A stitch in time saves nine, so they say, but nothing could save nine-man Sporting Crabs as they struggled to withstand Wimbledon Town’s second half pressure. The saying itself is rather apt too as a contingency plan could have helped patch up a squad that seems to be receiving it’s fair share of stitches as the season comes to a close.
There was a sense of optimism in the camp through the week. A huge six-pointer against Wimbledon Town on Sunday with the welcome return of George Dalman to the front line alongside the impressive Ian Armstrong. The first blow came with the news early in the week that Dave was not available to play and with all avenues exhausted it became apparent an outfield player was to don the gloves against the Dons. Saturday morning brought more bad news with in-form Daughtry revealing he had picked up a knee injury the day before. Cue the frantic rush for Crabs around South London.
Ali drove Ian and myself to the game and he was in true recruitment consultant mode trying to find someone to make up the numbers. ‘I’ve got a load of people saved in my phone with Footy next to their name I’ll try them!’. Ali to the rescue. ‘Here’s one, Chris Footy, I’ll call him’. Ali sent the text, the text that could have provided The Crabs with an 11th player and a chance of winning. It was all in vein though as it turned out to be Chris Taylor, who was already in the squad and sat waiting in the changing rooms. There was no good news coming from the other camps either and it looked like it was to be an uphill struggle with ten men, embarrassingly not for the first time this season.
Wimbledon are a well set up team with kits, tracksuits and a manager. If there was any edge to be gained in organisation then Wimbledon Town surely gained a few yards on their opponents in this area and there was also the fact they seemed to have enough players to boast a three man subs bench. The lads warmed up little Chris Taylor, the fact the game’s goalkeeper is known as little Chris said a lot about the sorry state of affairs they found themselves in. That being said Taylor has shown in training he has razor sharp reflexes and a big voice. At least things couldn’t get worse…’Dan’s came off his bike’, said George who walked over from the bags with a concerned look on his face. The gods were not smiling on East Dulwich. There was obvious concern for Dan’s safety but George confirmed it wasn’t critical but it was looking highly unlikely he’d make the game.
So The Crabs broke their own record of the smallest match day squad in Division 3 with a shocking nine players. Whilst I’m sure the lads will accept their own responsibility in not putting together a bigger provisional squad it would be harsh to ignore the terrible luck the side have had in the second half of the season. With Weyell and Adil still out injured things seemed to be getting worse before they were going to get any better.
This game was made for James Coventry in the middle. Cov is a lad who thrives off being a man down. If James could have it his way, he’d be on his own against 11, growling his way round the pitch like a pitbull. In Coventry’s absence the captain had to almost play two roles in the middle of the park. Pearson had to opt with a 5-2-1 formation with Gibson and Swindells as wing backs. Dewji, Hutchings and Garvin made up a back three whilst Dalman filled the gap between Pearson and Ian Armstrong.
The game followed the usual script. The Crabs were tight and well organised. The shape at the back was spot on and they really limited Wimbledon, stopping any efforts testing the makeshift goalkeeper. The home side seemed to be getting frustrated and many of their deliveries went wayward as the back five stayed strong. Sporting Crabs did manage a few efforts at the other end too, Swindells arrived at the back post just a moment too late to convert and then Dalman ran onto a Gibson through ball but was unable to beat the Wimbledon stopper. Armstrong was his usual self, working tirelessly and challenging everything in the air. The Crabs were doing themselves proud but there was always that memory of the cup game at Wynter when they let it slip in the second half with ten men and there was an eerie similarity in the way the game was panning out.
Pearson was proud as punch at half time and he did his best to rally the troops. No one wanted to admit it but there were some tired legs in the team. Wimbledon may not have created any real goalscoring opportunities but they are a good side and kept possession well in the first half. As expected they came out stronger in the second half as they looked for the goal that could bury the Crabs dreams of a miracle point.
Sporting Crabs weathered the storm early on in the second half but whilst it was a lovely day in South London the pressure just kept raining down on the three centre-backs as Garvin and Hutchings found themselves stretched down the flanks as Wimbledon’s tricky wingers started to come into the game. Whilst the away side had battled well, even the most devout Crab Ultra would admit that the goal was perhaps inevitable as Wimbledon opened the scoring ten minutes into the second half. The ball came high into the box and Garvin stretched to head the ball away, inadvertently flicking it to the back post where a Wimbledon midfielder had ghosted in behind to slot the ball home.
Chances were few and far between in the second half. Dalman had a few hit and hopes from range with little support in sight as he swapped roles with Armstrong to bring a different approach to the counter attack. Even when Armstrong and Dalman found themselves deep in the Wimbledon half, with limited options it was difficult to create anything meaningful. Wimbledon grew in confidence after the goal and The Crabs left gaps at the back as they pushed for an equaliser. Wimbledon Town doubled their lead midway through the second half and whilst stand-in goalkeeper Taylor will feel he should have had it, there could be no criticisms of the lad who gave his all between the sticks to keep the Crabs in it earlier in the game. There were some comedy moments though and I’m sure Taylor won’t mind me mentioning the Neueresque attempt at turning back into his box with the ball to pick it up only to knock it out for a corner. Not long after the first mishap Taylor tried to control the ball only for it to bounce over and out for a corner. If David Seaman has had a new ‘Goalkeeper nightmares’ DVD commission and I highly doubt he has, he would have been firing up his handicam at the Joseph Hood recreational ground. The lads saw the funny side and it was nice to have some light relief as opposed to the game that was currently unfolding in an all too familiar fashion.
Never one to be out of the headlines, Dewji managed to outdo Taylor on the almighty balls-up award. Taylor who bravely donned the gloves and played in a completely alien position can be excused, Ali, on the other hand may have provided one of the most hilarious yet infuriating moments of the season. Whether Ali was still considering what Sky package to get (a conversation that sprung up on numerous occasions during the car journey) or if he just felt he hadn’t done enough to make the Match of the Day highlights, there was no excuse for his moment of madness. The ball was played back to Dewji at centre-back as the Wimbledon forward applied some pressure. Ali stood straight on hesitating on the ball, waiting for the perfect moment to nutmeg his opponent and be crowned the man of the match…the moment never came but Ali didn’t care, he tried it anyway only for the ball to bounce off the striker and then into the path of the Wimbledon midfielder who smashed home an absolute corker. Taylor got nowhere near it but in fairness I don’t think many keepers would. Apparently the player himself said it was a hit and hope but it was still something that even as an opponent you had to take your hat off to. Pearson let out a scream of frustration whilst the others hung their heads knowing the task was near impossible now.
The Crabs didn’t stop fighting until the end and even at 3-0 they had every reason to have their heads held high. There was still time for some Pearson mind games as he attempted to wind up the Wimbledon players by telling them they should be embarrassed it was only 3-0. Many of them took it in good spirit although a few seemed irked by Pearson’s Yorkshire ‘charm’. It was perhaps too little too late to be starting arguments, one Wimbledon player was audibly annoyed that we had only nine players. The fact the player in question came off the bench prompted the chants of ‘you’d not even get a game for the Crabs’ from the Sporting Crabs imaginary fans. The game ended 3-0 and once again a chance to prove their worth was out the window due to bad luck and perhaps poor organisation. This is a transitional year for The Crabs but based on the performance of the nine men I don’t think anyone who was there could deny that with eleven, the game could have been quite the contest.
There was still time for Ali to try explaining himself in his post-game interview. ‘People just don’t seem to understand, we shouldn’t be happy with losing 2-0, we needed to score’. Just how Dewji’s nutmeg would have helped in that situation is something only he will ever know. ‘I wanted to nutmeg him, it was in my head. I was going to try it no matter what’. This attitude sums up Ali, when he wants something he will go get it. A sports car, a mansion, a kebab wrap on the way home. ‘Right lads, I can’t wait twenty minutes for lunch when I get back, I’m gonna get a wrap in Tooting’ the number 10 said as he pulled up by his favourite takeaway.
The Crabs have three games left to make up for their poor run of one win in six games. One of those games is against Wandsworth who have already thrown fuel on the fire with some less than sympathetic tweets regarding their loss at Wimbledon. The game has been dubbed ‘The Morleys/KFC derby’ and will be one that The Crabs will want to win more than any other game after the recent twitter ‘banter’.