Sporting Crabs go fourth in Southern Sunday League

East Dulwich Sporting Crabs recently secured fourth spot in the Third Division of the Southern Sunday League. Here Brixton Blog guest writer and Daily Crab editor Davy Gibson reflects on the team’s 3-0 win against Kew Antigua Reserves.

 The Crabs’ league campaign didn’t quite go to plan in 2015. After a promising start, victories became a rarity as an abundance of injuries and absences blighted the crustaceans’ push for promotion. Star man Liam Weyell missed a the final third of the season through an ankle injury, Dalman missed a good chunk for personal reasons and with an unsuccessful search for a full time goalkeeper The Crabs may have felt at some points that the big man upstairs was indeed a Wandsworth Elite fan (see previous match report). Excuses aside, The Crabs had one more game to play on Sunday against Kew Antigua Reserves; a side they managed to beat earlier in the season thanks mainly to top scorer George Dalman. George was once again missing but Ian Armstrong was just about fit and ready to lead the line.

Being described as the ‘George Best of Sporting Crabs’ may sound like a compliment but we all know the Irishman had a boatload of baggage that came with his genius. Armstrong is no different. After raving until 4am it took James Coventry forcing his way into the Scouser’s flat to get him involved. Coventry managed to awake the target man from his drunken stupor and after a McDonalds breakfast, it seemed Armstrong was raring to go.

East Dulwich Sporting Crabs player Ian Armstrong

Some say the big man is wasted in the third division, but on Sunday morning he literally was…wasted in the third division.  Armstrong was partnered by Stu Wood in the support striker role whilst Coventry and Pearson continued their partnership in centre mid. Swindells returned to his more familiar left wing position while Gibson found himself shifted into midfielder again down the right. The back four was solid and full of experience with Martin on the left and Ali down the right. Hutchings and Garvin have been the main reasons East Dulwich have the third best defence in the league this season, and once again they started together after a great display against Wandsworth. Once again, due to the lack of a recognized goalkeeper, The Crabs fielded an outfield player in goal. This week it was the turn of Ben Daughtry.

As the game neared kick off, The Crabs overheard cheers from a pitch nearby. There was a pink blur in the distance as Wandsworth celebrated their title win. Pearson’s kit glowed green with envy however, he had a look in his eye that said ‘That’ll be us next year’. But today wasn’t about Wandsworth, today wasn’t about the title or promotion (unfortunately), today was about making amends, about ending the season on a high – and not the same high Ian Armstrong was experiencing. The Crabs dominated from the go, playing on a decent surface for once allowed them to do what they do best, play the ball out from the back and knock it around with East Dulwich’s answer to tiki-taka.

It’s been said over the course of the season (mainly by Ali) that The Crabs don’t make the most of set-piece situations but things were about to change. After two deliciously delivered balls from Hutchings early in the game, Garvin made it third time lucky as he attacked another of Hutching’s perfectly weighted crosses. Gibson had won a free kick deep in the Antigua half after using his ‘electric pace’ to go past a hapless defender and Hutchings stood over the ball ready to pick out a green shirt. The Antigua defence held a high line that paid no respect to the delivery of the centre back and the timing of the Crab’s runs. Garvin notched his third goal of the season from close range after a well-timed run to make it 1-0.

There were a few scares down the other end as Antigua made their extra man in midfield count but once in the final third they failed to create any meaningful efforts on goal. Pearson and Coventry were fantastic in the middle though and with Gibson dropping in to link up on occasion they were passing it around the Antigua lads effortlessly. Whilst the build up play was impressive, the final ball was lacking, with Wood and Armstrong not quite getting the final ball the moves deserved. Swindells was looking for trouble after a series of fouls by his opposing winger. The ref did a good job though and there were to be no Eagle Eyed Cherry jibes this week.

At 1-0 The Crabs were in complete control but it would only take one mistake to put them back to square one. Kew Antigua Reserves showed glimmers of quality but they looked fractured and not fully committed in certain areas. Kew Antigua had requested to rearrange the game at the league meeting but Crabs gaffer John Martin stated this would not be possible due to The Crabs’ own availability. It was safe to assume this was a depleted Antigua squad based on that, but after the season John’s had trying to get eleven players together each week, it was about time East Dulwich were ruthless and looked after number one. Why would The Crabs change the game to a day where they would be without key men? Not going to happen. Whilst certain Kew Antigua players ran the marathon, the Crabs took their remaining teammates were being taken for a walk in the park.

The second half saw the now standard procedure of switching goalkeepers. Daughtry passed the gloves to Garvin meaning Martin had to fill in at centre-back and Gibson into left back. Wood found himself back in his usual right wing position with Daughtry taking up the space between the central midfielders and Armstrong. The Crabs have made a habit of starting the second half on the back foot but they came out strong for the final forty-five minutes of the season and continued their dominance. Daughtry’s fresh legs were put to use as he glided past the tiring Antigua midfielders almost effortlessly throughout the second half with Swindells also being allowed to get into the game more as he found space on the left hand side.

Antigua did hit the post with a well struck free kick but The Crabs always looked the most likely to grab the second goal and that they did. Party animal Ian Armstrong capped a great performance with a beautifully executed lob over the diminutive Kew manager in goal. ‘Can we play you next week’ rang out amongst the crowd as Armstrong jogged back with a cheeky grin on his face. From that point the game was as good as over. Kew brought on some fresh legs but Martin and Hutchings were solid at the back, which also allowed the full backs to venture forward. Wearing the number 9 shirt in respect for club top scorer George Dalman, Gibson burst down the left in a giddy fashion. A Kew player fell at his feet as Gibson held back his nosebleed, even when playing on the right wing he hadn’t found himself this far forward. The full back panicked slightly as he tried to orchestrate the space for a shot, his teammates encouraged him. After failing at a through ball for Armstrong, the marauding defender attempted a scuffed shot at goal, the thought of his name in The Daily Crab’s headline just seemed to be all too much in the end. On the right hand side Ali had similar ambitions. Wearing the number 10 shirt the Dewjmeister flew forward like a bullet. Out of nowhere Dewji found himself on the end of a loose ball thirty yards from goal. BOOM! He hit it, his team mates looked up expecting it to balloon into the atmosphere but no…the ball flew just wide of the right hand post. Dewji reminded everybody that when not trying to nutmeg strikers in his own half he does have a decent strike on him.

Pearson was a stand out performer in the second half. Whilst it is difficult to pick out any player who wasn’t solid throughout, Pearson showed why he is Crabs captain with an inspired display in the middle of the park. Pearson was plucking balls out the air, taking players on and making important tackles. His partner in crime James Coventry was also dealing with business as usual, tackling, passing and growling – the three cornerstones of the Coventry game.

Daughtry was arguable The Crabs best performer when he got a consistent run of games under his belt and he showed why he is so essential to the team when he smashed home the third goal of the game and his seventh in fifteen appearances. Daughtry took one touch to control and a second to thwack the ball right down the middle of the goal and over the keeper’s head. There was also time for Wood to come close to a fourth with a glancing header just dropping wide of the post. Swindells looked just as disappointed as his outside of the boot cross would have been a contender for assist of the season. Wood looked a bit more settled in his more familiar position and his link up play with Daughtry and Pearson in midfield had the Antigua boys chasing shadows.

Dom made his second appearance off the bench and once again was solid, playing at right back this time the newly signed Crab was comfortable on the ball and kept it nice and simple to help Antigua at bay. The Crabs second substitution saw the return of Adil who’s second half of the season has been cursed with injury. The powerful striker nearly capped his return with a goal but his effort from a tight angle was thwarted, Adil also seemed to feel a return of his hamstring injury at this point, which was not good news for the player or the team.

The game finished 3-0 and The Crabs recorded only their second clean sheet of the season. This may not have been the case if it wasn’t for Garvin’s spectacular slow motion save in the bottom left hand corner. The save was a great way to cap a fantastic season for the centre-back. There were to be no Wandsworth-style celebrations for the Crabs as they confirmed fourth spot in the league but each player knew they gave their all and ended the season with an all important victory. The search for a new keeper begins again as The Crabs look ahead to the 2015/16 season.