Cruellest of Blows
With maximum points and a couple of stellar team performances against vastly inferior opponents in the opening two fixtures of the nascent season, you might have been forgiven for starting to wonder whether it was going to be same-old, same-old for the newly-promoted Div 5 play-off winners: was, whisper it quietly, back-to-back promotion already on the table?
But OMT’s opposition this week were made of sterner stuff than the pitiful Cholms/ Wykemists of the previous fortnight, and a strong second-half showing saw the visitors bag a late equaliser, cancelling out the first-half goal with which Taylors’ had been rewarded for their bright start.
With Shil ‘the fittest man on the team’ (no, not that kind, sit down Jono) Patel out of contention, and the slightly-less-fit-but-equally-robust Jennings also unavailable, there were fears that the OMTs’ famed engine room might suffer. So it proved as, despite the returning Mehta, the Taylors’ midfield was occupied by a rather bedraggled Sanker, who arrived minutes before kick-off looking ever-so-slightly worse for wear. The scene needed no explanation, though Sanker proffered one up regardless, citing a particularly boisterous Friday night session of ‘Settlers of Catan’ as the reason for his slightly lamentable state.
The fate of Sanker’s Starbucks cup, upended in the warm-up, turned out to be an ominous sign of things to come.
And yet. As mentioned, the home team’s start was a bright one: Philips and Walters were typically untroubled in the heart of defence; the dainty feet of stand-in Alex Lewis complemented the tireless Mehta in the centre of the park, and both Raschid and Malde provided genuine threat and gave the defenders something to think about with their pace and trickery out wide.
But it was a set-piece that led to the OMT opener. After the initial half-clearance, Mehta pounced on the loose ball and, with his back to goal on the edge of area, cleverly drew the foul from a hapless Old Suttonian defender. The referee had no choice but to give it, and it was Mehta again who picked himself up off the deck to dispatch the penalty with the minimum of fuss (which begs the question: what does a goal scored with the maximum of fuss look like?).
It was a lead that Taylors’ just about deserved, but found themselves unable to extend before half time. A half-chance for Raschid was followed, minutes later, by a marauding run from a certain left-back, who charged into space before laying the ball to Pike on the edge of the Old Suttonian box. If anything, Pike struck the ball almost too well, as it ballooned off his foot, sailing 10 feet over the bar and nestling almost poetically into the mystic upper echelons of row z.
Going into the second half, it felt as though it would only be a matter of time before OMT found the crucial second, but as the breeze picked up and legs fatigued, it was instead the visitors who found themselves with more quality possession - although, it must be said, genuine chances were hard to come by for both sides.
Ultimately, it was the cruellest of blows when Old Suttonians did finally find the net in the 88th minute. A well-defended corner fell to the feet of Sanker, who skewed his clearance into the path of a backtracking attacker. The ball was sent back into the corridor of uncertainty and, well, we all know what happened next.
A word on the aforementioned corridor of uncertainty. Surely one of the most poetic of all football cliches. Originally a cricket phrase, but now undeniably adopted by football, the narrow corridor of uncertainty straddles the six-yard line, and is permeated regularly by crosses fizzed in from the channels. This cross wasn’t so much fizzed as floated; Malkin’s corridor not so much corridor as motorway - but uncertain the OMT defence was, and Old Suttonians cashed in on the chaos to guide a headed ball over the hapless ‘keeper and into the corner of the net.
Results such as this, with OMT having held their lead for so long only to surrender it at the death, often feel more like a loss than a draw; but, in the cold light of day, a 1-1 final scoreline was probably a fair reflection on the 90 minutes as a whole - and there were plenty of positives for the home side to take from the match. Bancroft awaits.