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The Whites miss out at the Met

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Metropolitan Police FC 3 Salisbury FC 2

Evo-stik South Premier South Play-off.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

By Alec Hayter

"I got it right, but only Salisbury could lose a game like that" was Steve Claridge's accurate summation after the match. After a performance that was like chalk and cheese from that of the previous Saturday, it should be Salisbury who are preparing a programme for a game at home Monday against Poole Town, but a pivotal moment of stupidity at the wrong time, although not solely responsible for our demise, contributed massively to the final outcome, handing the home side the half-time boost which they needed after a first half of Salisbury ascendancy.

And talking about boosts, the home side could not have made a better start when Jack Mazzone scored a tenth minute goal of immense quality. He was given a yard of space some 25 yards out and, going slightly away from goal, unleashed a fierce cross shot which Jake Hallett did well to get a hand to, although he could not prevent the ball fizzing into the net. The slight error  may well have gone unpunished against a lesser striker, but no one could argue with the quality of the finish which brought back memories of a similar quality Mazzone goal against us earlier in the season.

This Salisbury side, however, was not prepared to lie down, and it only took three minutes before they were back on terms with Jack Sparkes' freekick finding Bay Downing in front of goal after a brilliantly timed run. Although keeper Bertie Schotter did his best to keep out the volley, there was no denying the popular defender.

From that point until the fateful 45th minute the Whites made their substantial following’s attendance worthwhile, with Aaron Dawson receiving the ball from Dan Fitchett's byeline incursion but seeing his effort at the near post blocked on 23 minutes, and seven minutes later Fitchett himself suffering the same fate after Lewis Benson had worked an identical opening.

Things were looking good with Salisbury having most of the play and containing the home side with comparative ease, but in a breakaway, Ethan Chislett got into the box and tumbled under a challenge from Matt Partridge. Referee Tom Danaher was not initially moved by penalty appeals, but was given no choice whatsoever when Partridge inexplicably kicked out at the Met player on the deck. A clear and obvious penalty was awarded which was dispatched by Mazzone, despite a gallant attempt by Hallett who guessed right but couldn’t keep the ball out. This sent the home side into the break on a high, and left manager Claridge scratching his head as to what had entered Partridge's mind.

Salisbury were therefore chasing the game from the interval, but were making inroads with some enterprising attacking play, with Sparkes trying an ambitious volley on 52 minutes which, although well struck, went straight at the none too competent keeper.

There was always a chance that the Whites would be caught pushing forward and on 53 minutes Hallett had to be at his best to deny Max Blackmore in a one-on-one, but eight minutes later the visitors suffered a double blow when Fitchett missed a golden opportunity to equalise, sending a close range header against the bar from Sparkes' delivery when the ball should really have broken the net. Seconds afterwards, the Met broke to the other end where Blackmore showed grit, determination, and not a little bravery to get his head on a through-ball to deflect it into the net despite the close attentions of two defenders and the keeper. His effort for his team's cause meant that he then had to leave the action with an injury.

Salisbury heads still didn't go down, even at 3-1, but instead a Benson special on 68 minutes kept their hopes alive. When I say "Benson special" I mean a freekick from distance and from a wide position near the sideline which curled into the danger area and fooled defenders and goalkeeper alike as it entered the net. Some have said to me that this is a question of luck, but Lewis has done this so many times that it's surely a question of skill.

Try as they might, and they really did try hard until the end, that was the only real threat that the Whites produced, the change to three at the back with the introduction of Luke Hopper, whom I cannot recall actually touching the ball, making little difference, and the Met hung on for victory after a hard-fought game.

The downside is of course that we lost, but the upside is that the performance level was somewhere near what we are used to, although, unfortunately, the defensive mistakes from experienced players were still there. In contrast, there were assured performances in that department from Downing and Sommerton, the latter having had to undergo a fitness test before the game, so hope springs eternal. Of course, having the experienced Chris Shephard available would have done no harm, but he was unable to start because of illness.

It will be an interesting close season, and, in my opinion, perhaps this defeat was a blessing in disguise as we all know to our cost what can happen when promotion quickly follows promotion. On this occasion most of the players did themselves proud without getting the reward they deserved, and it remains to be seen how many will be involved in the next campaign. There is no doubt that mistakes have been made in all areas this season but hopefully lessons will have been learned. I for one am very much looking forward to the next challenge, apart from, perhaps, the trip to Truro City (on a Tuesday night even?!)

Teams

Metropolitan Police FC: Schotter, Webb, Guinness-Walker, Arthur, Robinson, Birch, Knight, Chislett, Mazzone, Blackmore (Hippolyte 64), Robertson.

Subs not used: Gilbert, Nyama, Fisher, Williams.

Salisbury FC: Hallett, Downing, Sommerton (Hopper 84), Mullings, Partridge, Wheeler, Benson, Dawson, Fitchett, Whelan, Sparkes.

Subs not used: Herbert, Young, Haysham, Searle.

Attendance: 488                   Referee: T Dannaher