Sunday 11th March 2012
By Patrice Mongelard
Welcome return of pride and team spirit for Senior Vets
What a difference a week makes. After last Sunday’s wintry rain and depression came today’s spring sunshine and redemption. And it could have been even better.
We might not have had a game were it not for signs of life from our own Lord Lucan, aka Toby Harlow fixer of FOBG Vets fixtures who sparked earlier in the week to secure replacement games for both Vets teams. It has been a good week for Toby – two Chelsea victories, a feature in the FOBG Hall of Fame, as well as a “Toby Harlow remembers” article in this weekend’s FOBG first team match programme; and that is how we ended up making the trip to the Beckenham Cricket Ground to play Wellcome Vets instead of tangling with the Met Police Super Vets in West Wickham. There were in fact two Wellcome Vets teams on the scene and for a while it was not clear if we would play the more or the less experienced side. In the end we faced the latter.
Once again our numbers had thinned overnight, from sixteen to thirteen. We lined up with Gary Fentiman in goal; Steve Blanchard, Colin Brazier, Patrice Mongelard and Mick O’Flynn in defence; Rob Lipscomb, Chris Webb, Nick Waller and Ian Shoebridge in midfield; Paul Smith and Andy Faulks in attack. Paul Bell and Chris Bourlet waited to join the game at half time.
I am sure I was not the only one who thought, in the first twenty minutes or so, that we ought to have been playing the older Wellcome Vets on the adjoining pitch. Were it not for the excellence of Gary Fentiman in our goal we could have fallen two or three goals behind. Gary made two great point blank saves, dashed off his line more than once (like an InterCity 125 diesel train – more on that later) to clear away danger on the edge of the box; and a Wellcome forward put a free header on to our bar from inside the six yard box.
And yet we scored first, a little against the run of play it must be said, but after weathering the initial onslaught from younger legs, we began to quiz the Wellcome defence, particularly down the right. Paul Smith played Andy Faulks in with a delicate first touch and Andy got behind the last defender and pushed the ball beyond the Wellcome keeper before being brought down. The referee, a Wellcome club official who did an excellent job right to the last exciting minute, had no choice but to award a penalty. This was coolly converted by Paul Smith. Our confidence grew to the extent that Patrice Mongelard attempted to score from a free kick on the half way line. I had spotted the keeper, not the tallest we have faced, off his line. The idea was sound but the execution was poor. Chris Webb who had been preparing to take the free kick himself shook his head in a pronounced manner to signal silent disappointment, disbelief and disgust all at once.
We noticed that Wellcome were having trouble clearing their lines if we pressed them and that is how, ten minutes later, Ian Shoebridge forced an error from them and took possession of the ball on the edge of their box and threaded a pass to Paul Smith. Paul still had a lot to do as he rounded the last defender, advanced towards goal, drew the keeper off his line and finished crisply into the bottom corner – the clearest sign to date of a return to the marksmanship of previous seasons. By half time we felt we deserved our lead. It was an interesting statistic that for all their pressure Wellcome had not had a single corner in the first half. Neither did we in the second half. All the corners came at one end of the pitch.
Mick O’Flynn and Ian Shoebridge made way for Paul Bell and Chris Bourlet at half time. This meant a re-fashioned right side which had the effect of shifting our attack more down our left side. We kept Wellcome at bay for fifteen minutes or so. They got back into the game with a cross or disguised shot from the right of our defence which Patrice Mongelard failed to cut out, after shaping up to do so, and putting Gary Fentiman off, and drawing a quizzical look from Colin Brazier. Wellcome pressed hard for a second goal and won several corners but we stood firm. Ian Shoebridge came back on for Nick Waller to help us cope with the midfield surges from the Wellcome youngsters. Our hopes soared when we took a 3-1 lead with fifteen minutes left. The Wellcome keeper was having trouble getting any length on his kicks and more than once we picked up clearances thirty to thirty-five yards out. From one such instance Chris Webb lofted the ball to Andy Faulks on the edge of the Wellcome box – Andy’s control off his chest was quality as the ball sat up for a sweet right foot volley that went in off the underside of the bar with the Wellcome keeper stranded. Surely that was it we thought. Soon after, Chris Webb went off with a thigh strain and Mick O’Flynn replaced him.
The last ten to fifteen minutes were frantic. There were chances for both sides. Wellcome got a second goal with about ten minutes left, an excellent shot into the top corner as our midfield was overrun. Gary Fentiman made two stunning saves diving low to keep long range shots out. The referee became a speaking clock as enquiries were made with him – at one point he said it was six + two ) (a bit like the last round of questions at last night FOBG quiz). We were almost at the end of the six when we had a really good chance to kill the game off. Ian Shoebridge ran at the Wellcome defence, slipped Andy Faulks in and all Andy had to do was to lift a cross to the far post where Paul Bell was waiting unmarked to nod the ball in (perhaps even do a Ballotelli). You can guess the rest – the cross never got to Paul. We had four players still in the Wellcome box when they broke at speed, and got a forward behind our defence. Gary came off his line like the fastest diesel train in the world (a question he got right in the FOBG quiz last night) and crashed into the Wellcome forward. There was a worrying pause as both players regained their wits. Gary was dazed and said he could not remember if he had been on the winning team at last night’s FOBG quiz – he was - and I should know.
Anyway the referee once again had no choice but to award a penalty even though the Wellcome forward had already put the ball wide. Gary was a whisker from saving the kick with his feet but it had been struck too fiercely by a local 33-year old Uruguayan (we heard later). For the second time in three weeks we had let a game slip away from us in the final minutes, but we felt OK about it this time as we had given a team of younger players a good scare. We were heartened at the prospect of playing the Wellcome older vets next season.
Even the cold showers did not dampen our spirits. As we waited in the bar for the food – delayed a bit due to a Christening party on the premises, we exuded a general air of contentment, tinged with mild regret that we had not held on to claim a notable win. When the food came it was excellent, all the better for being shared between only seven of us – hot onion bhajis, samosas, mini pork pie and chips. The bhajis reminded me (and Colin, Nick, Steve and Ian) of a question at last night’s quiz about the most commonly used vegetable in the world.
Man of the match: Gary Fentiman unanimously, the only vote escaping him being his own, to cap a great weekend to go with the Chelsea win and the FOBG quiz night triumph on my team.
Man of the match: Gary Fentiman