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Merlins - Match centre

Thames Valley 3XI
Maidenhead Merlins
Sat 17 Mar 15:00 - League Full time

Merlins 1 - 2 Thames Valley 3s

A cold loss for the Merlins

One would expect that a mid-March Saturday afternoon would have the air of Spring has sprung, days getting longer, daffodils fluttering in the gentle breeze, Merlins’ knees seeing fresh air and a warm sunny glow pointing the old codgers towards the end of another season.

Instead, a trepid band of only 9 Merlins (who could easily have been mistaken for a bunch of Russian diplomats being expelled to deepest Siberia) braved the elements to deepest Surrey which had more than a passing resemblance to said Siberia. Driving snow, strong winds, below freezing temperature - dark and dismal it was. The only light in the whole day was what could the men in green do at old HQ? The team gathered pitchside as the Ladies match ended looking more like the Michelin Mens’ Team than the usual lean, mean athletes that they think they are, only to be met with comments from the Ladies such as “good luck, you’ll need it out there”; “you must be mad starting a game in
this”; “St Peters Hospital is just down the road”… Some of the less enthused suggested offering the opposition an honourable draw and retiring to watch the rugby without de-Michelin- ing but to no avail, the game was on.

The extensive travel into Surrey was obviously a step too far for the usual younger Merlins contingent and youth was noticeable by its absence on the Merlins side. However, TV3’s soon made up for the lack of youth on display and promptly displayed a worrying band of Under 16’s in their starting line-up. One could say it was a 50:50 game – Merlins were mostly well over 50 and TV3 were mainly well under 50 years! Being 2 men short, TV3 did the decent thing and loaned 2 players and they were warmly received into the team, Martin playing left wing and upfront with the elder Edwards and Lee slotting into the back line with Doug ‘Hop-a- Long’ Courtney, David ‘DV’ Vincent and Noel ‘Spud’ Murphy. Midfield saw the central line of George 'Braveheart' Wallace, Rod Gauld on loan from the Monarchs and Rob Newnham all being marshalled by the ever-running Dave “Heartburn” Rennie.

With an element of trepidation at the thought of a long afternoon running around after youngsters, the game started amidst the wind and falling snow and surprisingly, the Merlins were off to a good start, keeping the TV3 forwards away from Ronnie “The Cat” Fuller in goal and even managing a few breaks downfield towards the TV3 goal. A number of passes into and around the “D” were made with positive intent but just failing to hit the target. Until, that is, a long pass from midfield found On Loan Martin from TV3, who slotted the ball past his usual team-mate in the TV goal – one-nil Merlins!

Merlins continued to move the ball forward but again the final pass or shot was missing. TV3 had a strong defence line and were able to cut out many forays into their territory and started their own assault on the Merlins back line and goal. “The Cat” held out defiantly until a short corner when one of the whippersnappers latched onto a drive into the Merlins “D” and deflected into the net for ONE-ALL. There was continued pressure from the Merlins and there was momentary joy when Rob Newnham slotted a clean strike into the net but was adjudged to have been just outside the “D”. It would have been fitting reward for the chances created, but it was not to be.

Half-time came as a welcome, but very short, break in order to keep the hypothermia to a minimum, but was long enough for the usual and not-so- usual half-time talks of “pass to a white shirt” and, new to the repertoire, “lets hold onto the ball, look for a team mate and not give it away with long passes,” both of which still ended up with the same, usual result..

The second half ensued with Merlins playing with the mini-beast- from-the- east behind them (sort of) and attempting this half to get shots on target and playing with a little control in their approach.
However, just like a low-swinging chariot some miles down the road, the wheels ended up coming off the Merlins good intentions and it wasn’t long before TV3 had scored a second goal.

Merlins continued to push forward and had numerous chances in and around the “D” with shots going narrowly wide and bouncing off the keeper’s pads, much to the frustration of all involved. An equaliser would have been a just reward for efforts in the conditions and with players out of position, on loan and downright chronologically challenged, against a younger, fitter outfit but, alas, the final whistle brought the proceedings to a disappointing result at the end.

It was nice to note a game played in good spirit by both teams with hearty handshakes all around which were shared but not felt due to the frostbite. The TV3 umpires were thanked for their generous participation and their ability to maintain movement instead of doing Olaf the Snowman impressions.

The after-match niceties were -- - well, I’m not sure, as some of the swiftest moves of the afternoon saw the Celtic brethren of the team (me included) hurtle themselves down the M25 and M4 to see how their countrymen were doing in the rugby, but no doubt hot showers and teas were very welcomed and reports of showers of anti-freeze were grossly exaggerated – but you wouldn’t bet on it.

As the game was played at Salesiens School, the end of match report resulted in the Headmaster decreeing “Must Do Better Next Time” which was warmly met with complete silence as usual, probably due to the collective chattering of teeth drowning out any chance of a response.

Onwards and upwards for the Merlins for the next home game v Wimbledonians, hopefully with a few more players and some younger legs to help out.

Man of the Match? – no idea as I was already on the M4 by then, but my vote would go to the energetic, dynamic Mr Rennie, who ran his socks off all game and commanded the central midfield with brave tackling, runs and passes.

The Epilogue
The Anglo Saxon element did indeed retire to the TV clubhouse for much appreciated hot showers, tea and beers. MOM is traditionally only awarded to those returning to the clubhouse unfortunately on this occasion eliminating David “Heartburn” Rennie. It was awarded instead to Martin on loan from TV for his goal scoring ability (which meant TV scored all three goals), an ability seemingly not in the Merlins skill set this week. Certainly, room for improvement!


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