The day started with Phil spreading speculative rumours that a certain dreamy ex-Club Captain would be making a cameo appearance for Imperial 4s. Unfortunately, the deal was scuppered at the last minute when Lambe’s current club (his parents) decided that he was too important a player to let go of. To make up for lack of a deadline day deal team nutritionist, Cann made pre-match pancakes for his captain.
The news got worse for captain McGrath when Nwobu and Marks pulled out at the last minute requiring an emergency loan deal from the 5s with Varanese slotting in at left back. After transport issues for the opposition, the delayed kick off provided ample time for Imperial to warm up and get used to the questionable pitch. A cock-up by the current Fixtures Sec. meant the game was moved to the darkest corners of Harlington (a better Fixtures Sec. would never have let such disorder occur). On the plus side, McGrath had the foresight to bring some speakers for the changing room. These, combined with a playlist full of some of the duttiest choons known to man, allowed for an increased motivational presence in the changing rooms.
The match started with Imperial applying pressure from the off. The 4-2-3-1 formation was set up with a continental style in mind. Tiki taka was the order of the day. However, the Nou Camp is never expected to have a trench dominating one half of the pitch. Several bobbles also made a crisp passing game difficult. With Gassier dominating in the air the ball spent much of the first twenty minutes in the St. Barts half but without any conversions. Gusty conditions limited much of the play to the right hand side of the pitch with Strampelli and Faisall creating some good link up play down the right side. The best chance came when McGrath sprayed a ball to a free Strampelli who subsequently played a lovely through ball over the centre back’s head to an advancing Bizzell.
However, the Barts goalkeeper rushed out quickly and blocked the shot. Moments later a push in the back on Bizzell in the box resulted in screams of ‘penalty!’ being directed at the referee. Alas, these proved to be fruitless as we had been provided with a referee who, perhaps, was just the wrong side of lenient.
Sadly, the tide of the game soon changed with the first goal coming from a Bart’s throw in. With the opposition midfielder given ample time to cross the ball in and with the Imperial defence outnumbered at the back, a free man headed the ball into the near post. Late goalie call-up Stillwell was unable to do anything about this.
With only 5 minutes of the first half remaining Imperial were desperate to get a quick equaliser. Thankfully, just two minutes later Strampelli took it upon himself to change the corner kick taker to himself and then produce quite possibly the worst corner ever witnessed on a football pitch. With the ball bouncing along the floor quick thinking from McGrath meant he was the first person to reach the ball at the near post and play it across goal. Luckily, the goalkeepers flailing arms were not enough to prevent the ball landing in the back of the net.
After a brief half time team talk both sides returned to the field of play hoping to start the second half the stronger. Imperial failed to do this though and, within the first ten minutes, found themselves a goal down again. After a pathetic attempt at a throw from Stillwell the ball ended up at the feet of the opposition left back just thirty yards from goal. A quick ball seared the defence, with the striker lobbing the ball over the goalkeeper. However, Stillwell thought his blushes would be spared when he saw Cann running back to attempt to prevent the ball going over the line. Yet Cann seemed to momentarily forget which side he was meant to be playing for as he proceeded to boot the ball into the back of his own net with a finish that Alan Shearer would have been proud of.
After unjustly falling behind for the second time, Imperial had to dust themselves down once again and press for another. Once more, this happened relatively swiftly. A quick thrown in from Strampelli found Bizzell in the penalty area. He laid it back to an open Faisall who just needed to ping the ball into the empty net. Thankfully, this was done with no hiccups.
Imperial could sense blood and brought on van der Bie for Strampelli to add another striker on to the pitch. The chances came thick and fast. A cross from the byline by Bizzell evaded everyone, including the goalkeeper, and was only prevented from going in the back of the net by the woodwork. Further pressure from the wings courtesy of Samad and Bizzell piled the pressure on the Barts defence, yet the next chance came from an unlikely source. Finding himself with acres of space on the right hand side of the pitch Watkin bombed forward with the ball. On reaching the opposition penalty area he took his chance yet the goalkeeper was quick to rush out and block his attempt.
Tempers were clearly flaring with the Bart’s players seeming most likely to lose theirs. The first incident occurred when Bennett kicked the ball into his own head with Stillwell picking the ball up. Clearly, some of the Barts players were unfamiliar with the rules of Association Football as cries of ‘pass back’ were heard. Luckily, these were quickly shot down by the referee. Soon after, a fracas developed between the opposition right back and Strampelli, in his new position of linesman. Despite being at least 15 yards offside, the Barts player decided that this wasn’t good enough and demanded to know why Strampelli was doing exactly as the ref had instructed him to do. The referee gave him a stern talking to. However, Barts were not the only team to lose their heads. Samad received a warning after swearing at the referee.
The grand finale climaxed itself with just four minutes of the game remaining when a Barts attack broke down and a quick counter attack presented itself to Imperial. Samad received the ball on the half way line before turning his opponent and playing a sumptuous ball through to van der Bie. With Bizzell screaming for the ball it was dutifully played through. Several Barts players were closing down the ball yet Bizzell reached it first and knocked it over the goalkeeper. The ball seemed to hang in the air for what seemed like an eternity. When it finally reached the goal it became clear that it had just sneaked its way inside the post. Cheers of delight rang round with McGrath running the length of the pitch to provide hugs and kisses. By the time he had made it into his own half for the kick off he was clearly done for the day and told Gassier that he would be doing no more running. Had Lambe been present we would surely have heard calls of ‘Justice’ as Imperial had certainly had the better of the game.
Moments later the final whistle went. There was clearly stark contrast between the two teams’ emotional states. Whereas Imperial players were filled with a mixture of relief and pure ecstasy, Barts looked understandably downtrodden. However, the Imperial players did not seem to care about this. With Imperial winning 5 out of the 6 games Little Harlington was a rainbow of happiness after the games. Even Arctic conditions in the showers could not dampen the spirits. A post match choon session occurred before a night of getting merry with the Old Boys in the Union. Overall, it was fantastic to get a first win of the season underway but harder challenges will present themselves this season with UCL 4s next up in the Saturday league.