On the last game before the lockdown period, Convo Vets were looking to gain their first long awaited victory of the season.
Their opponents were St Marys. A team Convo had the pleasure of a few tasty battles with in the past with results being shared either way. So this one had an unpredictable look about it – but it all depended on which Convo team decided to turn up today.
The results of the past few months were disappointing for the men in Orange and a change in fortune was due.
Colin Knox was forced (well, he volunteered) to go in between the sticks as Jack was on COVID isolation duty. The game also saw the welcome return of Jamie Southern after another one if his knee/ ankle/ groin long layoffs.
Rossy, Ben Prince and Paul Fairclough made up the rest of the defence with Ian Poole, Dave Bairstow in the middle and John Kearney and Craig Kaye on the flanks. Geoff Poole and Si Holder up front. Billy Lamb and Andy Mac on the bench.
Convo started off the match on the front foot. Strangely for Wyncote, the pitch was cut up badly (as they no doubt don’t have enough staff in the current climate to be paid to be looking after the pitches as well), so the rain and owing to the fact a game had been played on their earlier that morning, the ball was running at a slow pace on the surface which favoured the Convo style of play.
There was a good few positive moves early on and one of them brought an early goal to Convo. A neat switch out to Kaye on the right and he breezed past the defender and cut it back for Geoff Poole who finished on the volley but the referee harshly ruled it out for offiside. I guess the St Marys defenders shout very loudly and they get what they shouted for on this occasion. Still 0-0.
Unusually at the other end, a rare mistake from Southern him and Knox involved in St Marys first goal. Pass by Southern put Prince under pressure, St Marys intercepted and Knox perhaps needlessly racing off his line, the forward neatly chipped. 0-1.
This was harsh on Convo and luckily unlike recent weeks, they did not go into their shell and came fighting back. Geoff Poole was ruled off side a few times, much to his displeasure and this saw a change of tactic with Billy Lamb coming on up front to try to spice things up. The change worked.
A re-energised Kearney (must be all that 9 a side in midweek) showed some good battling and ball into the box. Ian Poole and Bairstow scrapping for bits, Kaye involved too and it saw the ball into the box and Lamb showed up in the right place to find the net. Game on 1-1.
The opponents started to show some true colours from previous encounters and when one of their players thought the Convo player had ran a ball out for a throw-in, McClaren holding the flag did not call it out was then only to be met with some whingeing and abuse. McClaren was in no mood for this and a tirade of words were shouted back. The game had livened up and this then saw some tackles flying in from both sides.
For Convo though, they showed more character again and before the break went in 2-1 up. Another hard working midfield combination saw Holder involved upfront too and Lamb again in the right place (Calvert-Lewin esque ) and notched home a tidy finish.
Convo up 2-1 at the break.
The 2nd half saw Southern limp off (groin) and McClaren slot in. Geoff Poole also came on back up front.
Convo again battled and battled well. The 2nd half was definitely a midfield battle. Ian Poole and Holder were now the central midfielders and they gave it everything. Bairstow slotted in centre half. The defence stood its ground.
Convo attacked well. Kaye played a ball out to Geoff Poole on the right wing. He paced down the right and heard Lamb screaming in the box for a pass. A precision pass was made and Lamb again took a touch and slotted neatly. A brilliant Hat-rick!! 62 years old and a Hat-rick! That’s something to tell the Grandkids!
Convo played out the game with a few attacks and a few chances missed but defended the best they had all season in this half and did not concede in 45 minutes which must be some sort of record.
And there it was, a 3-1 win. The first of the season. Convo have played lesser teams and lost so it shows how much improved the performance was today and they never stopped going.
MOM. Well, special mentions go out to most of the team; Knox in goal had a very steady and calm performance, Bairstow and McClaren at the back worked hard 2nd half. Ian Poole had his best performance of the season in midfield and Holder too worked extremely hard and was much more involved in that central midfield 2nd half position. Ross put in his usual shift and Kearney had a neat game with a much improved work rate.
The award has to go to Billy Lamb though. Player of the season already for these 3 goals today plus the fact he brought a case of lager which he gave out to all the team from the boot of his car after the match. This went down well! The last get together before November lock down.
Convo 4-4-2 : Knox, Fairclough, Prince, Southern, Ross, Kearney, I Poole, Bairstow, Kaye, G Poole, Holder. Subs: Lamb, McClaren.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Ross, Lamb B, Bastow, 'Marcel'; Greene, Houston, Poole I, Fairclough; Poole G, Holder; Subs: McLaren, Jago (unused)
Bobby Mimms reports
In this time of plague it seems that beggars can’t be choosers, but do Convocation and Ramblers really want to be playing each other every other week? Or is this their footballing bubble? From the visitors’ point of view Saturday’s game at Moor Lane was a vast improvement on the 6-0 thumping they received from the same opponents a fortnight ago, but is lazy scheduling the best way to go about achieving amelioration? The joke doing the rounds last year was that the regularity of the fixtures between the two clubs was like the baseball World Series, but now it feels more akin to playground football that resumes exactly where it left off at the end of the previous break, and which continues all term. With umpteen matches against Northop Hall also on the horizon the season’s in danger of becoming a little stale and predictable, and it’s not even a month old.
In fairness, Convo should have been away to Rhewl Vets on Saturday but football in the Principality is still verboten, and as Andy McLaren just loves a Corinthian match-up against Ramblers it was back off to Crosby. It had been bright and sunny all morning, a lovely early-autumn gift, but as kick-off time approached and everyone’s greeting elbows ached it had already begun to cloud over, and it would be rather overcast by the end. There were plenty of people in attendance though, Boris’ warnings to stay at home falling on deaf ears (again), meaning that it was possible the game had a bigger crowd than most, if not all, current Premier League affairs.
Convo would eventually have fourteen players at their disposal once Simon Holder turned up at the start of the second half, the veteran having originally gone to Wyncote to play, but taking the fight to the opposition before then was Jack Morgan in goal, behind a back four of Jon Kearney and Paul Fairclough (left and right-back respectively), with Dave Bastow and Ben Prince in between, the latter fresh from his first ever own goal for the club last week (After sixteen years? Bloody lightweight.). The four-man midfield comprised of Ian Poole and Graham Kay, flanked by Mike Drakidis and Geoff Poole, while up front Darren Bennett partnered young starlet Billy Lamb.
Decked out in orange shirts with (in general) black shorts and socks Convo got the game underway attacking the clubhouse end, and there won’t be many people present who would disagree that the first ten minutes were about as exciting as a hospital dinner, although on the plus side there was plenty of… industry, let’s call it that. Kearney was lively down the flank, overlapping Drakidis on numerous occasions, while on the other side of the pitch Fairclough was frequently not on the other side of the pitch as he had taken it upon himself to man mark habitual pest (Squeaky) Jordan, who scored four times when the two teams played a couple of weeks ago. (Is man marking allowed under current government guidelines?)
Ramblers had the game’s first shot in anger, after advancing down their left and Prince only half-clearing the subsequent cross into the box, thus allowing a second quartered-shirt to drive an out-swinger just wide of the foot of the Convo post. Within ninety seconds though, they had taken the lead. The visitors launched a long punt forward that Lamb chased and, twenty-five yards out, back-heeled into the path of Kay, and he whipcracked a superb rising effort that the opposition ‘keeper parried away to his left. A defender hoovered up the loose ball and cleared into midfield – domain of former Everton and Republic of Ireland player Gareth Farrelly – where quite quickly one of the home side’s forwards was played in, just outside the penalty area, and he ran on and fired low into the net past the advancing Morgan.Convocation had a chance to equalise just after the quarter-hour mark when a corner was cleared to the edge of the Ramblers eighteen-yard box and the lurking Bastow came steaming in onto the ball, but unfortunately for the visitors his rising rocket of a shot only just remained in the Earth’s atmosphere. A couple of minutes later, up the other end of the pitch, the home side showed the defender how to keep an effort on target when one of their men had a go from just outside the ‘D’, yet still he was equally as unfruitful, Morgan smothering the low drive just before it reached his goal line.
The game entered another ten-minute barren spell after that, albeit one in which Ramblers frequently looked promising without ever being able to get a shot off. They’d cottoned on to the fact that the Convo right flank was frequently undermanned and exposed due to Fairclough wandering like Michael Palin (he was keeping Jordan quiet though), while they had also gained a modicum of control in midfield, despite Kay playing like the Duracell Bunny, as Poole (I) and Drakidis were quiet. This wasn’t enough for one of the hosts though, who harangued his colleagues for not being ruthless enough: “We’re marking spaces! They’ve got bright fucking orange shirts on!”
As the mid-point of the half came and went the heavens clouded over and a bit of a breeze got up, turning what had been a fairly pleasant afternoon a little chilly, but the home side’s #1 was clearly under the impression he was in Ibiza, and DJing at that – at one goal kick he called out to his team mates, “Hands up in the air – I wanna hear you screaming.” One Ramblers player almost literally was, shortly after that, when he received a hoofed clearance into the bollocks from next to no distance and proceeded to do the full Hans Moleman for about thirty seconds thereafter, but his discomfort was nothing compared to one of his more mature colleagues on the sideline who complained that Convo had “put the kids out” and then, begrudgingly, had to accept his mistake when told that he’d picked on the forty-two year old Prince to prove his point.
The spectre of match fixing raised its ugly head as the first half neared its final quarter-of-an-hour, when Ramblers advanced down their right and misfired across the face of the Convo goal, unintentionally delivering the ball straight to the feet of Poole (G), who instead of clearing the thing passed it gift-wrapped to an unmarked opponent just inside the eighteen-yard box – his shot was parried by Morgan and a second effort was then blasted inches wide of the furthest post by another quartered shirt. Local bookies immediately began checking for irregular betting patterns, but on the pitch the hosts nearly snuck in again when one of their younger players (he didn’t look forty-two) chased a long punt down the left and flew past last-man Bastow at about the speed of pyroclastic flow before attempting a cheeky dink past Morgan, but almost on the edge of his area the ‘keeper thwarted the ruse with his shins.
Part of the reason why Ramblers were marginally on top was that too many players in orange were being contained. Lamb was getting knocked all over the place by burly defenders – at one point McLaren complained from the sideline, “Ay, he’s an old-age pensioner”, to which the reply came, “Well shouldn’t he be self-isolating then?” – while the midfield was only functioning at fifty percent. That it was that high was mainly down to Kay, labouring more than the old woman in the shoe and regularly exchanging passes like Zorro swishes, particularly with Kearney in the first half. Drakidis got quite close to the ball on a number of occasions but was, in general, anonymous, while McLaren had to be reminded that the first forty-eight hours are the most important when looking for a missing person and that he needed to pull his finger out if there was any hope of finding Poole (I) alive.
Poole (G), however, was about to stamp his mark on proceedings, and at the right end of the pitch to boot. With a tad over ten minutes of the half remaining Kay won a free kick in the middle of his opponents’ half and took it himself, quickly pinging it towards Bennett who was loitering just outside the Ramblers half. Realising that the home side had been caught napping the forward then amplified their disarray by ‘allowing’ the ball to roll under his foot straight into the path of the winger’s run, and when he eventually got the thing onto his right peg – talk about telegraphing your move; it was like watching a supertanker manoeuvring – he fired across the ‘keeper and into the net.
For the remainder of the half Convocation had the (slight) upper hand, and Poole (G) twice went close to returning the favour for Bennett’s, ahem, ‘clever dummy’ in the build up to the equaliser. Firstly, the erstwhile club secretary drilled a low shot across the face of the Ramblers target that his team mate was inches away from getting on the end of and poking home, and then five minutes before the break the two combined to actually get the ball into an open goal, but the effort was ruled out for being offside despite the forward having been a good five or six yards behind play when the winger pulled it back for him past the wandering ‘keeper; after the match the referee acknowledged his mistake and apologised.
Kay almost scored a fluke-and-a-half with the last kick of the opening forty-five when he attempted to put a cross into the box but got it much closer to the goal than he intended and the Ramblers glover had to paw the ball away from under his bar. Seconds later the whistle went for the interval with the two teams level pegging.
Blowing across the pitch, the wind had really started to get up by the time the second period got underway, with Convo attacking the old tennis courts that now look to be more forested than Narnia. The visitors had made one personnel change during the interval, Kearney making way for Colin Knox the Silver Fox, and with the revelation during the previous forty-five minutes that the incomer had once played and scored in the FA Cup (admittedly, in a second qualifying round tie for Skelmersdale against Douglas of the Isle of Man, in 1993) he’d made a rod for his own back – he had to find the back of the net here.
It was the hosts who restarted the better though, and in the opening thirty seconds one of their ilk was sent flying through on goal, but before he could say ‘where have all the defenders gone?’ Morgan came sliding out of his area and cleared the ball with his legs before it could be knocked past him. Several minutes after that everyone present was left scratching their heads as to how Ramblers didn’t score when a shot from down the right-hand side of the Convo penalty area crashed against the underside of the crossbar, then struck the far post and rebounded out, where another quartered shirt mis-controlled the rebound, but moments after that they did find the back of the net only for their own sideline to inform the referee that a throw-in should have been awarded to the visitors in the build-up; their rather pacey winger took umbrage with the situation and made a couple of saucy comments (it was unclear towards whom), but quickly calmed down before his behaviour crossed the luger-and-brandy threshold.
Having finally arrived at Moor Lane, enthusing about how easy it’d been to get a parking space at Wyncote, Holder came on for Poole (G) ten minutes into the half, but the most pressing issue in the immediate moments after the substitution was the discovery of a scattering of shit on the flank in front of the Convo bench, and what animal had deposited it. Was it a goose? Was it a fox? Was it a bear? Unable to consult the Big Book of Wildlife Crap everyone eventually agreed to disagree, and only then did one of the Ramblers subs think it might be a good idea to get a shovel and move the stuff.
Moving on from scatological matters the mulletted Knox gave Convocation the lead just before the hour mark, the intricacies of which we shan’t go into (somehow, nobody in the press box saw the thing), although he should really have scored moments earlier but blasted wide from the edge of the penalty area. On that occasion he’d gained possession after Kay had launched into a good old-fashioned man-and-ball challenge on the edge of the centre circle, a perfectly legal bone-rattling smash that sent his opponent somersaulting head-over-heels through the air like an extra from The Fall Guy, to a collective intake of breath from everyone else on the pitch. Lovely stuff.
Convo’s lead only lasted a couple of minutes though. Straight after the goal Kearney was sent back on for Bastow, who was suffering some sort of leg discomfort (Lamb shuffled inside, into central defence, to form the old ‘Bill and Ben’ partnership with the baby-faced Prince), and moments later the home side won a corner. Determined to regain possession as quickly as possible Convocation leant on the old maxim that the best way to do so at a corner is to concede a goal, and, taking social distancing to the extreme as the ball was floated into the six-yard box, they allowed a quartered shirt to ghost in completely unmarked and put a slow-motion header between the sticks; it wasn’t so much a bullet as a bubble bobbing in the wind.
Bennett went close to reclaiming the lead for the visitors with a good bit of play when he received the ball with his back to goal, about twenty-five yards out, and swivelled on the spot to smash a first-time effort just past the angle of the target, while at the other end of the pitch Morgan made a fine save from Farrelly after the Ramblers man had dribbled past three or four orange shirts without any form of molestation. That was only a temporary let-off though, as with the midpoint of the second period upon them the home side took time out from pinging passes around the peripheries of the Convocation penalty area to try their luck from just inside it, and their luck was in, because Lamb attempted to head the shot clear but only succeeded in flicking the ball past his ‘keeper with his luscious bouffant.
Short of anticipating the deflection there was nothing Morgan could have done to prevent the concession, and a couple of minutes later he at least had the satisfaction of making a smart save to keep Squeaky Jordan out, while shortly after that Prince got away with what looked a stonewall hand ball in his own area; short of tucking the thing under his arm and legging off up the pitch it couldn’t have been more glaring. Whether or not the referee was making up for having disallowed Convo’s earlier legitimate goal will never be known, but he might as well have just awarded Ramblers the penalty because within ninety seconds they’d scored anyway, when a cross drilled through their guests’ box was retrieved by one of their players (having been originally drilled behind him) and he arrowed a shot into the top far corner of the net.
By then McLaren had entered the fray in a straight swap with Fairclough, whose peripatetic afternoon had achieved its purpose by keeping Jordan reasonably quiet, while Poole (G) had also returned in place of Drakidis, whose highlights reel wouldn’t have lasted long; it would have made much more compelling viewing than one featuring Poole (I) though, who, it turned out, had been playing after all. Morgan was as involved as his midfield colleagues hadn’t been, and prevented another goal when he cleared off his line after a penalty-area melee, although in using his feet when he’d had time to bend down and pick up he once again gave notice of his ability to flit from the sublime to the ridiculous; for every good save he made on Saturday he’d looked shaky whenever the ball was in the air, and there’d been plenty of crosses into the box where he was flapping like the shutters on a haunted house.
Bastow returned for Lamb for the final five-or-so minutes, but most of the play in that time was up the other end of the pitch where the two Convo forwards went looking for penalties. Bennett was the first to make a half-hearted claim when he fell rather too easily under minimal contact, but then Knox upped the ante and went down in an in-instalments dive having got a whiff of an opponent’s aftershave; probably realising his efforts had lacked a little credibility he immediately kneeled up and waved jazz hands at the official, a look of beatific innocence on his mush. Timing is everything in comedy though, so when he next crossed the Ramblers eighteen-yard line he immediately went tumbling to the grass like a foal at the first scent of spring, in an even more absurd attempt to con a spot kick. One of his teammates suggested that his inability to remain on his feet were reminiscent of someone wearing roller boots for the first time.
The home side had one last opportunity to add to the score sheet when they won a corner in the final minute, but when it was floated in their attempt on target was headed clear off the line by Kearney who was guarding the post, and the referee blew for full time moments later. And pooh-poohing the latest craze, he didn’t then restart the game and award a penalty.
It was a fair result: Ramblers just about deserved to win, and with too many Convo players not at the races it would have been crass had they denied their hosts. Perhaps familiarity breeds apathy, not contempt. There was certainly none of that once everyone retired to the clubhouse though, as despite the bar being shut and the tables arranged as though expecting prison visits, there was plenty of complimentary booze and as many bacon-and-sausage barms as could be eaten. Even in times of plague some standards of hospitality must be upheld.
Convocation will have another chance to jumpstart this season’s Ramblers account in a couple of weeks’ time, when the clubs meet again – natch – and even after losing the first two ties they could still have a healthy lead in the Series by Christmas… the way the fixtures are being arranged. That’s assuming everyone isn’t long sick of the sight of each other by then. But, beggars can’t be choosers, and there are plenty of worse teams Convo could be stuck in the seventh circle of hell with.
Man Of The Match: Kay, the conductor of the Convo symphony (school band?). Everything they did well on Saturday went through him, and his performance was even more impressive when you consider that he was carrying Poole (I) all game.
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Kearney, Prince, Bastow, Fairclough; Drakidis, Poole I, Kay, Poole G; Bennett, Lamb B; Subs: Knox, Holder, McLaren
‘Positional witchcraft’ cried Convo purists. “Worth a go!!” argued Captain McLaren.
Convocation (3-5-2): Morgan; Lamb B, Bastow, Prince; Ross, Drakidis, Poole I, Galy, Kearney; Kaye, Poole G; Subs: Holder, McNally, McLaren
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Ross, Drakidis, Prince, Lamb B; Kearney, Poole I, Fairclough, Jago; Kaye, Poole G; Subs: Holder, McLaren
Convocation (4-4-2): Morgan; Ross, Prince, Southern, Lamb B; Kearney, Kay, Poole I, Fairclough; Round, Kaye; Subs: Bastow, Schofield R, McLaren, Drakidis