Nobody likes losing to City, least of all M4s, though the reality is they played better than us, even though we played well at points. But four-nil was not a fair reflection of a competitive game punctuated by multiple moments of horizontalness.
It's probably a sign of health for the club that availability was very high, meaning drop downs were inevitable. Jan, the tactful tinkerman, sent several emails warning of the chop, leaving many of us fearing the Friday phone call. For most of us it never came, though some were asked to strengthen the 5s despite faithful service to the 4s. We all prefer playing for the 4s, much like we prefer beating City, but some things can't be helped.
As the game got going, the 4s looked energetic but lacked crisp, sharp, accurate passing, meaning the ball often drifted out of reach and over the sideline or to an opposition stick. City's combination of wily old competitors and youthful whippersnappers often gave a demonstration of how to build patiently, passing well and looking threatening. Their first goal came from some neat work into the D, but South managed to close it down without clearing it fully. Six or seven sticks jabbed at the ball and George T stepped in to clear the melee, only for the ball to trickle inextricably through his legs and over the line. His body refused to contort into positions that would have allowed him to stop it.
Nev, Ollie W, Stu and Alex were industrious if at times too direct, but earned us a couple of short corners. But with new players, old routines are harder to make work, so opportunities came and went as fast as the Monckosaurus could hit the ball wide and only trouble the fence. City's neat passing led to one of their teenagers taking a crack from the top of the D for the day's first horizontal moment. The shot was sharp, at head height, and probably just sneaking under the bar. Athletic George dived up as all goalkeepers should, deflecting the ball away, ensuring it didn't bulge the net. He came down with a spectacular thump, to lay sprawled and with whip lash from his own weight. But the ball wasn't finished, and fell painfully behind the keeper, who was unable to turn it away as it crossed the line. Two-nil.
John G, playing in place of a nauseous Ollie S alongside JJ, James and Dan in midfield, started to grow into the game towards the end of the first half. Despite being two goals down, the game had never felt like we were out of touch and there were opportunities. Perhaps the best of these came early in the second half as the Pashly pace caught out the opposition, and he raced away towards the opposition D with a teammate either side, waiting for the pass around the keeper to finally get on the board. But the move crumpled to nothing, as no pass came, and City had the opportunity to track back and steal the ball again.
John forgot about the team curry later in the evening and tried to munch on a City stick. James demonstrated his usual committed self, piling in to an opposition player. Quality umpiring, recognising a simmer of discontent at James's over enthusiasm, took him aside to have a word. But all James was told was to look like the umpire was having a word to satisfy rising tempers and diffuse potential conflict (maybe we should suggest Adam plays a role in Brexit negotiations).
Men of the match, defensive duo George and Danny, could often be seen racing up and down the wings, creating openings that on another day would probably have resulted in…a very similar outcome. We've not been a bad team, but we've not often threatened to score and today felt little different. City's third goal came despite their best player heading off to hospital with a broken nose, courtesy of James 'The Wall' Hayes. No-one seems quite sure what happened, but he went off having given away a free hit to South. City passed around again, until the ball came to their remaining teenager who was fleet of foot and passed well into the D. George, not to be outdone, sprinted forward to intercept the ball, to find it behind him. It was going in until heroic Andi swallow dived across the face of goal, collecting the ball with his arm, leg, chest and everything else. A flick but no yellow and South were three-nil down despite not doing a huge amount wrong.
Their final goal came following the Monckosaurus flapping around on the ground having been turned inside out by the teenage prodigy (well, maybe that's overstating it). He swung at the ball, prostrate on the ground, with as much effectiveness as a beached whale trying to shuffle back to the sea. This would not have usually been enough to earn a Lemon but he'd already spent much of the game lying down, arms outstretched swinging wildly at the ball to no avail. The teen found a more senior team mate (could have been any of them), who calmly took the ball and slotted into the bottom corner.
Four-nil. A scoreline that didn't reflect the game, but leaves the 4s in a perilous position in the league, currently in the relegation zone on goal difference by one with the final round of fixtures to play. That should be motivation enough to step up next week, but with the added joy of travelling to St Neots to encounter Area 51 it will be hard not to be.