though, weren’t a team ready to look this particular gift horse in the mouth and shortly after that they won possession in midfield (or, rather, Convocation lost it) and advanced down their right before melting through the home side’s defence, and when Welsh (J) inevitably came out to narrow the angle the man on the ball squared it to a team mate who, without a hooped player in sight, took full advantage of the invisible linesman’s invisible offside flag going unnoticed and slotted home to make it five-one.
Suddenly, barely half-a-dozen minutes into the second period, there was a worry in Convocation circles that it might become one of those afternoons. The referee finally got tired of Shore’s griping and issued him with a ‘One more word from you, Sonny’ bollocking, while around the same time Kaye was introduced into midfield at the expense of Farrell, with Galy shifting to right back, Huws returning to the wing, and the formation adjusting to a Mike Bassett-esque four-four-fucking-two. It didn’t change much immediately, and only the gods will know how Marshalls didn’t extend their lead shortly before the hour mark when they put a low cross through the Convo box from the right, Irakiza stood back to get a better view of the inevitable goal, and one of the red-shirted forwards put what should have been a four-yard tap-in wide of the back post.
Relentlessly the visitors continued to attack, fully aware that Convo were teetering and one more concession might well open the floodgates. One of their ilk broke through the hoops’ back line down the right but was immediately challenged by Welsh (J), miles outside of his penalty area, and though the body check – for that’s what the challenge was – pushed the man in red wide he stayed on his feet and, after steadying himself, made another dart towards what had become an open goal (Welsh being halfway towards the Pier Head). The ‘keeper though, like the Mounties, was determined to get his man, and a little inside the eighteen-yard box he upended his opponent unceremoniously (as these things usually are) for what was a penalty all day long, but as the ball had been released to another Marshalls type the official played the advantage again, incurring all sorts of wrath several second later when the ensuing shot was sent wide.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky at Wyncote and it was getting the serious side of sodding chilly, so, with the hour-mark having come and gone, Convocation decided to warm things up by scoring a second. They won a free kick just outside the Marshalls penalty area that was floated in but half-cleared, and as most players followed the ball out it was immediately punted back into the box where Lewis was one of the few who had anticipated such an eventuality and having controlled the thing he smashed a shot into the top corner of the nets from about fifteen yards out.
It should have been a springboard for Convo to attack the final twenty-five minutes and try and get something from the game, and in fairness they did create a couple of chances that could have made the end interesting if they’d been taken, but in general the time that remained was pretty much a case of ‘talk amongst yourselves’; Marshalls were in coasting mode, while their hosts kept going but just weren’t good enough. Referee McLaughlin tried to liven things up by getting in everyone’s way (seriously, he must have collided with players half-a-dozen times), but otherwise not an awful lot happened.
That said, Convocation did score a third several minutes before the end, and even attempted a trial run a quarter-of-an-hour earlier. On that first occasion they’d won a corner that was only half cleared by the visitors, allowing Parsons to curl in a lovely low return that reached Abussnena beyond the furthest post and he side-footed back across the face of the goal for Huws, but from four yards out the Welshman somehow fired wide. Not long after that Kaye forced the visitors’ #1 into a good save from near the penalty spot, while someone in red seemed to go off on one regarding shampoo, although after a bit of cogitation it was determined that he was in fact calling out to a colleague: “Trez, to me.”
With five minute remaining one of the Marshalls players ran clear through on goal and lobbed Welsh (J) to find the back of the net, but the referee had long since blown up after a clash of heads between Parsons and an opponent in the centre circle, and shortly after that Convo grabbed that late third. They won a free kick about thirty yards out, which Shore took forcing the opposition #1 into a decent low save, but Abussnena was in the right place at the right time to latch onto the rebound and once again slide the ball back through the six-yard box, and Huws was on hand to make slight amends for his earlier miss by hoofing the thing into the roof of the old onion bag.
From the host’s perspective it could have done with being scored five minutes earlier as that might have set up a nervy finale for Marshalls to negotiate, but as it was there was so little time left the side from Roby had nothing to sweat about (Prince Andrew would have fitted right in). Thirty seconds after the restart Huws could have narrowed Convo’s deficit to one when he had a shot from eighteen yards out, but it was high and wide, and even if he had found the net again the referee signalled the end of the game immediately so there wouldn't have been a chance to snatch an equaliser.
And in fairness Convocation didn't deserve anything more than what they actually got; they didn’t play too badly, they were just beaten by a better team – there’s no shame in that. For the lads from Wyncote to have progressed to the quarter-finals again they would have needed their opponents to have had an off-day and for themselves to play nigh-on perfection, and there were too many times when they were defensively tatty, too many misplaced passes to red shirts.
The decade ends with one last league game next week before they’ve got a month off for Christmas and New Year. Maybe after such a good start to the season and the recent blip it’s come at the right time.
Man Of The Match: Welsh (J) made some fine stops, albeit mostly ones you would expect him to have made, but Galy had probably his best game for ages, in a variety of different positions, so he gets the award.
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Byatt, Welsh A, Irakiza, Farrell; Huws, Shore, Long M, Lewis, Parsons; Abussnena; Subs: Galy, Kaye
Disappointing result but a decent performance with plenty of bizarre refereeing decisions most going againgst us
A good start, then an error at the back as a divin fluffed an easy back pass to allow their striker to go clean through and score. We kept going and got an equaliser by a looping Tom c header only for it to be given offside by the referee, no one else appealed or thought it was any such thing.
We then went clean through on goal, their keeper came out his box jumped and handled the ball and only a free kick given. Second half was one way trafficking from convo but we were met with dogged defending by Woolton and we could only make half chances. We push on to chase the goal and They hit us on the break a few times and could have made it a more flattering score line but Johnny Sharp made some great saves. We continued to press and make chances but couldn't take any with conviction. The match got increasingly testy toward the end as Woolton got more physical and desperate to hang on and the referee took exception to our line. A draw would have been a fairer result but credit to Woolton for digging in and earning their win
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Galy, Byatt, Irakiza, Long J; Cromie, Lewis, Long M, Shore, Kent; Abussnena; Subs: Huws, Nabil, Nawrocki, McNally
Convo made a good start to the game creating 5 chances in first 15 minutes. Should have scored 2 of them.
Then let in a soft goal from our own goal kick.
Then let in an even softer goal from a corner.
Came out much better second half and began making chances. Got a penalty and 2-1 game was back on and there only looked like one winner. A couple of chances to equalise went missed and then Woodstreet scored to make it 3-1 with speculative shot outside the box. There was a brief rally but chances were still missed and then Woodstreet got a suspiciously offside forth to give the score line a unreflective finish. Not the best game from convo, but still plenty of good things and everyone ready to bounce back in the league next week.
Convocation (4-5-1): McNally; Galy, Welsh J, Irakiza, Byatt; Nabil, Huws, Shore, Long M, Lewis; Abussnena; Subs: Long J, Nawrocki, Welsh A
Halfway through November and surely what must be unprecedented scenes for Convocation. Notably that is … WE’RE STILL UNBEATEN THIS SEASON!
McNally’s men have made a superb start to the season, sitting in the heady heights of 2nd in the Liverpool Old Boys 3rd Division and unbeaten after 5 league games. It’s been a strong start to the campaign, but that record would be tested to the max with a visit from Bankhall Misson of the Merseyside Christian League to the hallowed (astro)turf of Wyncote. Convo had beaten St Teresa’s, also of the Christian League, on penalties in the previous round, whilst Bankhall had defeated Huyton Stanley of the Old Boys to reach this stage of the competition. An easy game, this would not be!
With McNally and Welsh sitting this one out to make an appearance for our veteran team, the team would line up as follows. Sharp would start inbetween the sticks, looking to build further on his confident start to Convo life. In front of him would be a back four of the returning Galy (fresh from a stint in the West Indies), Welsh, Divin and Long. Nawrocki, Lewis and Salgado would contest the midfield, with Kent and Parsons patrolling the wings. Taha, fresh from a 4 goal haul the previous week would be the point man once again.
As has been said, this would not be an easy game, and any ideas that Convo could sleep walk their way to the next round were quickly quelled in the opening minutes. Starting in their LB position, Bankhall cut through the red and blue hoops with ease, leading to their striker waltzing through and scoring a fine lob over a helpless Sharp.
But such is the progress of the home side this season, they responded magnificently. Teams of yesteryear would have promptly been flummoxed by such a poor start, and more than liley shipped further goals. Yet this is a different beast. Convo roared back into the game, and within 10 minutes they were level. Bankhall lost possession easily in the midfield, a dangerous mistake against this opposition and it ended with Taha bagging his first goal. But he wouldn’t be finished yet …
Within a further ten minutes, Convo would be in the lead. From a goal kick for the away side, the Convo press worked superbly, Parsons pressuring their centre half into cheaply conceding possession. Upon gaining control of the ball, he unselfishly squared to Taha, who rolled his 2nd of the day past the despairing goalkeeper.
From then, it was an intense end of the half. The midfield battle was intense, and both goalkeepers were called into action. Convos own keeper had to be Sharp on a number of occasions (see what I did there?), making a string of fine saves to keep the home side ahead. Such reliance on these saves would only be a warning sign of the danger to come. From a corner conceded from another fine save, a deep inswinging cross (their corner taker had a wand of a left foot it must be said!) was met at the back post by an away shirt, this week a lovely Ajax away kit of this seasons vintage! And it wasn’t only this reporter day dreaming about the slick kit adorned by the visitors, as the man at the back post much have been doing the same in their ‘attempt’ to clear the ball. Half time: 2-2.
After the wise words of McNally and Welsh were dished out at the interval, back to the action we went. And to be fair, there was a period when Convo couldn’t get out of their own half. Galy in particular looked like his head was elsewhere (back in the West Indies perhaps? I wouldn’t blame him in fairness, it was bitterly cold on the touchline!). Several times at the start of the second half the Frenchman was caught out of position, something that he soon rectified. Yet, for all of Bankhalls pressure, there was precious little of note to trouble Sharp in the Convo net. Long entered the fray to replace Galy in the alien position of RB, a place where he openly admitted “I’m not going over the halfway line lads!”. He wouldn’t have to, as his brother provided a moment of real quality from the other flank, a defence splitting ball sent through to Taha who finished with aplomb for his second hat trick in a week, and more importantly, to send Convo to within 10 minutes of the 4th round! He would later miss probably the easiest chance he had all game, but it wouldn’t be Taha if he didn’t commit such folly when presented with an easier chance.
Shore and Farrell would enter the game late on to see out he win. A dive from the opposition forward in the dying minutes would be met with short shrift from the referee, shouts of “get up” from his own team mates and a cacophony of laughter from Captain Welsh. The game would end with the opposition berating the referee for a dubious decision. In fairness it was a good tackle from their lad, and the referee hadn’t had the best of games. This reporter sensed that he was just glad to escape the astro and the biting cold that had gripped Liverpool at the weekend.
So onto Round 4 we go, with the unbeaten record intact. MOTM this week? A happily tough decision to make, every player to a man stood up and were counted against a good and keen opposition. Honourable mentions go to hat trick hero Taha, and Divin for a superb performance at the back. But this week, this reporter will give MOTM to goalkeeper Sharp. Without several fine saves, Convo could have been looking at defeat and an early exit from the Cup. As it is, we head on into the season with confidence brimming and more cup games to look forward to!
Taha x4 - 9/12/13/52
Parsons - 23
Nawrocki - 50
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Byatt, Welsh J, Irakiza, Long J; Parsons, Nawrocki, Lewis, Long M, Nabil; Abussnena; Subs: Shore, Huws, McNally, Kaye, Railton
Bobby Mimms reports
Well now, this is getting interesting. Quite un-Convocation-like, Convocation’s Firsts have made a bloody good start to the new season; we’re nearly a quarter of the way through the league campaign and they’re still unbeaten. Spooky. They may have kicked things off with that perplexing draw against Liobians – who have also, rather uncharacteristically, begun well – but they’ve followed it up with well-worked wins over tough teams like ACOL and Huyton Stanley, so you have to wonder what’s going on.
Of course, defending has still been deemed an unnecessary luxury so even a comprehensive performance such as this one was accompanied by the odd spot of back-door buffoonery, but it was Convo’s good luck that on Saturday they came up against an Alumni side so lacking in direction at times it was a wonder they managed to get out of their changing room. First Team Captain Chris McNally had fifteen grey-shirted charges at his disposal and by the break they’d galloped into a four-nil lead that they thoroughly deserved. It was a score-line that defined the concept of ‘flattering’ for their opponents in Inter Milan blue-and-black stripes, however Mogadon in the home side’s half-time cuppa (and perhaps a gut feeling of ‘job done’) meant that their advantage would be chipped away at during the second period to give a misleading look of near-parity to the final result.
But while they may have played well and won in the end, Convo’s passing was frequently poor throughout the game, and it was much to their shame that they were only four goals to the good when the teams swapped ends, having spent that opening three-quarters-of-an-hour being their own toughest opponents. It was a damp afternoon and they’d kicked off on the grass pitch adjacent to the artificial one, playing in the general direction of the city centre and with fire in their bellies – it took them eight minutes to get some reward for their domination, (Tim’s) Tom Cromie wriggling into the visitors’ penalty area and then firing beyond the ‘keeper and into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal (as he would have seen it) to give them the lead.
There was a peculiar kind of paradox about the first period, in that Alumni weren’t anywhere near as wretched as the statistics (the score line at the interval) suggest but were completely outplayed, whilst the home side ran away with the half but still made hard work of it. Collectively the visitors were all at sea and as a result couldn't take advantage of Convo’s frequent misplaced passes, but individually there was enough about certain players and their front men in particular to suggest that they couldn’t be disregarded. On the quarter-hour mark though, Convocation were dealt a blow when midfield linchpin Matty Shore was forced to retire due to lurgy (he insisted it was not self-inflicted) and spent the following twenty-odd minutes slumped down against the bottom of the 4G pitch’s railings looking like a cadaverous Eskimo at a fishing hole until the watching Andy Welsh took pity on him and gave him a lift home; he was replaced by Matty Long, who must have been welded into a kit that appeared to be several sizes too small for him.
Despite Convocation’s dominance in the first half there were still periods when not an awful lot happened, and spectators were forced to amuse themselves. One such lull was brightened up by an Alumni foul throw – yes, things could be that dull – a discussion on the Merseyside Christian League and whether it was really an Agnostic League, and a misheard rallying call for Jamie Long (“Go Jay!”) that seemed to be cheering on everyone’s favourite uxoricide-cum-slow-car-chase-champion. But then just before the midpoint of the half the visitors were awarded a free kick down the side of the Convo penalty area for… well, answers on a postcard please; substitute Mohammad Nabil, who'd been closest to whatever the incident had been, was asked what had happened: “Foul” he explained laconically. Nonetheless, the dead ball resulted in a header being sent just wide of the hosts’ goal, which was the only time the striped team went close to scoring before the break.
Almost immediately they came to rue not doing better, because Convocation went straight down the other end of the pitch and scored themselves. Their initial attack appeared to have been thwarted by a clearance from the edge of the opposition penalty area, but then inexplicably one of the Alumni midfielders headed the ball back through his own defence and, unfortunately for him, straight to Taha Abussnena, and he ran on, squared a pass to Breno Salgado, and he slotted past the outnumbered ‘keeper. This caused an explosion of fury from the outwitted visitors who argued for some sort of offside, but the Brazilian hadn't been as he'd been behind play, and his assistor couldn't have been as he'd been gifted in by an opponent; after sixty seconds of raised voices, wild gesticulating and borderline slanderous accusation, referee Sean Charlton began to lose patience with the stripes: “I know the law” he growled, before warning one particularly aggrieved objector, “Be careful, I've had enough.”
For the next ten minutes Alumni played like they’d been up all night tooting crack and it was clear that they’d been rattled by what they saw as an injustice, and yet somehow they came out of the spell without conceding again. Just about. Convo twice went close during that time, firstly when they won a corner after Abussnena had nearly set up Cromie with an open goal only for a defender’s toe to prevent him from scoring, and from the quadrant kick Long (J) headed against the angle of the frame of the goal. Then, shortly after that, “Tim’s Grandson” (as the passing Andy McLaren accidentally called him later on in the game) created another chance for himself when he picked up possession in midfield, ran on and shot just wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Convo had begun the game in their usual 4-5-1 formation, with Jon Sharp in the nets and Abussnena up front on his own. The back line comprised of Jon Welsh and Divin De Buffalo Irakiza in the centre, with Liam Byatt and Long (J) on the flanks (left and right respectively), while ahead of them were Cromie and Mike Kent (left and right wings respectively), with Salgado, Shore (who, as previously mentioned, had been replaced by Long (M)), and Mike Nawrocki in the middle of the pitch, but the latter barely made it past the half-hour mark before he limped off with a knackered hamstring, Mabon Huws going on in his stead.
By the time proceedings reached the final seven-or-eight minutes of the opening forty-five Convo’s players had stopped dropping like flies, but the pitch was definitely in a poor state and had started cutting up badly. It was presumably having an effect on the competitors as well, as there can be no other reason why the Alumni captain would describe a nasty looking challenge by one of his men in the middle of the pitch as “a tired tackle”… in the first half? The visitors were undoubtedly getting very sloppy though, and Huws was soon caught late in their eighteen-yard box resulting in a penalty, which Abussnena sent to the ‘keeper’s right to make it 3-0.
Alumni weren’t quite clinging on for half time and continued to attack (well, try to), but they’d also started to shoot themselves in the collective foot by ceding possession to their hosts at very inopportune moments (it was something they’d picked up from their hosts), and when Salgado was first to a loose ball in the centre circle with three minutes remaining he played a lovely pass for Huws to run onto (the Brazilian got wiped out by an opponent in the process, while you could almost hear the Welshman Meep-Meep-ing as he streaked towards the Alumni area), and from about fifteen yards out he slotted low past the opposition #1 for Convo’s fourth.
That was more-or-less it for the half, although there were concerns that all was not right with Cromie as he appeared to have begun hallucinating: with the last kick before the break he knocked an impressive ball up the wing… to an imaginary friend. None of the misplaced passes that preceded it had anything on that.
If the visitors were to get anything from the game they needed to come out for the restart with all guns blazing, and they did so, and it nearly paid off immediately: within ten seconds of the recommencement they forced Irakiza into scuffing an attempted clearance on the edge of the Convocation penalty area and a blue-and-black shirt pounced on the loose ball and shot just wide. It was obvious straight away that they were attacking with more urgency – although in truth they could hardly have attacked with any less – and they got their reward after five minutes when, moments after the wincing Nawrocki acknowledged that Cromie had “had a great game”, the winger immediately lost possession, an opponent played a diagonal pass into the hosts’ penalty area, and a guy who was clearly offside slotted past Sharp to begin what Alumni must have hoped was a comeback.
Within two shakes of a lamb’s tail (assuming you shake it once a minute) they’d got a second back. In need of a breather Cromie subbed himself and Nabil went on in his place, and he was immediately plunged into the thick of the action: Convo conceded a free kick of the edge of their penalty area which one of the guests punted into six-yard box, and in amongst all sorts of hanky-panky going on in there the ball was headed into the back of the net; everyone on the sideline was convinced that it was the incoming substitute’s first touch and an own goal, although he later denied it. Hmmmm…
It was clear by this time that Convocation were having one of their traditional mini-naps, but rather inconveniently the game was in next-goal-is-quite-important territory and the greys persisted in putting out more clumsy passes than at a teenage school disco. However… They should have scored in the ninth minute of the second period when Salgado sent Abussnena through with a beautiful pass from his own half and the forward rounded the Alumni ‘keeper but then fired across the open goal, admittedly from a tight angle, but then almost within an instant the two (sort of) combined again when the Brazilian shot from about twenty yards out and the #1 could only parry the ball into the path of the in-rushing Convo forward, who finished off the rebound like a sniper.
That would have been the end for poorer teams but fair play to Alumni, they’ve got some spunk about them, and on the hour mark they netted a third. Convocation conceded a free kick out on the left wing which was pinged into the box and a striped-shirted player ran in past the dallying throng and wellied a shot onto the underside of the crossbar, which then bounced down and back up into the old onion bag. On the sideline the reaction was unanimous: good luck predicting how this was going to end.
Convo should have gone a long way towards putting the game to bed (again) with about twenty minutes remaining when Salgado picked up possession in the middle of the pitch, ran on leading the opposition a merry dance, and with McNally’s voice breaking with encouragement from sideline shot across the target and just wide. Mr Charlton initially decided that the ‘keeper had made a good save, an opinion shared by the Convocation sideline, but after several seconds of Alumni nagging he changed his mind and gave a goal kick; he seemed to agree with the visitors’ calls a lot on Saturday.
With about fifteen minutes remaining the game ground to a halt around Nabil when, as the ball was passed to him, he dropped to his haunches because he was injured, and Cromie returned in his place, but things hadn’t changed much while he was off and Convo’s passing continued to be, well, nothing of the sort. Alumni probably sensed that their hosts were wobbling and attempted to gear up for some sort of grand finale, but Sharp was having none of that and, at one particular goal kick, insisted on finishing a calculus problem he'd been given first, incurring the wrath of the official, although without receiving a caution.
Alumni were done though, easy as it is to say with hindsight, and didn’t get near their hosts’ goal again. In the closing stages of the game Convocation went close two more times, both without success, but both with the fingerprints of Huws on the blueprints. He attacked down the right and flew into the box before putting the ball into the path of Abussnena, who in the middle of the goalmouth then channelled the spirit of Tommy Cooper by performing the impressive feat of blocking his own shot by firing against his own other leg. Not long after that the Welshman knocked a corner into the box that Salgado got onto the end of, but he directed his stooping header straight at the opposition ‘keeper.
And that was that. At the final whistle Convocation could celebrate another three points under their belts, even if they had huffed and puffed much more than they’d needed to. Much to the delight of the fuller-padded members of the club a burger van had pulled up outside the changies – it was some sort of (modern) student thing – but there’s nothing unhealthy about the Firsts’ progress so far this season, especially after Saturday’s peculiar example of grinding out a thrashing; it may have been an oddity but these are strange times at Wyncote. Dare we dream of a title challenge…?
Man Of The Match: Cromie played particularly well and deserves a mention, but Salgado nicks this week’s award for an equally good performance, but also because he delivered one of the best passes seen at Wyncote since Jack Stopforth roamed the swards (the one that set up Abussnena for his open-goal miss).
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Byatt, Welsh J, Irakiza, Long J; Cromie, Shore, Nawrocki, Salgado, Kent; Abussnena; Subs: Long M, Huws, Nabil, McNally
[Convoreuters] Anthony Lewis missed Convo’s first penalty in the shoot-out, and St Teresa’s scored theirs. But then Matty Shore, Jamie Long and Mike Nawrocki all converted, while Jonny Sharp saved three on the bounce. Fifth up for Convocation would have been Andy Parsons, who later admitted: “I was shittin’ meself.”
Convocation (4-5-1): Sharp; Long J, Welsh J, Byatt, Galy; Abussnena, Salgado, Lewis, Nawrocki, Parsons; Nabil; Subs: Shore, McNally (not used)
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