Convocation (v Collegiate O.B., 12/04/22)
Back Row: Weston-Beyer, Owen, Turpin, Lewis (First Team co-vice-captain), Russell, McGrath, [Bland, behind], Welsh A (club secretary), Randall, Greene
Front Row: Halfpenny, Bower, Hartt, Welsh J (First Team captain), Shore
Bobby Mimms reports
Well, who saw this coming? After a month in which they’ve taken their collective foot off the ball, both mentally and at times literally – two walkovers for opposing teams being the consequence – Convocation’s Firsts turned up for their final game of the season at the scene of one of the club’s biggest what-ifs and turned over title chasing Collegiate. And it wasn’t as if their old foes could have any grounds for complaint either, as they didn’t play well and for fair old chunks of proceedings were outperformed by the boys from Wyncote.
Of course, playing at Holly Lodge meant that for the second time in two weeks the Convo crew were subjected to the horrors of rush-hour Queens Drive, and once they arrived at the girls’ school and started to warm up it quickly became clear that the pitch left a lot to be desired as well: it was hard, bobbly, and daisy strewn. It was a cool evening and slightly overcast (not like the evening of that cup final in 2018, from which only three of those who’d been present were on show on Tuesday), which might not sound like ideal holiday conditions, but was just what the doctor ordered for seeing out your final football match of the campaign.
Collegiate were in yellow, Convocation dark blue, and the first ten minutes… well, let’s pretend that they never happened; there’s so much of the rest of life to enjoy. The game’s first real shot in anger came just after that when a wandering Elliot Halfpenny found himself on the edge of the home side’s area and fired straight at the ‘keeper, although he probably could have sneezed his effort harder. It was enough to shake the tie out of its early lethargy though.
Moments after that Convo went close again when Matty Shore knocked the ball forward and Anthony Lewis ran onto it with one defender for company, headed the thing down into the ground to get it under control, and then rolled his adversary before firing off a shot from about twenty yards out. The Collegiate #1 – who was decked out in a purple top and had the forehead of Ant McPartlin – was far from convincing in his stop, blocking the effort with one arm and almost deflecting it into his own net, although his unintentional act of self-sabotage went unrewarded, and his side remained on par.
And they would have forgotten all about his tomfoolery several minutes later when they went down the other end and took the lead. They attacked along their right until a player with the ball came up against Halfpenny, turned him a little too easily, and then put a smart low cross into the Convo goalmouth where a team mate fired towards the back post. He didn’t score though, because Tom Bower was in the right place to make a great block before the shot could cross the line, but his efforts were in vain as another guy in yellow was first to the rebound and smashed home at the other upright.
Sixty seconds later it was two-nil to the hosts. Again, they attacked along their right flank, but this time when the player in possession entered the Convo area he was challenged and lost it. In such a situation there’s nothing like a good clearance, and to be fair Shore’s was nothing like a good clearance – he scuffed the ball to an opponent lurking just inside the eighteen-yard line, and he curled the thing into the bottom corner of the goal past numerous bodies and the dive of keeper-for-the-day Jon Welsh. Fifteen minutes had gone, and it was perhaps understandable if many of those associated with Convocation developed something of a sinking feeling.
They’d started the game with a back line comprising of Halfpenny (l) and Bower (r) flanking Andy Welsh and Harvey Weston-Beyer, and though they hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory at those two quickfire goals the worst of their evening was over. In midfield Shore was joined by Rhys Owen and Liam Hartt in the centre, with Anthony McGrath on the left and Jay Russell on the right, Lewis was as per the lone forward, and on the bench Andy Greene and Alexes Turpin and Randall did their best not to attract the attention of the Holly Lodge midges.
It’d had little to do with the two concessions, but it was noticeable that whenever Convo pushed forward into their opponents’ half of the pitch they were defending with a line so high it could have come from a Minnie Riperton song – one for the kids there – such as when Owen sent an effort soaring over the bar from just outside the Collegiate area, following a Weston-Beyer throw-in taken near their corner flag; what the hell was he doing there, especially as only Bower was back. The midfielder would repeat the trick several minutes later from an almost identical position (if you’d been watching the game on television you’d swear it was an instant replay), but in between those two ‘shots’ the home side went close when one of their boys – he looked about twelve – got on the end of a cross into the goalmouth from out on the left but, leaning back and overbalancing, fired high into the air; amazingly, the ball fell back down to earth to where he lay just outside the six-yard box, but at the second time of asking, and despite no one in blue mopping up, he could only nudge it into the arms of the nearby Welsh (J).
Convo’s best chance to score thus far came about when Weston-Beyer broke quickly down the left after a Collegiate corner was hoofed clear, but having run the best part of the length of the pitch with only one defender back he shot straight at the opposition ‘keeper when the equally alacritous Russell had kept pace with him away to his right and was totally unmarked – the centre half really should have squared. The home side showed him how it should be done moments later when they attacked back the other way down the same flank and from the byline one of their men knocked a reverse pass to a team mate running in, but his low effort was just wide of the opposite post.
But then, having spent some time reacquainting themselves with their drawing board, the visitors pulled a goal back shortly before the half-hour mark. Collegiate got away with a fairly obvious handball in the area when referee Robert Adamson – a flouncy young fellow who looked as if a decent gust of wind would carry him away – waved play on, but within seconds Convo were probing once again, and when the yellows only half cleared the danger Bower flicked a pass back over their dog’s leg of a back line and a defender tried to intercept but toed it goalward. The ‘keeper, who was only a couple of yards inside his box, did well to make a parrying save, but he could do nothing when Lewis then ran in past him and rolled the loose ball into the yawning nets.
The hosts nearly regained the two-goal advantage almost immediately when they were awarded a very dubious free kick some fifteen yards inside the Convo half of the pitch, which they lumped into the box and Welsh (J) punched poorly to an opponent. From the edge of the area he struck a rising shot that smashed against the left-hand post (as he would have seen it) and then rebounded across the face of the target, where Bower got something on the ball to make sure it never crossed the line and then Weston-Beyer put it out for a corner. And that was a waste of everyone’s time.
Six or seven minutes after that the home side went close again when they played out from the back and one of their ilk ran through the Convo rearguard onto a pass along the inside right channel, and ignoring calls for offside (which he wasn’t) he got into the area and past Welsh (J) and rolled the ball towards the empty goal, but Weston-Beyer got back and cleared the thing before it could cross the line. Nevertheless, Collegiate were their own worst enemies going forward, frequently overcomplicating things with unnecessary back heels and flicks, while at the other end you’ve never seen so many defensive slices; you got the feeling that if they’d gotten their act together rather than fannying around as much as they did, then they would have taken something from the game.
A case in point was when, with about five minutes of the half remaining (and two after Owen had committed his compulsory comedy foul on an opponent), one of their players fired over the bar from the edge of the Convo area after they’d had their guests under the cosh for what felt like ages but kept shooting themselves in the foot with their choice of passes, or just the state of them. It wasn’t their fault though, when, after Welsh (J) had blocked a blasted shot on his goal, a second effort quite clearly hit the arm of someone in blue but the referee awarded the hosts a corner – they were not happy, but at least he was being consistent.
They were downright livid a couple of minutes later though, when they conceded a throw-in about level with the edge of their own eighteen-yard line that Shore took, and at the front of a packed box (not far from the corner of the area) Lewis back-headed the ball over everyone, including the Collegiate ‘keeper, and it dropped into the net at the far post. Half time was called about ten seconds after the restart – why bother? – and Convo went in level.
Turpin entered the fray for the start of the second period in place of McGrath (who’d never really got into the game), and was in the thick of the action almost immediately. Every bounce of the ball continued to be an adventure due to the state of the pitch – it was less predictable than a pinball machine – but that didn’t prevent the incomer and Shore combining in some good interplay around the edges of the Collegiate penalty area, before a pass was pulled back for Lewis running in and he curled a shot that looked goalbound all the way until the opposition ‘keeper tipped it around his post with a fine diving save. The vice-captain was at it again several minutes later, firing into the side netting after receiving a quickly taken throw-in from Russell.
Hartt had finally popped up from wherever he’d been hiding in the first half and was much more involved in the game in the fifteen-or-so minutes after the interval, until he was substituted for Randall, who in turn looked lively roaming the green in the half-an-hour he was on the pitch. By the time of that change though, back in defence, Weston-Beyer was already hors de combat, a hamstring injury having forced him to hobble/hop off in some pain, with Greene going on in his stead; he slipped in alongside Welsh (A) as seemingly effortlessly as he has in the rearguard for most of the season, and their partnership was another of the reasons that Convo left Holly Lodge with all the points.
Either side of the hour mark they had a couple of chances to take the lead for the first time, and both fell to their top scorer. The first began with a great challenge by Bower inside his own box, after which Russell broke quickly and eventually laid the ball off to Shore to his right, and he sped on into the Collegiate penalty area and blasted a shot across the goal and inches wide of the far post. Moments after that the midfielder was sent through again after the hosts had lost possession following a bad bounce – natch – but his subsequent attempt at a lob merely ended with the ‘keeper making an easy catch above his head.
Ominous dark clouds had begun rolling in from the direction of the Irish Sea and it soon got rather gloomy and was trying to spit; a couple of the Collegiate players joked that it was too hard to see and suggested that the official should abandon the game. They obviously knew what way the wind was blowing as Convo were spending more and more time in their half of the pitch and defending more-or-less on the halfway line; at one corner to the visitors Welsh (A) scolded Greene for not marking the lone opposition forward tightly enough in the centre circle: “Don’t point, get close”, he instructed, which sort of made him sound like Right Said Fred. At about the same time Turpin was sent clear through on the home side’s ‘keeper, but in the ensuing coming together on the edge of the area was penalised by young Mr Adamson despite being the one to get clobbered and bloodied.
Shore’s blatant foul on an opponent who’d got past him, just after that, was much more clear cut and probably deserved a yellow card, but on the pro side of his game he went close again a minute-or-two later with a curling shot from out on the left that was only just wide of the back post. It had become quite apparent though, that the Collegiate midfield was running on empty much earlier than might have been expected, but it didn’t stop the team as a whole looking occasionally threatening, and at one point only an audacious mid-air back heel interception from Bower – it was like something Paolo Di Canio might try – prevented one of their men being clear through on the Convo goal.
By the time the game entered its final ten minutes the threat of a downpour had passed a little, but those tenebrific clouds remained, and as the sun started to set somewhere in the distance the sky behind them began to light up with an almost apocalyptic orangey-red glow that made you wonder whether there were some sort of California-style wildfires laying waste to Tuebrook and Everton. And it was into this hellish backdrop that Convocation scored what would turn out to be the evening’s decisive goal: they won a throw-in not far from Collegiate’s right-hand corner flag that Halfpenny received and then whipped in like an overzealous dominatrix, and though his cross-cum-shot might have found the back of the net without any assistance, Lewis removed all doubt by sniffing it on the line for his hat trick.
Collegiate had more than just the match to lose, and for final five minutes they threw the kitchen sink and most of the plumbing at their guests, who did rather well (all things being relative) to waste time by taking the ball off to the nether regions of the pitch whenever they managed to get out of their own half. The hosts had a couple of chances to rescue a point late on, the best being when, from a deep corner, someone in yellow sent a powerful header towards the back of the net, but Welsh (J) made a fine diving save to his left to keep the thing out. And then a free kick out on the wing in the dying seconds was put into the mixer but nutted over the crossbar.
And that was that. Everybody looked out on their feet at the end and there was little in the way of exuberant celebration, but there was a desire for a team photo with the sky’s fading glow in the background. It was a great way to end the season, especially as the win involved coming back from two down and was no more than Convo deserved – apart from when they switched off for a couple of minutes in the first half, and a handful of other momentary wobbles, they played very well and were easily the better side.
Normally a victory over Collegiate, and particularly one that has thrown a spanner in the works for their hopes of winning the league, would be especially savoured, but the side they put out on Tuesday was one of the friendliest and fairest versions of them your correspondent has ever known, and you almost – almost – felt sorry for them. They might still go on and claim the title, but for Convo the sad thing about Tuesday’s game was that it signified the end of the season at a ridiculously early juncture – some clubs have still got nearly two month’s worth of fixtures left, but the Firsts have nothing to look forward to but the AGM. Thanks a lot, Wyncote.
Man Of The Match: There were few grumbles about the way anyone played on Tuesday, but obviously with Lewis grabbing a hat trick his performance stands out, so he gets the MOTM award.
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Halfpenny, Welsh A, Weston-Beyer, Bower; McGrath, Owen, Shore, Hartt, Russell; Lewis; Subs: Turpin, Greene, Randall
Bobby Mimms reports
It may have been Grand National day at Aintree, but nine miles away from the racecourse the weekend’s big sporting action was in deepest darkest Halewood, where Convocation looked to upset the odds against title-chasing Kingsthorne. And lovers of a gamble could have cashed in there too, as the match finished as the form book decreed, with a home win, but it was not the comfortable victory that many suspected it would be, as the visitors made their hosts fight right to the end – unfortunately, one or two of them wanted to do so quite literally.
Still, at least Convo were able to put a team out, unlike last week when, for the second time in a month, they had to forfeit the game and the points for want of players; possibly because Liverpool had an early start at Anfield against Watford, it’s worrying that a number of the squad don’t always look that willing when the balloon goes up. There was no doubting the commitment on Saturday though, even if it did take a while for them to get going, as they very nearly pulled off a great comeback to snatch a point, and even the one goal loss was a vast improvement on the 5-1 defeat they suffered at home to Kingsthorne on the opening day of the season (although, if memory serves, that scoreline flattered the visitors to Wyncote).
Decked out once again in dark blue, Convocation got the game going and for a few minutes little of note occurred as the two teams sized each other up. The first decent chance of the afternoon went to the home side when one of their guys got on the end of a deep cross into the Convo box, far too easily, but headed wide poorly at the back post; not long after that the visitors lost the ball just outside their own area, whereupon another Kingsthorne player fired marginally off target.
Convo weren’t playing badly though, and after thirty seconds of good, patient build up Anthony Lewis received the ball maybe ten yards outside the hosts’ penalty area, dribbled into it past a couple of ineffectual defenders, and then kerblammed a shot over and across the goal, but close enough to have the opposition ‘keeper flapping. The vice-captain really could have done with scoring because within two minutes, just short of ten gone, it was his side’s net that was billowing: Kingsthorne won possession in the middle of the park and then slipped a pass through the heart of their guests’ rearguard – again, far too easily – and without anyone going with him one of their forwards ran on and fired diagonally across the baize past Alex Hendry.
Ahead of the Convo #1 the starting back line consisted of (from left to right) Elliott Halfpenny, Andy Welsh, Harvey Weston-Beyer, and Tom Bower, while in midfield, behind lone forward Lewis, captain Jonny Welsh was joined in the middle by Rhys Owen and Matty Shore, and Jay Russell (l) and Mike Kent (r) were on the wings. On the bench, bathing in the warmth of the sunshine (but shivering in the brutality of a strong wind), were club chairman John Farrell, Andy Greene, Liam Hartt, and Anthony McGrath.
It had become evident quite quickly that the red-and-black-liveried hosts were much narkier than they’d seemed when the two sides met back in September, and several of their ilk had a sense of entitlement about them that’s quite common in players who’ve won countless Champions Leagues in their bedrooms; never was this more apparent than when they got the ball in the Convo net again but it was correctly ruled out for offside, which was everyone’s fault but their own. A brewing animosity wasn’t helped by the referee, Tom Jackson, letting pretty much everything go, a laissez faire attitude that would eventually lead to a bit of rammy at the end of the half, although his patience with the Kingsthorne #7 – who was displaying an impressive level of gittery – snapped well before then, and he stopped the game to warn their captain about the player’s bellicose behaviour.
As the midpoint of the half neared the visitors had two chances to equalise, firstly when a long ball out from the back sailed past the high-lined Kingsthorne defence and, with Russell in pursuit, the ‘keeper came charging out of his goal believing that it was his – but it wasn’t, and, caught in no man’s land, he was lucky when the Convo winger’s lob over him was also just beyond the crossbar. Moments after that the dark blues passed their way forward, until possession ended up with Lewis who dribbled with it to the edge of the home side’s area and shot, and though his effort was closer than earlier, it was still straight at the #1 (who, like Hendry at the other end of the pitch, was donning a lime green top).
For a while many of Kingsthorne’s shots and clearances sailed over the pitch’s high perimeter fence, but that wouldn’t last forever, and at the end of a string of corners in quick succession one of their men kept his header down, although it was still too high to trouble the Convo nets. Within a couple of minutes (in the twenty-sixth) they were back with another quadrant kick, and a deep one at that, and when a red-shirted player got on the end of it he bullet-browed the ball back across the face of the goal towards the opposite top corner, where Halfpenny on the line was not quite tall enough to clear.
The young full back went some way to salving his disappointment at that, moments later, by showing off some ball juggling skills on the corner of the Kingsthorne area before passing the thing to Lewis, who in turn laid it off to Shore, and he forced the ‘keeper into conceding a corner with a decent save; from that, Weston-Beyer headed just over the horizontal. Not long after the thirty-minute mark Convocation went close again when Owen curled a free kick, awarded in the middle of the home side’s half of the pitch for a foul on Bower, into their goalmouth and an almighty scramble ensued that only ended when someone hoofed clear, although there were one or two in blue that were convinced the magic line had been crossed. It didn’t take long for Convo to rue those wasted chances because, almost immediately, a long goal kick up the pitch was allowed to bounce and a pacey man in red ran through their back line and lobbed Hendry from outside the area. 3-0.
Kingsthorne had taken their goals well, but it wasn’t a three-nil game; the visitors were not playing poorly, even if they weren’t playing great either. Lewis was getting a fair amount of opportunity to score, which suggested that the Convo midfield were dictating the pace more than just now and again: in the middle Owen, Shore and Welsh (J) were holding their own against physical opponents, while Russell was at times almost a second striker, such was the chances he was getting to push forward; on the right flank Kent was having a quieter time of it, although that was more to do with the majority of the action taking place on the other side of the pitch, as there was no question about his endeavour.
The defence were having something of an unforgiving half – they’d only been caught out twice but been punished on both occasions. Out in the full back berths Halfpenny and Bower hadn’t had too much to do, yet did what was needed ably, but in the middle Welsh (A) and Weston-Beyer were under much more pressure as that was where Kingsthorne appeared to be concentrating most of their efforts – and where the daydreaming that contributed to two of the concessions had hailed from.
Despite their three-goal lead you sort of got the feeling that some of the Kingsthorne players were a little irritated by Convo’s lack of deference, and the aggro-ometer of their #7 in particular was wavering dangerously close to the red; on a couple of occasions his team mates had to have a word with him and tell him to pipe down. And then Owen and an opponent jumped for a high ball right in front of the home side’s bench, and the former caught the latter in the face with a flailing arm that bloodied his nose – cue: bedlam. It seemed to take ages for all the belligerents to calm down and there was a worry that the referee was losing control (he’d not long, unwittingly, allowed Kingsthorne to take a free kick in their half instead of a throw in), and perhaps aware of that he blew for the break after barely sixty seconds of added time, when there should have been much more.
Welsh (J) was not a happy bunny during the interval and gave his troops (what for him counts as) a bollocking, but he did stress that three-nil wasn’t game over and urged everyone to go back out and get the next goal. That wouldn’t include Weston-Beyer though, as he was feeling a little lame in one leg and was replaced by Greene; Owen had already been taken off by the captain, just before the break during all the aggro, due to far too many Kingsthorne players warning that they were going to do him a mischief, with Hartt having gone on in his stead.
The hosts got the second half going, attacking the other way as is the fashion, and for a minute-or-so they probably thought that everything would be as comfortable as it had been before the interlude. But then Convo won possession and knocked the ball around for a while until eventually it was played to Lewis, and from about twenty-five yards out he fired off a shot with the precision of William Tell that arrowed into the net just under the crossbar. It was a cracking finish that deserved an old-fashioned parka charge, although it has to be said that the ‘keeper didn’t exactly cover himself in glory.
It’s impossible to say whether it was because of that goal so soon after the restart, but it was noticeable in the early stages of the second period that Kingsthorne were not as cocky as they had been in the first, and at times it even looked like they might be wobbling. Convo were unable to take advantage of their opponents’ sudden hesitancy though, with only Hartt going close to reducing the arrears further during that short spell, but his shot from a little outside the penalty area was always rising and ultimately cleared the frame of the goal with a bit to spare.
The home side’s self-doubt was never going to last forever though, and they went close to scoring on a few occasions once the hour mark was passed. For the first of those they attacked down their left flank, where a guy chasing for the ball with Welsh (A) left the Convo secretary dumped unceremoniously on his backside, which, when the referee saw no wrongdoing (and he was probably correct), momentarily threatened to kick things off again – thank god then for the calming influence of Hendry, who made a great block when the player in red ran on into the area and fired off a low effort… and then kicked off again himself, claiming that the shooter had left his foot in when the two crunched into each other.
Not long after that the hosts advanced from deep along their right, and though Halfpenny held up and pushed wide the opponent who ended up with the ball, he still managed to get off a shot, although could only direct it into the side netting. Back they came again, back on the left, this time selling Welsh (A) – who was having a rather unfortunate few minutes – a pup, but at least leaving him on his feet; his tormentor then ran on into the Convo area and blasted inches wide of the far post, the effort also being a toenail out of reach of a red-shirted colleague sliding in.
You can only imagine that it was their inability to kill off the game that had the Kingsthorne players at each other’s throats, lovely that it was to see, but there was no doubt what really got their collective goat when, with a little under twenty minutes remaining, they conceded again. At their own throw-in they almost immediately lost the ball to Shore, who played it in to Lewis, and when he in turn laid it off to Russell the winger ran on into the area and scuffed a weak shot past the ‘keeper – a good gust of wind blowing towards it (rather than from behind) would probably have stopped it – into the opposite corner of the old lobster pot. They all count, but let’s not beat around the bush: it was a very scruffy finish.
Before too long the visitors could well have scored again when, getting on the end of a goal kick, Welsh (J) sent Russell scampering away along the inside-left channel, and when he put a deep cross into the box Lewis powered a header goalward that the Kingsthorne ‘keeper only just scrambled away; a defender in red mopped up the loose ball and launched it up the pitch. The captain’s ailing legs capitulated not long after that and he subbed himself with McGrath (with Russell going up front, and Lewis dropping into midfield), and almost immediately Hendry was called upon to make a great double save, which of course he followed up by getting into a spat with the shooter, as you would expect from a footballer who could start a fight in an empty changing room (even if he’d prefer a full one).
Suddenly though, Convocation were under pressure from their hosts – backs to the wall stuff. For several minutes the ball never crossed the halfway line, and only occasionally got near the centre circle, although to the credit of the boys in blue they limited their opponents to just the one shot, a twenty-five-yard drive that drifted not far off the target. The defence was coping, with Greene in particular putting in a good shift, and Halfpenny and Bower also alert to Kingsthorne’s machinations (Welsh (A) seemed to be in wound-licking mode), while in time of such peril the midfield had dropped deep to help out – although that might explain why Convo couldn’t clear their bloody lines – especially Kent and McGrath, the latter looking to be the best chance of a quick break, should one arise.
Eventually the visitors managed to end the siege and with about five minutes to go they had a great chance to level the scores when Russell was sent clear through on goal by a long ball out of defence (the game management of the home side as they piled forward in search of a fourth they, at that point, didn’t need, leaving a lot to be required): he looked like he was running through glue though, and, somewhat trigger un-happy, put off shooting for far too long, gifting an opponent valuable extra seconds to get in a last-ditch challenge on the edge of the area and snuff out the threat. It wasn’t long before the Convo man’s indecision came back to haunt him and his team.
As the game edged towards its ninetieth minute, with most of the visitors camped out in the Kingsthorne half looking for an equaliser, the home side knocked the ball up their left flank to a couple of red-shirted types loitering together on the halfway line with only Welsh (A) for company. The Convo defender stretched to try and intercept the pass, but if he got a touch he only knocked it on for his opponents, and despite one or two calls for offside and the frantic flagging of tyro linesman Jacob Purcell, the player who took possession ran on, eventually into the area, and slotted underneath Hendry as he advanced.
4-2 and game over you might have thought, but with the home side celebrating as if under the impression that ‘nothing can go wrong now’ Shore noticed the Kingsthorne ‘keeper fannying around outside his area and launched a lobbed effort goalward straight from the restart. Still outside his box the #1 woke up to the danger at the last second and tried to parry the shot using his hands, and it was probably only the fact that the ball found the back of the net anyway that prevented the referee from issuing him with a red card.
The goal was too little too late for Convocation though, as full time was signalled less than sixty seconds later.
It was their sixth defeat on the bounce (although two were walkovers and one was in the cup), but there should be no reproach for how they played on Saturday. Despite a slow start to the game they didn’t really deserve to be three-nil down, and they showed great spirit to get back into it after the break; with a bit of better luck they may even have snatched something from it.
Their final fixture of the season is on Tuesday evening at Collegiate, and once again they will be second favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers. But if Sam Waley-Cohen can go out on a high, why can’t they…?
Man Of The Match: Russell, Greene, and Halfpenny all put in fine shifts, but it’s Lewis who’s this week’s recipient of a (promise of a) magnum of Champagne (other sparkling wines are available). On Saturday he probably set up more chances than he took on, but his goal alone is enough for him to pip his colleagues to the award, so he does.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Halfpenny, Welsh A, Weston-Beyer, Bower; Russell, Owen, Welsh J, Shore, Kent; Lewis; Subs: Hartt, Greene, McGrath, Farrell (not used)
Bobby Mimms reports
It may be a little unfair to suggest that Convocation’s First Team are already on the beach, but there can be no doubt that their season is fizzling out. They’ve had an excellent campaign and reached the giddy heights of third earlier this month – in March, for god’s sake! – but have now lost four on the bounce (if you include the walkover they gifted to Woolton) and you suspect it will become more; their opponents on Tuesday, Mersey Harps, will finish above them, baring a miracle, as they have numerous games in hand, while Convo’s remaining three are against the top three. It’s hard to see where any points will come from.
In fairness to the boys from Mather Avenue, they didn’t play badly on Tuesday, they just didn’t play as well as they could when they needed to; there’s no doubt that the better team won, but how much of Convocation’s arrhythmic performance was down to themselves, or their opponents’ tactics and intensity, is hard to say – maybe it was a bit of both. It was the first of this season’s midweek catch-up games, not that Convo have many left, and unfortunately for them they had to face the (predominantly) Irish lads that are Mersey Harps (decked out, naturally, in emerald green shirts, with black shorts and socks), who are on a bit of a roll. The two sides faced each other in the cup ten days ago – least said about the result, the better – while there was also a thrashing back in the autumn – the least said about that, the saner – but both of those ties were at Wyncote, while this one was on the hard bobbly pitches of Thomas Lane, in the shadow of Broadgreen Hospital, which also required the competitors to brave the Chinese traffic jam that is Queens Drive in the rush hour, in order to take part.
With no captain or either vice-captain about it was club secretary Andy Welsh who picked the team, and of the thirteen players at his disposal he opted to start himself alongside Harvey Weston-Beyer at the heart of the defence, with Elliot Halfpenny to their left and Liam Hartt to the right; Matt Round – as usual looking like he’d just climbed out of a skip after a hard night on the meths – was in goal. The central midfield triangle saw Matty Shore joined by Rhys Owen and Sam Schneiderman, Jerome Galy (l) and Tom Bower (r) were on the flanks, Jay Russell was destined to plough a lonely furrow up front, while on the bench Anthony McGrath and Alex Randall waited their turns.
The hosts got things going with the low sun that was shing the length of the pitch (when it was out) behind them, and there was no sign in the opening six-or-seven minutes that they would ultimately win comfortably. Both sides were seeing equal amounts of the ball and were knocking it about without too much adventure while they got the pace of the game, but then without warning the Harps moved through the gears. From inside his own half one of their players launched what at first appeared to be nothing more than a hopeful punt forward, the slight breeze interfering with its trajectory not a jot, but then a team mate took advantage of the Convo defence’s slow reaction, ran through onto the pass, and from the edge of the penalty area lobbed an effort over Round – who was caught in no man’s land – and into the net.
Several minutes later they nearly doubled their lead when everyone on both sides let a long throw (level with the eighteen-yard line) bounce unmolested through the Convocation box and a guy at the back post flicked a header just over the bar, but even so there still didn’t seem to be any real cause for the visitors to be concerned. Loads of young folk had turned up on their sideline (including a handful of giggly teenage girls) and appeared to be cheering on Schneiderman and/or Hartt, and as if bolstered by this swell in away support the dark-blue-shirted Convo went close to levelling the scores before long: although it would be a rarity by the end of the game, for a while the Harps couldn’t get the ball out of their final third, with it bouncing and ricocheting around until it was eventually cleared to Bower, and from miles out on the wing he walloped a curling effort that looked to be dipping at just the right time, although amid all the momentary excitement at the thought of a wonder-strike the calmest man on the pitch, the opposition #1, caught and clutched the thing above his head on the line, just before it could squeeze in under his horizontal.
Sadly, apart from a Shore effort from distance just before the interval, Convo wouldn’t get near to their hosts’ goal again in the first period. Galy pulled off an outrageous flick in the middle of pitch to keep a break going after a Harps corner was cleared (the break still broke down moments later) but otherwise the home side began to flex their muscles and impose their influence on proceedings. Their passing was slick and accurate, and they looked good on the ball, while at the same time their movement off it was pulling the visitors all over the place and out of shape, which resulted in far too many gaps appearing in the blue-shirted ranks. That said, the only time that Round was made to work in the middle part of the half was from a long-distance pea roller of a shot that reached him at about 2mph, although it still took several seconds of fumbling for the ‘keeper to get the thing under control.
The big difference between the teams that was becoming more-and-more apparent was the passing, and at times you wondered whether some of the Convo players were hallucinating as they seemed to keep kicking the ball to invisible team mates; the midfielders were particularly guilty of this and were frequently the source of their own attacks breaking down. There could be no doubting their commitment though, with Owen throwing his weight around in the middle and the blond highlighted Schneiderman looking like another good recruit, but the pair’s physicality alongside Shore was possibly papering over cracks that would eventually betray the disparity between the sides. On the left Galy was quiet, but on the opposite side of the pitch Bower was having a lively old game and looked the man in blue most likely to make something happen. All that said, Russell was isolated up front and hardly got a sniff during the first period.
Convo were hanging on though, that is, until ten minutes before the break when Galy put in a silly challenge on an opponent down the side of his own penalty area and the referee – Ray McLaughlin, officiating his second Convocation game in three days – awarded the home side a free kick. Everyone loaded the box, but instead of crossing the taker pulled the ball back for a colleague running in from midfield who thoroughly scuffed his attempted shot, to the extent that it ended up at the feet of another green-shirted player to his left, and from about sixteen or seventeen yards out he slotted a nice effort through a forest of legs and into the net near the foot of the right-hand post (as he would have seen it); possibly off-sighted, Round didn’t move a muscle.
Convo steadied the ship for a while after that and the defence was able to take a bit of a breather; they hadn’t been overran by their opponents but at times they had seemed even more tractable than their colleagues further forward. At almost twice the age of some of those around him Welsh was understandably dictating the back line’s affairs, although Weston-Beyer alongside him seemed to know what he should be doing; that’s not to say that the two full backs were wet behind their ears, as there was seldom any trouble from Halfpenny’s side of the pitch and when the Harps were causing it in Hartt’s zone of influence he was harder to throw of the scent than a bloodhound (it was also enjoyable to watch his Zaza-esque, tiptoeing throw ins).
The Harps #10 had been sending some lovely long raking passes for his wingers to run onto throughout the half (and would continue to do so after the break) and was at it again a minute before the interval when he humped one forward that initially caught out Welsh; the secretary quickly recovered to hold up the recipient long enough to allow Weston-Beyer to make a good semi-block from a shot on the edge of the area, which was enough to take the venom off the effort and allow Round to make a stop. From the subsequent clearance upfield though, Convo ceded possession almost immediately and their hosts advanced again, but while that move appeared to break down just outside the eighteen-yard box someone (?) in blue then stretched to get to a careless pass and poked the ball through his own back line for an opponent loitering in what would have been an offside position had a team mate played him in, and he then slammed the thing past Round to make it 3-0.
There was still enough time left for that Shore shot that was always bending away, but the last kick of the half was by Owen, on an opponent’s knee. The referee – donning a pale mint green top – acknowledged the foul but blew for the break, while the clearly annoyed Harps player showed off a nice set of stud marks on the inside of his leg and demanded to know when he’d get justice.
He was at least able to take part in the second period, whereas on the opposite side of the halfway line Hartt – who’d suggested during the interval that it might be a good idea to substitute him – lasted barely two minutes after the restart before the hamstring he’d been concerned about twanged and he had to be replaced by Randall. By then Round had already blocked a wicked shot from the corner of his penalty area despite a Harps man jinking about disconcertingly right in front of him, while shortly after the change, at the other end of the pitch, Convocation won their first corner of the game – Hooray!
Some annoying sod in the Mersey Harps ranks had been calling out “Hey, Hey” every time he wanted a team mate’s (or the ref’s) attention, planting an horrendous earworm in the minds of anyone old enough to remember The Monkees – glad to be of assistance – and his irritating habit continued throughout the remainder of the game, while with the ten-minute mark nearing in the second half there were efforts at both ‘keepers from the edges of their respective ‘D’s: the hosts’ was another rocket; Shore’s, not hit right, was more of a crown green bowls effort. But then, shortly before the hour and with ‘robust’ challenges flying in all over the middle of the park – Owen was once again in the thick of it… and being a little bit naughty to boot – one player in green went hurtling through the carnage like a contestant on Gladiators and then cracked off a shot from about twenty yards out that could well have been fired from a particle accelerator, and which was past the Convocation #1 and in his net before he knew it (and one or two of the home side took great pleasure in making sure that Owen knew it).
Before the game could restart Galy was hooked, with McGrath going on in his place, and the Frenchman was not happy about it; he spent the remainder of the tie sat cross-legged in amongst the giggly girls with a right face on. The hosts almost scored again despite taking a truly terrible corner that, when it just about crawled into the Convo penalty area, was scuffed by a guy at the near post, surprising Round and having to be cleared off the line by someone (?) in blue behind him. But then, with the temperature dropping chillingly as the setting sun dipped behind the neighbouring houses, the visitors went and got a goal back: from a throw-in on the right the ball ended up with Russell, who dribbled with it towards the edge of the Harps penalty area and shot across the ‘keeper and into the nets via the top of the furthest upright.
There was about a quarter of the game left – was there a chance of a Convo comeback? No. The home side won a throw-in on the hospital side of their guests’ half of the pitch and as those in blue appeared to have been on the Night Nurse the marking was non-existent, allowing one of their opponents the time and space to smash a barely rising shot from thirty-five yards out on the wing that only just zipped past Round’s back post.
It was along the wings though, that Convo did look their most promising, as the centre of the pitch was being increasingly dominated by the home side. On the left Halfpenny and McGrath were overlapping well and the fresh legs of the latter appeared to have the Harps full back concerned, but it was on the right flank that the visitors were playing particularly well, as Randall looked unflappable and Bower as much as anyone deserved a goal for an enthusiastic and bothersome evening’s work.
As the game progressed it got quite noticeable that the Harps’ cheeky Gaelic feistiness was turning into a less adorable rattiness – although in fairness that is fairly common throughout the league in these midweek games when everyone’s already been in work all day – and their body language and demeanour became more snappy and snarly. But all was sunshine and lollipops in their world again, with a little over a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, when they intercepted a loose ball as Convo pushed forward, knocked it back the other way to a lad in green who was marginally offside, and he played it to a colleague near the right-hand corner of the visitors’ penalty area who absolutely leathered an effort into the net off the underside of the crossbar that once again was past Round before he knew it.
Russell had a chance to reply, with about ten minutes remaining, when he got on the end of another Convo corner and caused the home side’s ‘keeper a little bit of discomfort with an effort from his noggin, while not long after that, at the other end of the pitch, a deep quadrant kick resulted in a bullet of an unmarked header from about ten yards out that Round stopped at the foot of his near post with a strange sort of two-footed studs-up lunge that would’ve been a straight red card had he done it to an opponent, elsewhere. The Harps continued to get increasingly fractious though, although their collective mood was probably not being helped by Owen’s regular (and amusing, ‘but we don’t like to see that sort of thing’) acts of violence-lite, one of which resulted in a free kick closer to the Convo penalty area than the centre circle, which seemed to excite the home side, but which was ultimately fired into the wall; not long after that a heavy challenge by Shore in front of the Convo bench seemed to bring out the Will Smith in the green-shirted recipient.
By the final five minutes everyone knew that the game had long ago been put to bed, but in fairness to the Convocation players they didn’t wave the white flag, and had two late chances to sneak a consolation, either side of Bower taking, and being penalised for, one of the funniest, in-your-face foul throws you could ever see (Hat’s off, Sir!): Shore blasted a shot just wide of the target after charging down an attempted clearance inside the Harps penalty area, and then Russell looped a dink just the wrong side of the crossbar after a scramble at a corner, which turned out to be the final touch of the evening.
Had the home side scored a few more the scoreline wouldn’t have flattered them, but because Convo gave it their best and didn’t play poorly it’s probably only fair that there were no more goals. There shouldn’t be any shame in being well beaten by the Harps because they are clearly a pretty decent side, while the Firsts, despite their admirable campaign, are still a work in progress – eight of the thirteen players on show on Tuesday were not at the club before start of the season, and one or two still have to have their five-a-side foibles knocked out of them.
That’s a job for next season though, as Convo only have three games left – and the final one is a week next Tuesday – with Alumni next up. They’re probably the favourites for the league at this late stage of the campaign (and knocked Convo out of the cup last month), so it’s not going to be easy; but anything’s possible if you stay off the beach.
Man Of The Match: Nobody played poorly, but few stood out either. Russell did as well as he could despite being so isolated for much of the game, and Randall looked a good catch when he went on. Foul thrower par excellence Bower gets the award though, as he was the eyecatcher for long periods, and he always looked the one that might make things happen. And he does love a slide tackle…
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Halfpenny, Welsh A, Weston-Beyer, Hartt; Galy, Schneiderman, Shore, Owen, Bower; Russell; Subs: Randall, McGrath
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Galy, Weston-Beyer, Welsh A, Farrell; Turpin, Shore, Nawrocki, Schneiderman, Bower; Kent; Subs: Randall, McGrath, Sawle
Connerty Cup quarter-final. Match switched to Wyncote from Thomas Lane.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Galy, Weston-Beyer, Welsh A, Hartt; Turpin, Shore, Welsh J, Owen, Parsons; Kent; Subs: Nawrocki, Round, Farrell (not used)
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Halfpenny, Weston-Beyer, Welsh J, Bower; Turpin, Nawrocki, Shore, Owen, Kent; Lewis; Subs: Hartt, Greene (not used), Farrell (not used)
Bobby Mimms reports
When Jimmy White was interviewed immediately after being beaten in the 1994 World Snooker Championship final – his sixth defeat at that stage from six attempts, his fifth on the trot, and the fourth to Stephen Hendry alone – all that a condoling David Vine could offer in the way of support was to wish him a happy birthday: “He’s beginning to annoy me,” the Whirlwind replied with a resigned smile and an amiable nod at his opponent, surely aware that his best chance of being the champ had passed him by when he’d missed a relatively simple black off its spot with the winning line in sight. Back in present day Liverpool it would obviously be a massive overstatement to suggest that the Larkin players felt something similar to the cueist’s heartbreak when they lost again at Wyncote on Saturday, but without doubt Convocation must be starting to get on their nerves.
This was the third time the two teams have faced each other in the last few months, and the third time Convo have won fairly comfortably without pulling up any trees. It was one of those ties in which the side from Thomas Lane looked as if they could have carried on until midnight without causing their hosts any real problems, albeit without playing poorly, whereas Convocation – amazingly, contesting their final home game of the season, in February! – would only have increased their lead under the same circumstances. That said, it was hardly a thriller; rather humdrum in fact for most of the match, although three more points aren’t to be sniffed at in what is turning into a very interesting season indeed for the boys from Mather Avenue.
It was bright and breezy all afternoon, and the green-shirted visitors faced into the wind as they kicked off. They knocked the ball backwards, whereupon it was launched forward to an attacking sort in the other half of the pitch who glided cautiously into the Convo penalty area in possession and then fired a rising shot into the net past goalkeeper Jon Welsh. Barely twenty seconds had elapsed and none of the home side’s players had had a touch. What as start!
The goal seemed to confuse both the teams, as though they couldn’t comprehend that such a thing might happen so early, and for quite a while after it everyone played as if they weren’t sure what to do next, a blanket of bafflement having been thrown over proceedings. On the sideline Mike Nawrocki took this to the next level by regularly getting mixed up when having to flag for throw ins, while in the middle of the pitch Rhys Owen was almost literally stunned when he attempted to push a hefty opponent in the back but found him to be an immovable object and bounced back off onto his arse; there was no malice intended by the Larkin man (indeed, it was rather amusing), but the visitors did deploy tactics throughout the game that could only be described as physical.
Decked out in dark blue Convocation had lined up at the start in the usual 4-5-1 formation, with Anthony Lewis up front on his own, and a defence comprising of (left to right) Elliot Halfpenny, Andy Welsh, Andy Greene, and Tom Bower. In midfield Owen, Matty Shore and Liam Hartt were flanked by Jay Russell (l) and Jerome Galy (r), on the bench Nawrocki was joined by Johnny Bland, while in a sartorial faux pas for the ages goalkeeper Welsh (J) and referee Steve Stewart had turned up in matching lime-green-and-black outfits – how mortifying. A bitchier correspondent than this one might suggest that it was only due to the embonpoint of the official that you could tell them apart.
Immediately after Owen had rebounded off that brick wall in green the visitors broke and fired wildly across the face of target, but then on the quarter-hour mark Shore – who would have a fine game – put a free kick from out on the left wing just over the Larkin bar and onto the roof of their net. It was almost as if he’d been range finding because about ninety seconds later, after a small spell of Convo passing around in the middle of their opponents’ half, the ball came to him on the edge of the ‘D’ and he smashed a shot along the floor and in at the post.
Even though it had been obvious to everyone watching that Convo were the better team their players seemed to have needed that goal to reassure them of the fact, and over the following ten minutes-or-so they created a number of chances to take the lead. A speculative Owen cross into the box from about twenty-five yards out on the wing got a lot closer to the target than he’d presumably intended and required the visitors’ ‘keeper to scramble the thing away before it could dip under his horizontal, while shortly after that Shore tried his luck from distance again but fired miles over and beyond the crossbar… and the perimeter fencing; Bland, a perpetual ball boy in the first half, went to retrieve.
A much more clear-cut chance was served up to the midfielder several minutes after that, but he once again proved that he’s the anti-Dirk Kuyt (as had been suggested on the Convo sideline after he’d netted his first) by failing to convert it with what was not far off a tap in. At a goal kick Welsh (J) hoofed upfield like Kurt Zouma in a cattery and with the wind giving his clearance extra oomph it ended up with Lewis on the right and not far from the visitors’ penalty area. He ran it almost to the byline before putting a low cross into the box, but even though the Larkin defence were continuing to treat marking as an optional extra, when the ball reached Shore on the edge of the six-yard box he tamely side-footed the thing straight at the #1 when he shouldn’t have given him a chance.
It was great to see him being complemented so well by new boys Owen and Hartt, the three of them rotating around each other in the middle of the park like clockwork and really giving the visitors problems. Behind them, it was just as pleasing to watch the back line doing, well, the bare minimum really, because it meant that they had their opponents under control. Greene has become a bolstering presence at the heart of the Convo rearguard this season, fitting in excellently alongside (usually) either of the Welsh brothers, and on Saturday he and the club secretary were at it again, hardly giving the Larkin forwards a sniff. The full backs Halfpenny and Bower were just as steadfast, but were also ready and willing to work with their respective wingers along the flanks, contributing to the home side’s attacks as well as its defence.
In the visitors’ ranks one player who was giving it his all, although sadly not with his feet, was their #15 (he appeared to be their left winger) who seemed intent on cramming a thousand years’ worth of moaning into ninety minutes, and in particular looked to have it in for Galy. Others in green were a little more constructive, and one of them almost fluked a second when he put a cross from out on the right onto the roof of Welsh’s net, which was the closest they’d gone to scoring since actually doing so. At the other end of the pitch though, Convo showed their guests how it should be done, because Shore, like Glenn Miller, was definitely in the mood: he nabbed his second, five minutes before the break, after a throw-in had reached Owen and he’d knocked the ball forward for Russell, who flicked it on for his team mate to run through and fire under the Larkin ‘keeper from the edge of the penalty area.
He should really have had his hat trick seconds after the half-time interval. The blues restarted, facing into the wind, and immediately attacked down their right – Galy skipped past an opponent and ran on into the box, but when he squared the ball to Shore, who was barely six yards out, he made a mockery of the notion that certain opportunities are harder to miss than score by slicing it wide of the yawning target with the outside of his dextral foot, rather than use his left. Convo hadn’t been able to repeat Larkin’s explosive start to the first period.
They were still clearly controlling the midfield though, with Galy seeing plenty of the ball on the right and at times showing off a touch so deft he could have been wearing slippers. It was a surprise then, when not even ten minutes after the restart he was hooked in favour of Bland, with Nawrocki going on at the same time in a straight swap with Hartt. The Frenchman could at least take solace from the fact that his withdrawal allowed him to keep tabs on his nation’s rugby match against Scotland, although why he was relying on the overly familiar referee to relay the score to him instead of just listening to it on the radio with the referee’s son (who’d been on the sideline since the start and was sending out regular updates to his dad) is anyone’s guess.
Despite Convo’s domination they were still prone to the odd mistake, and with only a one-goal lead they had to be careful to avoid doing anything daft that might undo all their hard work. Apropos of nothing, shortly before the hour mark they lost possession just outside their own eighteen-yard box, and when the visitors pushed on and put a cross into the area the ball struck Greene’s arm; Mr Stewart – who officiated the cup game between the two sides last week – pointed to the spot. It seemed a little harsh, but there was no need to worry as Welsh (J) guessed correctly which way to dive and made a great save to his left. It was the third time this season that Larkin had failed to convert a penalty against Convocation (one in each game).
Unfortunately their inability to level the scores seemed to wind up the visitors’ delightful #15 a little bit more, and a couple of minutes later he sent Welsh (A) flying into the wooden boards around the bottom of the 4G pitch’s perimeter fence with a totally needless and over-the-top shoulder barge – honestly, he needs to have a good, hard look at himself… preferably while standing in the middle of a busy motorway. And his mood wasn’t about to improve either.
Convo went close to scoring a third when Shore knocked a high pass forward from his own half that held up in the wind perfectly for Russell, who ran on into the Larkin penalty area and arrowed a shot towards the top corner of the goal, but his effort was thwarted by a fine save from the black-clad opposition ‘keeper. It was only a temporary reprieve for the visitors though, as with a little over twenty-five minutes remaining Halfpenny intercepted a green up-and-under and cleared along the left flank, and when Lewis flicked the ball on (with Russell making a clever distracting/diversionary run) his treble-seeking colleague galloped off after it, moved inside into the box and onto his right foot, and then drilled the thing into the net at the foot of the near post as the hoodwinked #1 moved the other way.
It was no more than Convocation deserved, and you could sense the visitors’ already failing appetite for the game evaporate; they started sulking with each other, a disaffection that was epitomised when one of their players threw the ball away at his own free kick because a team mate wouldn’t let him take it. They won a lesser-spotted indirect free kick not long after that – one of the blue shirts had called out, “It’s mine” – which from ten yards was fired right up Russell’s hoop, while the Convo man got a telling off from the referee that was almost apologetic moments later for a quite cynical foul on the halfway line: “James, that was a bit naughty” he chided in his Ulster brogue.
The visitors managed one last chance to get a goal back, forcing Welsh (J) into a great diving save to his left (it was very similar to his earlier penalty stop) with a shot from that vaguest of distances, ‘range’, after Convo had yet again lost the ball in the middle of their own half, but otherwise all they could muster to trouble their hosts in the final quarter-of-an-hour was more petulance from their #15. Playing on the same flank as his opponents’ bench he seemed determined to carry on picking fights with the substituted Galy over the most minor of things, then laughing at the Frenchman’s accent or the fact that he hadn’t been taken off; for some reason he didn’t seem so keen to mouth off to the far larger Bland, who he was by then directly facing on the pitch, and on the sideline they wondered whether he was being a cock because he was losing his hair.
Shore managed to do what the Larkin div couldn’t and got Galy frothing at the mouth, when, having been laid on by Lewis, he fired miles wide of his intended target – which one presumes was the net – from more-or-less on the penalty spot: “Why is it he can score crazy goals but not easy ones?” the substituted winger wondered rhetorically, but exasperatedly, somehow managing not to use the word ‘galoot’. With ten minutes remaining the vice-captain turned provider again when he set up Owen (as Nawrocki provided a good distraction) to smash a shot goalward that had to be tipped over the bar by the visitors’ #1, while with five to go the same player went close (after good Convo build-up play) with a low effort from twenty-five yards out that was always drifting off course.
The game hadn’t been much of a contest since Convo’s third and just fizzled out in the closing minutes, to the extent that at the full time whistle the only person in the vicinity who seemed to be putting in any effort was the naked rugby player on a nearby pitch who was doing some sort of lap of shame with his dignity cupped in one hand. The truth is though, that Convocation never really had to get out of second gear for this – Larkin, nice enough lads that they seem to be (with one notable exception), aren’t particularly good and don’t take much beating.
That said, this was a fixture that Convo might have struggled with in previous seasons, so to see them pretty much coast through it is heartening. All their games from now on are away from Slightly-Difficult-To-Get-Into Wyncote (it’s hardly a Fortress seeing as how they have lost there three times this season), and visits to the division’s big guns are still to come, so any (surely deluded) thoughts of going for the league should be taken with a very big pinch of salt. There’s no reason why they can’t be best of the rest though.
Jimmy White never did win the World Championship (and is undoubtedly the greatest player in the game not to), and never reached another final, which at least had the advantage that he didn’t lose another one to Hendry. Along the same lines, Larkin (and their penalty takers) are probably grateful that they don’t have to face Convocation again this season.
Man Of The Match: It’s a shame that the defence didn’t have much to do because they were near faultless in what they did have to deal with, while Galy had a fine game on the wing before he was subbed, and the new lads looked decent in midfield. The nod has to go to Shore though – he took his hat trick almost with his eyes closed, but also fluffed another treble of much easier chances, and while that may be infuriating it was reassuring that Convo could win with plenty to spare; you got the feeling that he could have upped his game if needed to.
Convocation (4-5-1): Welsh J; Halfpenny, Welsh A, Greene, Bower; Russell, Hartt, Shore, Owen, Galy; Lewis; Subs: Nawrocki, Bland
Connerty Cup first round.
Goals from Rhys Owen either side of half time.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Halfpenny, Weston-Beyer, Welsh A, Bower; Russell, Nawrocki, Welsh J, Owen, Kent; Lewis; Subs: Galy, Hartt, Greene
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Halfpenny, Welsh J, Weston-Beyer, Galy; Russell, Owen, Shore, Nawrocki, Kent; Lewis; Subs: Welsh A, Round, Hartt, Bland
7-1 at half time. Jay Russell had equalised for Convo in the fifteenth minute.
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Halfpenny, Welsh J, Welsh A, Galy; McGrath, Nawrocki, Shore, Kent, Bower; Russell; Subs: Owen, Weston-Beyer, Hartt
[JW] Weren't at our best really but had chances to win it late on. A draw was probably fair.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Halfpenny, Welsh A, Welsh J, Bower; McGrath, Nawrocki, Shore, Kent, Bland; Lewis; Subs: Russell, Parsons, Woodcock, Galy
[JW] …Another good win. Excellent team performance. Ant Lewis and Ant McGrath with the goals either side of half time.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Halfpenny, Welsh A, Greene, Bower; McGrath, Nawrocki, Welsh J, Shore, Kent; Lewis; Subs: Russell, Turpin, Woodcock, Bland
Bobby Mimms (the ball boy) reports
If you were the sort of riff raff that had no chance of getting into one of the Titanic’s lifeboats – the Leo DiCaprio type – what would you have done to while away your last couple of hours before drowning (or freezing to death in the water whilst clinging to a wooden headboard)? What about if a huge comet were going to hit the earth in a week’s time – how would you spent the final days before intelligent life was wiped off the face of the planet? For most people it’s probably nigh-on impossible to say, but you could be fairly sure that they’d make a mess of successfully executing a best-scenario ending, because they’d have too long to think about what the best thing to do would be.
And that’s the only plausible reason for why Convocation’s Anthony Lewis failed to score a ‘perfect’ hat trick on Saturday – because he’d had too long to think about what he needed to do, in the time it took him to traverse three-quarters of empty pitch to the opposition’s unguarded net. There were, in theory, five minutes remaining in this first ever meeting (at the third time of asking) between the Wyncote side and Lord Derby Old Boys when the visitors won a corner and, with a commendable ‘ah, fuck it’ attitude (they were losing 6-2), summoned their ‘keeper up to attack it as well. Jerome Galy had just headed a shot off the goal line to necessitate the quadrant kick, and when it was punted into the area a pinball melee ensued until Mike Nawrocki cleared to the vice-captain, lurking just outside the eighteen-yard box, whereupon away he ran (without thinking, someone called for offside).
Lewis had already scored earlier in the game with his left peg and then his head, so by the time he reached the other penalty area, in the manner of a eighteen-stone marathon runner crossing the finishing line in mid-collapse, and with the ‘keeper, a defender and Nawrocki in (what passed for) his slipstream, all he had to do to rack up the so-called perfect treble was finish with his right foot. Instead, having had the eternity of the slog up the pitch to work out what he should to do (and with many of his colleagues calling out advice to him as well), he fluffed his lines at the last second and from a handful of yards out poked home with the wrong one.
Only he will know what regrets, if any, he had about the blunder afterwards, but if that was all that was wrong with his and Convo’s performance it was a minor triviality on the smallest level – one eliciting just a quantum quibble, if you will. Everyone played exceptionally well, and the final 7-2 victory was well deserved, even if most of the goals – at both ends – were brought to you in association with Shite Defending. As they pinged the ball around the pitch with ease, found space almost without thinking, and kept their opponents at arm’s length for most of the match, it was the home side who looked like Brazil, not the yellow-clad Lord Derby players.
By the end of the game the only real surprising aspect to it was that, with the midpoint of the first half on the horizon, Convocation had been behind. The early stages after the visitors got the ball rolling were evenly balanced, with both sides probing without ever threatening, the very slight spitting rain causing more concern to the goalkeepers. But then, with seven minutes on the clock, the Dortmund-hued Old Boys sent a long punt along the right line which was flicked on, and the recipient ran through and slid a shot underneath Convo #1 Matt Round from inside the area, despite left back Elliot Halfpenny running across him and accidentally clipping his heels just outside it (until the effort hit the net, this invoked calls for the death penalty from one or two of those in yellow).
That heinous hoodlum Halfpenny made a fantastic tackle on the edge of his own box shortly after the goal to prevent one of the visitors from being clear through and scoring again, while at the other end of the pitch Matty Shore seemed to be summoning his inner Chaplin, firstly by, somehow, scuffing a shot from inside the ‘D’ against his standing leg, and then at a blocked free kick (taken by himself) hitting the rebound so far over the opposition crossbar that there was serious concern it might endanger the denizens of the Storrsdale pub. But while your correspondent was tramping the distant swamplands of Wyncote to retrieve the ball – not good on an old goalkeeper’s creaking knees – Convo did equalise: the successful move began with exasperated Gallic complaints being caught on the wind – something about someone in yellow fouling someone in blue – and five-to-ten seconds later ended with Lewis smashing home from the edge of the Lord Derby area.
Decked out in a new dark blue strip, Convo had had twelve players at their disposal and started with a back four consisting of Andys Greene and Welsh, flanked by Halfpenny and Galy. Lewis was the lone forward, while in midfield a central triangle of Shore, Nawrocki and captain Jonny Welsh were accompanied on the tramlined wings by Anthony McGrath (l) and Mike Kent (r); Jonny Bland was the only sub, and as previously mentioned Round was betwixt the sticks.
At ten o’clock that morning the weather had been so foul that you wouldn’t have thrown Novak Djokovic out in it, never mind a dog – god knows what Old Xavs would have had to say – but by kick off conditions had brightened up a fair bit and a watery sun shone low and diagonally across the pitch out of patches of blue sky, although a blustery wind kept blowing cloud cover across it. Warming the cockles though, was a second Convo goal, on twenty-one minutes, scored when Shore received a throw-in, laid the ball off to Kent in the middle, and he drilled the thing into the bottom corner of the visitors’ goal from the ‘D’.
The home side smelt blood and might have scored a third if Shore hadn’t indulged in a spot of fancy-dannery when attacking a low cross into the box, attempting to find the net with a back-heeled flick from twelve yards out that was insultingly easy meat for the Lord Derby ‘keeper. The #1 didn’t cover himself in glory shortly after that when he made a meal of stopping a tame Welsh (J) shot low to his right, while moments later Nawrocki kept up the pressure with a looping effort from the edge of the area, but he put a tad too much on the trajectory and the ball dropped inches behind the crossbar.
Just before the half-hour though, the home side did score again. They won a free kick on the edge of the centre circle when one of their ilk (?) was tripped, the indignant offender in yellow arguing with referee, Brian Cluskey, “I didn’t touch him”, and as if to labour his point he then steadfastly refused to go anywhere near Welsh (J) when his brother used the squall blowing from behind to help pump the ball into the area – barely marked, the Convo captain was able to head down across the goal and into the net despite the orange topped ‘keeper getting his hand to the effort.
Wind or no wind it was still a lovely assist from Welsh (A) who otherwise had a quiet afternoon at the back alongside Greene, the two of them coping with everything Lord Derby threw at them (which wasn’t much), one notable exception-to-come aside. Even when the defenders pushed up their opponents had no luck if they sprung the offside trap because Round was sweeping up behind them in a manner that a man of his age has no right to, while the flanks were just as unprofitable to the yellows due to the tireless ebbing and flowing of Halfpenny and Galy (another one of an age that should know better).
Convocation were playing as well – and as rewardingly well – as they have done in some time, with lots of nice triangles and slick passing forcing the visitors to chase shadows for prolonged periods; that old adage of ‘the ball never gets tired’ was never so apt. The two vice-captains combined at one point when Kent again took advantage of the regular mal-positioning of the Lord Derby left back – who had a look about him of Father Cave from Father Ted – and put a cross into the box that Lewis attempted to convert with a diving header, although his poor finish was more like a belly flop. He went closer moments after that, following more pinging one-touch footy from the blues down the left, but from a tight angle he blasted a shot straight at the opposition #1.
There was a growing feeling on the Convo bench that the visitors were getting a little ratty due to being outplayed – the actual Lord Derby couldn’t have done any worse – and the tackles that were flying in from them looked less and less innocent. The home side’s players stood tall though, and a minute before the break Galy sent a pinpoint ball up the right flank for Shore to run onto, and from inside the penalty area the midfielder blasted past the opposition goalie to make it 4-1.
Talk during the interval was all about everyone looking after themselves, those frustrated tackles having not gone un-noticed (in general the Lord Derby players seemed a decent enough bunch, although they never stopped moaning – mainly at each other and the ref). Otherwise, it was ‘more of the same, please’, as it would take some doing for Convocation to cock things up from their position. But if anyone could… And in true Convo style they restarted as if they hadn’t, the half-time refreshments apparently spiked with Temazepam.
In the first seconds of the second period the visitors fired wide from about twenty-five yards, and then within egg-boiling time hit a post from even further out after an incredulous Nawrocki and the referee got into a muddle over an alleged Lord Derby handball, the jet stream blowing from behind the shot no doubt assisting it. Five minutes after recommencement though, the ball was indeed in the back of the Convo net again when a long(ish) throw-in sent towards their near post resulted in some sort of mass systems failure, whereby everyone in blue – but particularly Greene and Welsh (A) – left the bouncer for someone else and a player in yellow nipped in and flicked an effort past Round from a tight angle.
It appeared for a while after that – and because of that – that the visitors were suffering from delusions of adequacy, and briefly their increased exertions and threat suggested that they might have more goals in them; as daft as it probably felt after Convo had dominated for so long, the next one looked game defining. The home side should have got it when Kent attacked down the right and from inside the Lord Derby box pulled the ball back for Shore, but this time the central midfielder was apparently out to get the shoppers on Allerton Road, as that was where his shot sailed off towards.
Just before the hour mark though, he made slight amends when he carried the ball out of his own half and knocked a lovely pass out to the right for a wandering McGrath, who ran on and eventually into the opposition penalty area amid calls for offside. With the Lord Derby defence showing all the discipline of sailors given 24-hour shore leave the winger was easily able to lay possession off to Kent, and he walloped a shot diagonally across the ‘keeper and into the opposite top corner of the goal.
Everyone knew that that was effectively game over, that Convo weren’t going to shoot themselves in the collective foot this week, and Bland was introduced for the final half-hour in a straight swap on the right with Kent. The incomer was nearly sent clear through immediately, although the Lord Derby ‘keeper was quickly out of his box to clear the defence-splitting pass, while not long after that McGrath was played through one-on-one but the glover made a good block from close range – from the resultant corner he was in the right place again to stop a Welsh (J) header.
But then, as the game entered its final quarter, the hosts netted a sixth. The captain began the move that would prove so fruitful, when he gained possession in the middle of the park and laid it off to Bland on the right, and having carried the ball up the flank he put a lovely cross into the box where Lewis, taking advantage of the fact that nobody in yellow fancied doing any defending, re-directed into the Lord Derby net with a stooping header.
While they waited for Convo to score again the visitors nearly got one back for themselves when one of their men got on the end of a free kick, taken from about thirty yards out, but headed across the face of the goal and just wide. Moments before that, McGrath had gone just as close at the other end of the pitch, albeit from the edge of the penalty area, following a couple of lovely one-twos between Lewis and Bland, and then a fine cross from the latter.
With a quarter of an hour to go Nawrocki tried to call it a day when he came off and Kent replaced him (Nawrocki then proceeded to moan about the “sweaty coat” his colleague had given him at the swap over), but almost immediately he had to go back on himself when Welsh (J) received a dead leg in a collision with an opponent and couldn’t continue. One of the midfielder’s first contributions on being reintroduced was to handle the ball on the edge of his own ‘D’ and right under the nose of Mr Cluskey, and though his penalisation was a little harsh (the offending arm wasn’t far from his side) the resultant free kick caused Round enough of a worry that he had to slap the thing over his crossbar, a little unconvincingly; the subsequent corner was flicked on at the near post (it could have been a misdirected attempt on goal) and a yellow shirt at the back absolutely smashed a shot on target that Shore headed away bravely, right in front of his ‘keeper.
After that all that was left in the game was the ersatz Benny Hill chase that doubled up as Convo’s seventh, and the final whistle shortly after that… in the eighty-seventh minute!
Convocation were wonderful on Saturday and it’s hard to argue that they wouldn’t have got an eighth goal if the game hadn’t been ended prematurely, but it did, so the seven they did net would have to do; Lord Derby were a bit of a disappointment, playing-wise (for some reason everyone thought that they would be better than they were) but seemed a nice enough bunch of lads otherwise. You can only beat what’s before you though, and in that respect Wyncote’s finest more than did what they had to, and the extent of their victory was thoroughly deserved. Their league season is looking like being one of their best in a long time, and with a couple of very winnable games to come before they travel to table toppers (and opening-day vanquishers) Kingsthorne, at the end of the month, they could well be within spitting distance of the promotion places well past the halfway point of the campaign. And from there, well who knows?
But maybe it’s best not to think about that for too long…
Man Of The Match: A tricky one this week, as everyone put in a great shift (one or two ultimately irrelevant brain farts aside), but in time honoured tradition the award has to go to the hat trick hero, Lewis. His treble wasn’t ‘perfect’ though.
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Halfpenny, Greene, Welsh A, Galy; McGrath, Nawrocki, Welsh J, Shore, Kent; Lewis; Sub: Bland
[JW] We were 3-0 with 15mins to go and it looked like we've get another 3 goals. Then one by one their lads started walking off the pitch citing the conditions which had suddenly become unbearable. But basically they'd given up. One was even worried by the lightening that must have been closer to Warrington.
Anyway the game stopped and they just wanted to call it. The ref wasn't abandoning the game and we had to ensure it wasn't anything to do with us. So the game was reported as abandoned by them.
One of the more bizarre endings to a game I've ever had
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Galy, Turpin, Welsh J, Farrell; McGrath, Lewis, Shore, Kent, Bland; Russell; Askew, Welsh A, Round
Scorers: Russell 55, McGrath 60, Russell 65
[Report from Twitter.]
Late match report from this admin but the firsts unfortunately fell to another 1 goal defeat against the division's other unbeaten side, @CollegiateOldBo.
A few defensive lapses and good attacking play saw us 3-0 in first 30mins. Despite that the lads played some good football.
We managed to fight back to 3-2 at HT and the game was finely balanced.
With the wind behind us we managed to maintain territory in the oppos half but a good counter attack put us 4-2 down.
A late goal made it 4-3 and a few more chances were agonizingly close but wouldn't go in.
The visitors managed to close out the game to take 3 points but a day of what ifs for the Convo and the thought that if only 1 or 2 of the 6/7 woodwork strikes had gone in, the result would have gone our way.
All round a fine game for the neutrals but 0 points for us.
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Galy, Welsh A, Greene, Bower; Halfpenny, Welsh J, Shore, Kent, McGrath; Bland; Subs: Askew, McNally, Prince
Intermediate Cup match.
Convo 1-0 up through Alex Turpin; 1-1 at HT.
3-1 down, including an Andy Welsh own goal, then late consolation from Anthony McGrath.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Galy, Welsh A, Greene, Bower; Turpin, Lewis, Shore, McGrath, Bland; Round; Subs: Hull, McDonnell, 'Sean'
Convocation (from): Hendry, Galy, Greene, Welsh A, Bower, McGrath, Shore, Welsh J, Kent, Bland, Lewis; Subs: Round, Turpin, Appleton (unused)
Bobby Mimms reports
The Convocation First Team’s renaissance continued undauntedly on Saturday, but they made tough work of their latest victory. Things looked grim for the side from Wyncote after their opening two league games saw them concede fifteen goals, but, with a little help from the fixture computer – they’ve played Division Three’s bottom three in their last four matches – they’ve pulled themselves together, and after last week’s excellent and hard fought draw against a very good Alumni team who had previously thumped all before them, they just about took all the points from this visit to Knotty Ash.
Sadly, their day out to Doddyland was not to face Bradley Walsh, Joanna Scanlan, Sabrina Bartlett, et al, but for a first ever meeting with just Larkin, a team new to the Old Boys League whose players got progressively chippier as the game went on, but who in general weren’t too arsey. For a while Convo looked like they would win comfortably, but they were undoubtedly clinging on by the time of a final whistle that felt like it would never arrive; they may have impressed against the divisional leaders last week, but this time around they had to do the dirty work.
With there being as little as twelve hours left before the clocks went back some bright spark had decided to move the kick off forward to two from half past, meaning that your correspondent missed the opening fifteen minutes, but fortunately John Farrell was on hand to relay its highlights: Convo goalkeeper Alex Hendry had made a decent save, and at the other end of the pitch they’d had a free kick hit the Larkin defensive wall. Last game on Match of the Day beckoned. Nonetheless, the watching hordes were enjoying themselves, and at one point the visitors’ sideline embraced childhood indoctrination by breaking out into hymn when Chairman Faz implored someone to “Stand Up! Stand Up!” – “…For Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross,” was the only rational response.
No matter what time anyone turned up though, it was clear quite quickly that the home side were no big licks, and that their prompt plunge towards the nether regions of the division was not unwarranted. Nevertheless, at the midpoint of the first half it would’ve been a tad unfair to suggest that they deserved to be behind… and yet that’s exactly what had happened. Attacking up the Thomas Lane pitch’s slight slope, Anthony Lewis was sent clear through by a clever pass out of midfield, but despite a rain shower an hour before kick-off having made the surface rather slick, the vice-captain gave a very good impression of a man running through glue. He eventually fired off a shot from the edge of the penalty area that was straight at the black-T-shirted Larkin #1, and then got a second bite of the cherry when the rebound fell perfectly for him, but once again he failed to beat the glover. This time the lime green ball deflected out wide left to Anthony McGrath but his attempt on goal was blocked by one of several defenders to have by then gotten back, although when the subsequent clearance got no further than Jon Welsh, about twenty-five yards out, he wellied an arrow of an effort past the flapping ‘keeper and into the net just under the crossbar.
It was the captain’s first goal of the season, although it was also the first time this campaign that he’d played anywhere other than at the heart of defence – alongside Mikes Nawrocki and Kent he was in the centre of midfield, with the orange booted McGrath (left) and Jonathan Bland on the flanks. The lone forward was Lewis (two overnight dropouts having, annoyingly, both being ideally suited to playing there), while immediately ahead of Grizzly Hendry the defence comprised of last week’s scorer Elliot Halfpenny, Andy Greene, Andy Welsh, and Tom Bower. James Appleton and Farrell were Convo’s two substitutes, although the latter’s services would not be utilised.
Convocation were undoubtedly the better team in the first half, although that was more to do with their hosts not being particularly good rather than themselves excelling; that said, attacking down the bobbly, wobbly incline Larkin managed to get off more shots than their guests. Most of those were tame efforts sent straight at Hendry (including a couple from a player who appeared to be called ‘Elsie’), but when a free kick on the corner of the Convo penalty area was only half cleared it resulted in a much more dangerous attempt from mid-distance whistling just wide of the target.
Decked out in British-racing-green shirts – think Plymouth – with black shorts and socks, the Larkin players seemed a nice enough bunch, although they were clearly second best to their guests in midfield. A lot of that was presumably to do with the long-established understanding between Convo’s central trio, who were all playing well, with even Nawrocki, who so often goes unnoticed in games, putting in an impressive showing; his decision to play the draught excluder role in mid-play though, (having fallen over and taken an eternity to get back up as the game went on around him) was pushing taking centre stage a little too far.
Towards the end of the half the sun, which had been shining across the pitch since kick off (presumably), disappeared behind slate grey clouds and a chill fell on proceedings. Nonetheless, the sides warmed up the atmosphere with a couple of good chances to score in the five minutes prior to the break, with the hosts going close from a corner (there were no flags only training cones) when everybody at the back post left its deep delivery except a Larkin player who stopped the ball on the byline and then blasted over the bar from an extremely tight angle. Moments later Welsh (J) knocked a pass up the incline from halfway for Lewis to chase, accompanied by two defenders and calls for offside, but from just inside the hosts’ penalty area he fired a very weak effort wide of the target – he should have done better.
The final action of any note before the interval saw the home side sending one of their forwards through on Hendry in a one-on-one, but this time the very liberal referee Brian Cluskey – who’d hardly used his whistle in the opening forty-five minutes, letting the game flow except in rare instances of ultra-assault – pulled the attacker back for offside: “He was so far off he was in the car park,” the man in black joked about the man in green. Seconds later he was peeping away again, blowing for half time.
Convo got the second period going (obviously meaning that their opponents had kicked off the first) and it was understandable that they probably thought they’d have an even more comfortable time of it playing down the incline, but almost immediately they had their #1 to thank for keeping them in the lead: a Larkin player slipped through the visitors’ back line, played on by Bower, but from the edge of the penalty area he blasted his shot straight at the white Nottingham Forest top of Hendry and the chance was gone. Remaining until the end of the game though, was the epidemic of foul throw calls, from both teams, which had plagued proceedings before the break.
The second half wasn’t even three minutes old when Convo next went close and should really have doubled their lead. Welsh (A) gained possession just outside his own ‘D’ and knocked a pass wide to Lewis, who punted in turn up the left flank for McGrath, and he ran on into the Larkin penalty area and struck a low shot that the advancing ‘keeper saved well. The ball rebounded across the six-yard box (and past a defender who’d overrun it) to Bland, who’d chased in from the other side of the pitch and had an open goal in front of him, but like a laptop with no shift key he couldn’t capitalise and somehow scuffed/scrambled the thing wide of the target from near the back post.
There were discarded, used fireworks on the ground everywhere, but for a while after that astonishing miss the only pyrotechnics in the game came from the Larkin defence, who had begun arguing amongst themselves. But then not long before the hour mark Convo upped their ante and did score again. They won a throw in along their right (that their opponents whinged about quite vehemently) and played the ball around for a bit until, eventually, Bland came into possession down the side of the hosts’ penalty area and put a lovely cross into the goalmouth, where the unmarked Lewis donned his Ibrahimovic hat on the edge of the six-yard box and overhead-kicked past the motionless ‘keeper. It was an excellent finish.
Straight from the restart Larkin attacked and fired just wide of the target from about twenty-five yards out, but otherwise the visitors were in total control, although the seeds for them losing it were sown on the hour mark when Welsh (J) limped off due to a throbbing knee; Lewis dropped back into central midfield, Bland was pushed up front, and the substitute Appleton went on, on the right wing. If the Captain thought that his afternoon would be easier once he was off the pitch, however, then he hadn’t counted on the liberal referee being a little too liberal.
Within a minute or two, and with Convo on the attack, the home side’s ‘keeper flew out of his area to clear a through ball but only succeeded in slicing it straight to McGrath, out on the wing and maybe forty yards from goal, and he was urged by his colleagues to fire back towards the open goal. That he did, but the #1 had other ideas and batted the shot away from danger well outside his ‘D’. It was a quite amusing piece of cheating, and the miscreant began removing his gloves in anticipation of the inevitable red card… but then the official only brandished a yellow (and the gloves went hastily back on). On the sideline the usually mild-mannered Welsh (J) wasn’t far off doing the full Begbie.
There was still a quarter of the game to go and that refereeing decision almost immediately appeared to have a very profound effect on proceedings – Larkin weren’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth and quite noticeably grew in confidence, while the Convocation players seemed to sense that things were suddenly not going their way and shrunk into their shells; more worryingly, and taking a leaf out of Madonna’s book, they kept getting deeper and deeper. Even Nawrocki, who’d bossed the midfield for most of the game, started looking unsure of what was going on around him and at one point nearly did himself a mischief when he went flying (again) and landed plum on his glutes, as good as daring whiplash to bring it on.
Convo’s malaise was to get worse, and with about eighteen minutes to go Larkin won possession in the centre of the park – no longer the visitors’ dancefloor of domination – and slipped the ball through the blue-and-white striped back line, whereupon the recipient struck an arrow of a shot from just inside the area that pinged off Hendry’s left-hand post and nestled into the back of his net. While it was still billowing, but unconnected to the goal or those in green, somewhere in the locality someone set off a couple of fireworks, and Convocation must have felt like they were under siege.
By the end of the game the goal would be deserved, but at the time it still seemed a little harsh on Convocation. Up to that point Larkin had more-or-less been kept at arm’s length, the centre-back pairing of Greene and Welsh (A) combining well to protect their goal, while the experience of the veteran latter was invaluable in controlling the tyros around him: Halfpenny and Bower looked enthusiastic and energetic and were willing to listen to advice, while Appleton, once he was on, could frequently be found helping out in defence (unfortunately, usually to the detriment of his duties on the flank). But after the concession the rearguard were increasingly swamped by waves of rejuvenated green, although it was difficult to work out whether Convo were making their opponents look good, or whether the hosts were actually better than they had at first seemed.
There was no doubt the stripes were wobbling like weebles though, every minute that passed under Larkin’s growing stranglehold feeling like seconds, prompting the captain to scream at his charges to (to paraphrase) keep hold of the effin’ ball whenever they squandered possession in the middle of the pitch. The lime green version had been lost, hoofed into a neighbouring garden by one particular desperate Convo clearance – ‘Ave it! – but on one of the rare occasions that the visitors did manage to break free from their captors, when Bland was sent through from the halfway line (with a defender for company), they really could have done with the big forward doing better than shooting tamely at the opposition ‘keeper from just outside the area.
But though Convo were touching cloth, so to speak, they were surviving – just about. One side effect of this was that the Larkin comity of the first half had all but vanished; the more they realised that their guests were on the rack, but were incapable of capitalising on the advantage, the bigger the whingers they became. On one of the rare occasions that a striped clearance didn’t immediately get knocked straight back it was because Kent had upended a challenger for it in the middle of the Convocation half, and when the subsequent free kick was pumped into the visitors’ penalty area a man in green headed the ball across the goal and inches wide of the far post – and another great chance to score went begging.
Hendry – bless him – had been wasting time quite blatantly since the start of the second half, and his nefarious actions were not going unnoticed – the longer they went on the more the howls of anger from the Larkin players grew louder, and the more the referee warned him he was on his last chance. The #1’s gamesmanship was necessary though, as his team mates had been toiling like gulag inmates for quite a while and there was still ten minutes to go, but he nearly undid all his good work when the official, whose lenity could only be pushed so far, awarded an indirect free kick against him (near the penalty spot) for his constant hectoring (quelle surprise) – thankfully the home side wasted the gift plopped in their lap.
The mess they made of that though, was nothing compared with what came next, as moments later they trumped themselves. Convocation just could not get out of their own final third, so they had extra reason to feel aggrieved when their opponents benefitted from not being pulled up for a genuine foul throw near the halfway line; from it the home side knocked the ball forward and out to the right where eventually one of their players dribbled into the Convo area, and when Halfpenny came across and challenged him rather rashly the man in green thrust his nipples towards the turf. Nobody doubted it was a penalty, but with resignation setting in in the visitors’ camp the taker of the resultant spot kick sent his effort soaring over Hendry’s crossbar, and suddenly those in stripes felt a tiny bit of weight lift off their weary shoulders.
They nearly gave themselves an easy final five minutes when, from a throw-in in a strange and foreign land known as The Larkin Half (and close to one of the corner cones), Bland curled what appeared to be a cross against the front of the opposition crossbar, and seconds later must have momentarily cursed such fine margins. The hosts cleared the ball up the pitch and one of their men ghosted past Greene and ran on in possession into the Convo area, whereupon Lewis came across to challenge and sent the guy sprawling. It was an absolute stonewall penalty (the vice-captain admitted as much himself, after the game), but with Nawrocki shouting “nice touch” from somewhere near the Airport – an attempt at hoodwinking so transparent it could have been used as a car windscreen – the official (who wasn’t much closer to the incident than Nawrocki) waved his arms around by his waist in the universal gesture for ‘no foul’. Understandably those in green were unimpressed with this and the aggro-ometer needle wavered close to the red, with one player receiving a booking for what shall euphemistically be called ‘comments’, while, as with Hendry earlier, an indirect free kick was awarded against him.
The home side had one last chance to grab an equaliser and the point that they possibly deserved for all their second-half pressure. With the clock having passed the ninety-minute mark one of their midfielders ran onto a good pass down his left flank, leaving Halfpenny in his slipstream, but when he got to the edge of the Convo eighteen-yard box he smashed a wayward shot over the crossbar and off towards the jam butty mines. The referee blew for full time immediately.
It was all the visiting players could do not to slump to the ground in relief and exhaustion. Their performance on Saturday was far from pretty, and they would have had no grounds for complaint had they been pegged back or even lost, such was the pressure they put on themselves by retreating and retreating in the second half. They actually played better when they did lose, 5-1 to Kingsthorne on the opening day of the season, but their defending was better than then and so the unbeaten bandwagon rolls on. Sometimes it’s good to win ugly.
Man Of The Match: Convo’s fortunes definitely changed after Welsh (J) was forced to sub himself off, but alongside him in midfield Nawrocki had his best game for a long time, was integral to everything that the Wyncote side did well, and offered up occasional innovative slapstick to boot, so he gets the nod.
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Halfpenny, Greene, Welsh A, Bower; McGrath, Nawrocki, Welsh J, Kent, Bland; Lewis; Subs: Appleton, Farrell (not used)
[JF]: “It could have been 5-0 before Alumni equalised.”
Convocation (4-5-1): Round; Halfpenny, Welsh A, Welsh J, Farrell; McGrath, Salgado, Shore, Kent, Parsons; Lewis; Sub: Appleton
Convocation (4-3-3): Hendry; Halfpenny, Welsh A, Greene, Bower; Lewis, Shore, Kent; McGrath, Russell, Bland; Subs: Round, Turpin, Woodcock
Convocation (4-5-1): Hendry; Greene, Welsh A, Welsh J, Bower; McGrath, Nawrocki, Shore, Bloor, Kent; Lewis; Subs: Galy, McMahon, Shelvin
[JW]: ‘I have an idea for a very concise match report.’
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Galy, Welsh J, Woodcock, Bower; Russell, Lewis, Nawrocki, Salgado, Parsons; Kent; Subs: Williams, McGrath
Bobby Mimms reports
After a less than impressive pre-season, Convocation’s Firsts got their league campaign going on Saturday, and though it was all change at the top, with a new captain and for the first time ever two co-vice captains, on the pitch things were depressingly familiar. Not just in losing to un-familiar opponents, but also in struggling, already, for players: several of last year’s stalwarts have, not entirely surprisingly, left for pastures new over the summer, while of those recruited, one has been refused permission to play by the Old Boys League as he’s only seventeen and the other was unavailable due to what shall be referred to as a ‘weekend commitment’ – ever was it thus.
On an overcast afternoon Convocation welcomed to Wyncote one of several new teams in the expanded LOBAL, Kingsthorne, from Halewood, former habitués of the I-Zingari, apparently. It was a Division Three clash (the League having expanded to four tiers), and though the home side were not outplayed by their guests, the subsequent 5-1 thumping must have been something of a rude awakening for them to what might well be a new world order. [Sound the hyperbole klaxon.]
Convocation probably played their best football in the first half, and yet by its end they were four-nil in arrears. If OPTA had been present then they would surely have recorded a greater possession percentage for the blue-and-white striped hosts, and even to the naked eye it was clear that much more of the game was played in the Kingsthorne half of the pitch, and yet when the visitors occasionally found themselves with golden opportunities in front of goal they were quite ruthless. Convo’s movement and enthusiasm couldn’t be faulted and their regular overlapping on both flanks was especially impressive, while inside they knocked the ball about amongst themselves seemingly at ease, but unfortunately, unlike their opponents, their attempts at killer passes were frequently ever so slightly off the mark – possibly the main difference between the two teams.
The visitors got proceedings going on Wyncote’s 4G pitch at the slightly unconventional time of fifteen-hundred hours, and for the first five minutes were penned back in their own half of the pitch by Convocation’s high press (quite possibly the first time your correspondent has ever used those three words in that order). On the sideline new captain Jon Welsh – suspended for his part in the Woodstreet shenanigans at the end of last season – constantly barked instructions to his charges like a contestant on One Man and His Dog – the human one, obviously – and actually made sense, a nice change from his predecessor’s random-football-cliché-generator approach to cheerleading; he also had to play paramedic in the opening stages of the game as one of his deputies, Anthony Lewis, appeared to have dislocated a finger seconds after kick off and kept wandering over to the sideline for repairs.
He wasn’t the only player to get injured in those early stages though, as when Convo’s Jerome Galy knocked a fine ball out of defence up to Craig Kaye, the lone forward ‘outmuscled’ (for want of a better verb) an opposition defender on the edge of the Kingsthorne penalty area, who fell awkwardly under the challenge and remained spreadeagled for a minute-or-so afterwards. He eventually played on, but the hosts’ promising move hadn’t been so robust, as it’d fizzled out when their ersatz hatchet man’s attempted chest control bounced through to the ‘keeper.
The game burst into life at the other end of the pitch not long after that when the away side put a lovely curling cross into the Convo area from out on their left flank and a young buck looked like he must score as he ran in onto the ball, but then Callum Bloor – never normally a player to shy away from hoofing opponents into the stand – fluffed his usual lines and made a great challenge to prevent a shot; one or two of the visitors made half-hearted appeals for a penalty but the referee, Dave Malone, a vision in liquorice, waved them away. Any debate was irrelevant though, as within sixty seconds Kingsthorne had the lead anyway: they were incorrectly awarded a throw-in near their hosts’ right-hand corner flag and from it put a low delivery into the box, and with Convocation man marking as if the two-metre social distancing rule was still in effect one impish fellow had plenty of time to pick his spot and fire past the yellow-topped Jack Morgan.
It was becoming clear that Kingsthorne were no dummies and looked half decent, although their attacking cause was helped by being up against a very inexperienced Convocation centre-back pairing in Bloor and Fernando Raxa. And it was the former of those two who played onside the good run of an opponent when one of the red-shirted (with black pin stripes) visitors knocked a long ball forward from inside his own half (at the second time of asking – an initial attempt had been charged down), and the recipient slotted confidently at the subsequent one-on-one. Out on the flanks of the defence Galy (left) and John Farrell (right) were helpless.
Shortly after the midpoint of the first period Kingsthorne netted a third. The breeze that blew across the pitch all game had started to gain strength, but even so the visitors weren’t afraid to launch the ball into the air and bypass a Convo midfield consisting of Lewis and Mikes Nawrocki and Kent, flanked by Jay Russell and Andy Parsons (left and right respectively). When they again hoofed a long punt from their own half in the twenty-fifth minute the young lad who received it outpaced Galy and controlled with his chest, before pulling a pass back from inside the penalty area for a colleague who tapped home in the centre of the goal. There were calls for offside but the official wasn’t interested; even so you had to feel a little sorry for the hosts as their opponents had only had three chances and yet clinically despatched all of them.
Those Kingsthorne ‘route ones’ would continue intermittently throughout the game and must have had the Convocation eleven wondering if they were actually facing the old Crazy Gang, circa 1987, but for reasons that were hard to fathom the ball was regularly cleared over the pitch’s perimeter fence as well, so fair play to the visitors’ substitutes who continually retrieved the things, and by the end must have wished that you could ring up Just Eat or Uber to do so instead. Welsh was less impressed with the opposition centre backs though, commenting at one point that they were “turning like buses”, and as if to prove the point when Russell streaked down the left and into the opposition area moments later he easily rolled one of the Arrivas, but his subsequent low shot towards the near post was an easy stop for the lime green-shirted #1.
Nonetheless it showed that, despite being three adrift, the hosts weren’t playing badly. It would be a stretch to suggest that their midfield was the dominant force in the centre of the pitch, but they were pretty much holding their own, with Nawrocki, ever the Convo water carrier, allowing the likes of Lewis and Russell to probe and machinate, while it was interesting to see Farrell and Parsons regularly overlapping and filling in for each other along the right. There were loads of offsides though, with players on both sides constantly going too early, which was bloody amazing at the Convocation end of the park seeing as how the deep-dropping Bloor was as close as you could get to an onside guarantee.
When you left him to do what came naturally though, he had a fine game, such as when one of the visitors attacked at speed down their left, leaving Farrell in his slipstream, and crossed low into the box where a team mate only had to tap in… but didn’t, as Bloor thwarted him with another great block/tackle. He might as well have not bothered, as several minutes later, about five before the break, Kingsthorne made it 4-0 anyway when one of their ilk was played clear through on goal after a series of triangles along the wing and, once again one-on-one with Morgan, he squared the ball to a colleague, who side-footed home with ease. The ‘keeper then displayed an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the laws of the game by calling for offside because, “He played it forward,” but the truth was that even if the successful strike had been disallowed the team in red would surely have been awarded a penalty for a foul by Raxa in the build-up.
They should really have made it five a couple of minutes later when, having broken up a Convo attack inside their own area, they launched another long clearance up the pitch and one of their men ran on alone after it from the centre circle, but his eventual smashed shot from about twenty yards out was fingertipped onto one of the uprights by Morgan – who was having a far less calamitous game than he’d had against Alumni in midweek – and from there the ball rebounded across the face of the goal and away to safety. It was the hosts who finished the half the stronger though, creating two late chances to narrow the deficit, firstly when Kent fired wide of the target from the corner of the Kingsthorne box (it was a poor effort), having been laid on by a short Parsons free kick from down its side, and then when Kaye charged down an attempted garryowen on the edge of the visitors’ ‘D’ but then blasted high over the crossbar from near the penalty spot.
To their credit Convo didn’t hit the panic button during the interval even though there was no illusion that the game was anything but over. Welsh pointed out that the passing could be a little crisper and better timed, but otherwise emphasised that it hadn’t been a four-goals-down first-half performance from his troops and urged them to go back out and play for pride. He made one change for the restart, sending on Justin Hughes for the knackered Nawrocki (Hughes went to right wing; Parsons moved inside), who made the point, again, that he’d barely played for two years.
It was Kingsthorne who came flying back out of the traps though, and within ninety seconds of the restart they’d missed a sitter: they pushed forward down their left and put a high cross into the Convo goalmouth, where toward the far post one of their men glanced a header wide of it from inside the six-yard box when it seemed impossible not to hit the target – it was a poor finish. Less than two minutes later another one of those long balls that had caused so much trouble for the home side in the first half sent a guy in red clear through on Morgan – with Bloor really getting to grips with the old ‘Andy Willis role’, i.e. playing six yards behind the rest of the defence – and though the attacker was held up by the ‘keeper temporarily he eventually went wide and around him and fired off a shot at what he must have thought would be an empty net, but Raxa had done well to get back and cleared off the line.
On the hour mark Welsh made another change, sending Nawrocki back on for Farrell (who’d sat cross-legged at the feet of his captain during the interval as though in the front row of a junior school assembly) and moving Parsons into defence to replace the substituted chairman, and in no time at all Convocation went close to pulling a goal back. Hughes gained possession down the left-hand side of the Kingsthorne penalty area (begging the question, what’s he doing there?) and drilled the ball through it towards Kaye, at the back post, who looked like he must score but was denied at the last second by a fine defensive tackle; at the subsequent corner Russell’s header at the (other) back post was deflected wide for a second quadrant kick, which was a waste of everyone’s time.
Almost immediately the visitors attacked at pace down their left flank and, having breezed into the Convo box, one of their men blasted a effort past Morgan from a tight angle, only to be denied a goal by a fantastic, acrobatic clearance off the line from Galy, who’d somehow kept up with the break and run in from the opposite direction – how on earth he didn’t put into his own net is a mystery for the ages. Several minutes later Kingsthorne went close again, having spent thirty-or-so seconds knocking the ball around the peripheries of their hosts’ penalty area looking for a way in: having finally done so one of their ilk was given far too much time to turn, about ten yards out, but his smashed shot was blocked by the home #1, and the danger was then cleared.
The second-half chances continued to be shared between the two teams and next the hosts went close again when Nawrocki played a nice pass forward for Kent, who’d slipped through the red-shirted back line to get on the end of it, but having apparently done the hard work on the edge of the penalty area, and with a defender steaming in from behind him, the ball wouldn’t come down quickly enough – something that must be a regular ordeal for the diminutive chap – and he side-footed wide impatiently from an awkward angle. Not long after that the other vice-captain, Lewis, was in the right place when a panicked Kingsthorne clearance landed at his feet just outside the edge of the ‘D’, but with “Have a shot!” calls of encouragement ringing in his ears he fired high over crossbar.
With fifteen minutes to go though, Convocation did get the goal that they deserved. Moments after a Kingsthorne cross into the box from out on their right wing only just missed Morgan’s back post, Lewis gained possession in the centre circle and pumped a pass into the sparsely populated opposition half that Kaye challenged the red-shirted centre backs for, causing them to make the mistakes that Welsh had (sort of) predicted; from there Russell ran at pace onto the subsequent loose ball and smashed a shot from the edge of the penalty area that the ‘keeper did well to block, although the Convo man was then quick enough to take advantage of the rebound and onion-bagged from about eight yards out.
Who knows what might have happed if the home side had nabbed a second in the following minute or two, but instead it was Kingsthorne who scored again in that time. They attacked down their left with the Convo back line struggling to keep up, and when the player in possession suddenly handbraked back past Parsons and crossed low into the middle the receiver of the ball turned the only man in stripes in the vicinity, Galy, and fired into the net off one of the uprights.
Hope may spring eternal, but on this occasion everyone knew that that was the killer blow, and for the final ten minutes, with the sun having finally come out to shine across the pitch, Kingsthorne coasted in second gear. Convo had one last chance to score again, when Kaye pulled a free kick back from down the right side of the visitors’ penalty area and Lewis took a low shot from around about the eighteen-yard line that was smothered by the opposition #1, but otherwise that was all she wrote regarding action in either final third.
There was an amusing moment when someone in stripes played a pass from near the centre circle and called out “Mike” as he did, prompting Kent to turn all Miss Jean Brodie and scold, “Specify which one”, while elsewhere Bloor, who’d had a quiet afternoon on the brutality front, proved that like the Mounties he always gets his man (in the end) and put in a crunching challenge on an opponent right in front of the Convo bench – it was interesting that an unafflicted youngster in red got a tad shirty with the home side for be a little slow returning the ball, as he wanted to take a quick free kick (at 5-1 up, with two minutes remaining, and a colleague semi-dead on the deck nearby). He must have smelled blood.
Kingsthorne seemed like a nice side, but there can be no denying there was a noticeable difference between the ages of them and their hosts; their secretary, who was slumped amongst the Convo substitutes towards the end having taken a smash to the knackers, suggested that some of his colleagues were only seventeen (he was only twenty-one himself), which was supposedly verboten. The Wyncote boys can’t blame other teams because they’re getting old though, and anyway the main reason for the final result on Saturday was fine margins: the visitors were pinpoint with their passing and finishing; Convocation less so.
It's difficult to know what to make of the result though, as Convo didn’t play badly, while Kingsthorne are an unknown entity and so could’ve just had one of those days when everything goes right. Another new opponent is welcomed to Wyncote next week in the shape of Lord Derby Old Boys, so it may take a few weeks yet before it becomes clearer where Convocation stand in this season’s grander scheme of things.
Man Of The Match: Bloor played alright even if his was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde afternoon, putting in some great last-ditch challenges and blocks while regularly doing-in his team mate’s heads by defending more-or-less on the six-yard line, and there was little Morgan could have done better, which was more than could have been said in midweek. The two standout performances though, were from the two new vice-captains, Lewis and Kent, who kept things ticking over and others’ heads up, and (on the twentieth anniversary of 9/11) were twin towers in midfield (not physically, of course). So they share this week’s award.
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Galy, Raxa, Bloor, Farrell; Russell, Nawrocki, Kent, Lewis, Parsons, Kaye; Sub: Hughes
Poor performance all round.
2-1 to Alumni at half time (they’d also led 1-0). Convo’s second was a very dubious penalty (to make it 3-2).
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Pereira, Welsh J, Welsh A, Galy; Bloor, Sawle, Lewis, Askew; Kent, Bland; Subs: McNally, Barlow C, Greene, Grugel (not used)
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Greene, Welsh A, Raxa, Grugel; Williams, Kent, Sawle, Lewis, Long J; Bland; Subs: Farrell, Galy, Pereira, Askew
Bobby Mimms reports
Behind the rickety not-so-old changing rooms at Mersey Road a tractor was chugging back and forth across a stretch of land that used to be elevated, if memory serves, and covered in bushes and brambles and foliage. It appeared to be a Komatsu, and the expanse of brush it had cleared and levelled was easily capable of accommodating a third football pitch, which is interesting, while at the other end of the venue, bordering the allotments, a lone labourer was ignoring the South Liverpool Cup matches taking place nearby and pruning back weeds and nettles with some hedge trimmers, which might well have been Bosch. All in all, it was some nice landscaping.
The Liobians-Convo game couldn’t compete with action like that.
In fairness, the game couldn’t compete with people walking past in the street, humming, as it was utter dreck. Most of it was spent outside the penalty areas, with both teams continually stringing no more than two or three passes together before either gifting possession to their opponents with dreadful kicks, or just hoofing the ball into empty space or off the pitch. There was rarely any enthusiasm to get out of second gear (there wasn’t much enthusiasm to get into it), and for far too much of the tie pretty much everyone on the pitch looked like they were just going through the motions; even the Mersey Road midges, usually the bane of those watching on the sidelines, seemed negligible and uninterested. The whole thing was, as one unimpressed observer put it, like watching French cinema, only without the subtitles.
There were a handful of ‘highlights’ during the ninety minutes: most of the defending was fairly decent (alas – a bit of defensive incompetence might have livened things up), and the two goalkeepers did themselves justice on the rare occasions that their opponents actually fired off some shots and got them on target. The only Convo effort to hit the mark was from Jamie Long and necessitated a fine two-handed save from the home side’s #1, while Jack Morgan in the visitors’ nets was called into action in the first half (making a lovely “Oof” noise in the process), and also pushed a rising pop onto one of his posts in the second – three different Liobians players then ran in and tried to score with the rebound and subsequent loose balls, but all their attempts were just dreadful, posing more threat to each other and the tractor driver on his break in the distance.
Ahead of their aquamarine-shirted #1, and decked out in stripes of similar-blue and white, the visitors had retained the 4-5-1 formation so favoured by the old regime and began with new captain Jon Welsh partnering his brother, Andy, at the heart of the defence, and Andy Greene and John Farrell at left and right back respectively. In midfield Long (J) and Nottinghamshire’s Sam Askew were on the flanks, with Chris Barlow, Ollie Sawle and Anthony Lewis in between, while Mike Kent was the lone forward. The only substitute at the start of the game was seventeen-year-old Chris Grugel (he made his bow midway through the first period at right back, with Farrell moving up onto the wing to replace the uninjured Askew: “I’m just fucked”, the hooked newcomer admitted during a debrief on the sideline).
With the evening sun casting lengthening shadows across the pitch, Convo had begun proceedings by defending its river end (the end where the guy with the trimmers was) and it was clear pretty quickly that it was very much a battle of equals, admittedly in the sense that Liobians are a poor team while Convo were putting in a poor performance; far too many of those in stripes had their feet up as though it were still mid-summer. Matty Long – once thought to have been banished to Old Xavs – injected a modicum of urgency when he turned up, nettling the home side’s right back before he’d even stepped onto the pitch as a half-time replacement for the work-bound Farrell, but even he quickly slipped into default mode and started wasting promising moves by shooting from miles out as though he’d never been away.
Chris McNally showed up to see how the Firsts were getting on without him, midway through the second period, and an awful Sawle ‘karate kick’ shot must have reassured the erstwhile captain that his Convo legacy will live long, but things were equally as dismal at the other end of the pitch where the closest the game came to a goalmouth scramble – Action! – which seemed to go on in slow motion forever, left everyone scratching their heads as to how the ball had stayed out of the net and why it had taken the visitors so long to clear their lines; Welsh (A) whistling to himself as he sauntered up the pitch in the immediate aftermath of the shambles summed up the general listlessness of the whole game (all the club secretary was missing was a long blade of grass dangling out of his mouth). And one of the green-shirted players trying to persuade the referee (who should have been paid a boredom bonus) to award his side a corner (that never was) because, “It brushed his shorts”, left your correspondent rueing the fact that the nearest pub was miles away.
Having spent the time since arriving dishing out snippets of his acerbic less-than-wit from the sidelines, McNally was sent on up front for the final ten-or-so minutes, introducing that special brand of ineptitude of his to an already tedious game and sending out a message from Welsh (J) that Convo had settled for the draw. They still could have won mind, as both Longs had chances in the closing stages, but both sent their shots from inside the penalty area high over the Liobians crossbar, the one from Jamie being consoled with a preposterous call of “unlucky” from one of his team mates.
The final moment of what passed for interest on Tuesday evening involved a minutely promising chance for the home side that was sliced out of play for a throw in by one of the guys in green, with no one near him. It summed up the tie in microcosm, and thankfully the referee put everyone out of their misery moments later with the full-time whistle.
It wasn’t so much one for the purists as one for the out-and-out masochistic, although vice-captain Kent managed to offer up a redeeming slant on proceedings after the match: “Last season we’d have lost that 2-0” he suggested, without meaning to imply that not doing so was because he is now on the committee. Greene also offered up a soundbite (allowing this report to be padded out a few words more), claiming, “I find it hard playing out from the back.” Pick an occupant of just about any other position on the pitch on Tuesday and you’d have got someone who would sympathise.
The all-round awfulness of the game is a little understandable as it was the first of pre-season, and competition-wise both teams live to fight another day – but let’s never mention this atrocity again.
Man Of The Match: Grugel. He’s still of slight frame and looked nervy to begin with, but he grew into the game and put in a decent performance despite a middle-aged man on the sideline consistently shouting at him. A promising debut, and hopefully we’ll see more of him in the future (mind you, after this rubbish you wouldn’t be surprised if he was never seen again).
Convocation (4-5-1): Morgan; Greene, Welsh J, Welsh A, Farrell; Long J, Barlow C, Sawle, Lewis, Askew; Kent; Subs: Grugel, Long M, McNally