[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, Grugal; 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