The kind of hard frost we woke up to on Saturday morning is usually sufficient in threatening the go-ahead of any game without the benefit of under soil heating; namely all Southampton League games. Nearby Hedge-End’s Norman Rodway ground was deemed unplayable because of a frozen pitch. This didn’t bode well for Durley, which is a relatively rural location and therefore more susceptible to the elements of an overdue cold snap of weather. Saturday’s bright sunshine quickly thawed out the pitch and the game went ahead.
Durley always seem to be scratching around for points at the lower reaches of the table, but no matter what personnel they have at their disposal – and there were many familiar faces from previous encounters playing today - they are never an easy team to roll over. Once again, Paul Dyke was forced to reshuffle his pack. Ryan Hurst was tied up with work commitments as a painter and decorator, while Kev Willsher has succumbed to a further back strain. Dave Williams and Sam Hewitt stepped in to replace them in the centre of defence. Both enjoy solid performances. With a shortage of available strikers, Dyke called upon Paul Andrews' fifteen years of experience to play up front with Sam Schwodler.
As perennial slow starters to games, Dyke tweaked our pre-match warm-up by getting us to play a keep ball session right up to the referee’s whistle. This ensured the blood was pumping. That there was only one goal in the first half wasn’t a reflection on the amount of goal mouth action at both ends. Martyn Barnett hit the post, while we forced Durley’s keeper into making several saves from long-range shots. A flowing passing movement from back to front ended when Sam Schwodler shot low into the goalkeeper’s right from just inside the penalty area.
Durley offered themselves encouragement at half-time, by saying they’d had the better chances of the game. Although there was some truth in it their opportunities arose from our carelessness as opposed to any of their creativity. Ryan Jones was not his usual sprightly self in goal. A seventy hour working week fitting disabled bathrooms for an MOD hospital unit in Leatherhead had taken its toll on his energy reserves. Goalkeeping clearances became a chore for his heavy legs, with one accidentally serving as devastatingly accurate pass into the feet of an unmarked Durley striker, who Jones managed to foil by diving bravely at his feet.
Dan Allen is in the mood. ‘I’m up for it today,’ he told me, as he eyed up the goal posts he sent a strike whistling narrowly over in last season’s 3-1 win. Today he was switched from right midfield to left-back. In his new Adidas boots he put in a coming of age performance full of running and a fondness to drop his shoulder in the attempt to get past his man; although with the score poised delicately at 3-2 he was guilty of over-elaborating on one or two occasions times, giving away possession and had to be reined in by Paul Dyke, who screamed at him to play the fucking percentage ball - up the line into the open grass ahead of him
Daniel Esfandiari was back in the side - this week he was not working at the call centre. He took up a position on the right of midfield in a 4-4-2. He later betrayed a little rust, when his attempted back heel cannoned into his standing foot, which in turn knocks him off balance. It’s a rare sight. Normally he is graceful, but on this occasion he produced fodder for 'You’ve Been Framed. 'However, he is influential, putting in several teasing balls into Durley’s penalty area.
Durley equalised within minutes of the second half. It was a neat finish from just inside the penalty area. We didn’t waste too much time debating it. Jones then made a very timely reflex save when it would have appeared easier to score. Durley put through their own net – heading in from a corner. Sam Schwodler then gets in on the act. At first it looked like he’s fluffed his one-on-one with the goalkeeper, who does well to deny Sam space to shoot. Sam retreated, then chipped the goalkeeper and also and more crucially the defender, who had shown the diligence to cover his onrushing goalkeeper. He came within inches of heading it off the line; but, sadly for him, the ball rolled down the back of the net for 3-1. Durley scored immediately on the counter attack, but our win is sealed when Martyn Barnett scores with a twenty-five yard pile-driver. Marc Judd does his best to out do Barnett, but Durley’s keeper tips his strike over the bar.
Burridge lined-up in a 4-4-2 formation:
GK:Ryan Jones, LB:Dan Allen, CB:Dave Williams, CB:Sam Hewitt, RB:Mark Reeves, LM:Marc Judd, CM:Martyn Barnett, CM:Mark Sanderson, RM:Daniel Esfandiari, CF:Sam Schwodler, CF:Paul Andrews (Rob Mills)
Late Tackle Magazine: I have an article called 'N o One Likes Us' on the perils of being an MK Dons supporter in the current issue of Late Tackle Magazine, which includes an account of a trip with their fans to a game against Sheffield United at Brammall Lane. It is available on the shelves of WH Smith.