It’s Always Difficult Playing Against 10 Men…

…Or so Sky’s football pundits like to tell us whenever the opportunity presents itself – assuming they’re not busy commenting about referees who will, ironically, be very much a part of this tale of a damp Tuesday in Norf London when Wingate & Finchley played Maldon & Tiptree United.

Readers may recall from my previous blog that Maldon’s management were observed watching our match at Cheshunt on Saturday – so clearly they were taking this 6-pointer very seriously.   Quite what they got from their observations was not apparent though.   I know that we had a number of changes and a news flash on our website might have misled them about our team selection.   Even so, I thought they might have had a better game plan than one that consisted of shouting ‘Handball’ every time one of our players won a challenge.

The referee set the tone of how he was intending to control the match by threatening Joe that if he ‘spoke to him like that again’ he would be getting a card – didn’t hear what Joe said but we all heard the ref clearly.   He then proceeded, along with his linesman (sorry, I mean assistant),  to ignore the Maldon number nine attempting to unscrew Wrighty’s wooden leg as they lay in a heap on the grass together.   If a referee is going to worry more about what’s being said to him than about dealing with off the ball incidents then he is treading a very slippery slope towards losing control of the game.   Footballers may be adults, but on the field of play when the blood is up they are like a cub pack – give ‘em an inch and …

Anyway – The match was keenly contested in the first half and Wingate & Finchley took the lead from a free kick that Joe O’Brien hammered through the wall and past Maldon’s keeper.  It did take a deflection and I feel some sympathy for their keeper as he had put in some very good blocks at close range in the preceding minutes.    Maldon had some attacks too, but Bobby in the W & F goal was only called upon to make two real saves – the second a great one in the dying minutes of the half.

The second half was eagerly anticipated.   Unfortunately, what was to follow was a dealing of red cards that Maverick would have been happy with if hearts were trumps and which left both sets of fans disillusioned with the standard of refereeing in the Ryman League and feeling impotent to do anything about it 😦

I don’t deal in minutes here – that’s for those writing official match reports or on a course at secretarial college.   Suffice to say that early on there was a challenge in the area between the Maldon number nine (he who was not spoken to for wrestling in the first half) and the W & F keeper.   I will have a ‘Wenger’ moment at this point and say that I did not see what the number nine did at the time – Bobby’s body was between me and his feet but our keeper leapt up, threw the ball at him and stood there rubbing the back of his head.   At this point, we knew that at least one of them was going – our keeper definitely, for retaliation.   But, for there to be retaliation there has to have been a preceding act of violence and the referee showed the Red card to the number nine before sending Bobby off too.   A Maldon supporter, who was in a better position to see than me reckoned that our keeper was never touched… Looking at the photos this morning suggests that the number nine performed the Hunt-Cech manoeuvre on our keeper, which explains why neither I nor the Maldon supporter saw anything odd when the Nine was standing behind Bobby – the violence had already happened and, despite an otherwise poor game, the ref had seen it!

So – both teams down to 10 men.    Ahmet, brought on to replace David Laird, pulled on the gloves.   Now, rumour has it that Ahmet has done a little bit of goal keeping before… But his first action was a demonstration of his central defensive capabilities as he rushed out of his area to perform a great headed clearance!   Playing against a substitute keeper and feeling that they had an advantage, Maldon surged forward like the rampaging hoards of Genghis Khan – well they do come from the east 😉

Ahmet Saves!
Ahmet Saves!

Ahmet now left the headers to his defenders and concentrated on getting his body behind the ball making a number of saves, one of which the regular keepers would have been pleased with.

With the initial assault dying down as Maldon tired, W & F started to challenge again in midfield.  It was now that the ref took the opportunity to give Joe that card that he’d promised – a straight red for a challenge that possibly merited a yellow.   W & F down to 9 men with, I guess, 30mins to go.

Now is the time for all good men to…Defend like it’s 1940 all over again!   Niels’ marshalled the troops – constantly badgering them into forming a good line.  Ahmet started getting his kicks working and finding the one or two guys we had in midfield – there was no one up front!   It was one of these that released Lewis Jones to score a goal against the run of play – 2-0 to the W & F!   As the clock ticked down, the defending became more desperate.   Weathers’, who’d had a good game until now, saw an attacker getting past and decided to lunge (not a good idea) – he slid across the wet surface of the pitch, getting the ball, but his hind leg clipped the foot of the attacker who went down with a squeal of pain.   The ref immediately pulled the red card.   Now, I thought that referees were supposed to take account of the conditions when judging the severity and intent of tackles but it seems that this ref hasn’t had that training yet.   I found it interesting that the Maldon physio had to treat the attacker’s posterior – perhaps he’d had a little accident as he saw Weathers’ approaching?

Down to 8 men and backs to the wall – sounds like a Saxon track to me 😉  So what do we do?  Ahmet punts a kick forwards to Josh and Josh shows the Maldon defence what running is all about – gets to a one-on-one with the keeper… Now, when asked why he didn’t smack it home himself, Josh’s said ‘I was too tired to carry on – so I passed it’!  Gary received and duly converted with a great chip over the keeper – 3-0 to W & F.   Oh – and there was one more sending off – the Maldon manager to the stands.

So how do you beat 10 men?  Play against them with 8!   Premier teams and Sky pundits take note 😉

P.S. A note to our regular keepers – watch out, Ahmet has got 100% clean sheets!

All thoughts expressed are my own and do not represent the views of Wingate & Finchley FC.

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