A report from the South London Correspondent
I don't get to see as many games as I used to.. the arthritis, you know, it's not worth getting out of my comfy armchair for most games. I viewed the results and fixture list a couple of weeks ago and this pair of home and away fixtures looked like they might be worthy of my time.
Chalk and cheese you might say. I found myself, last Wednesday evening, in the relative antiquity of the Cheam Baths. Hardly a venue for a London Premier match, but the newer Morden pool has apparently sprung a leak.
Well, it was all a bit of a muddle to begin with. The referee failed to materialise, (for only the 386th time at S&C) and Avondale contrived to misplace their hats... In the end both issues were remedied, but now the visitors had only seven players and their injured captain, stood in as referee. Avondale were without their entertaining Hungarian (to the evident relief of the younger Sutton players, who tend not to enjoy the close encounters with 'The Beast From The East'). However, they had on show their most recent South African signing, by co-incidence another left hander to complement the Bond, Jacobs offence. The combative Pink Parkin and the stalwarts Eakins and Brooks made up a mixed team sheet, with the old bald boy waving his arms at the back.
I've seen nearly 30 years of matches between these two teams and at the start of that period Sutton were a far stronger team than Avondale. They won year in year out without breaking sweat. The teams are rather more evenly matched these days, witness this season's Surry League win for Avondale by a single goal. I don't know what happened this evening, but the wheels came off for Sutton almost from the start. I've rarely seen a more one-sided game in the Premiership. Sutton set up their attack and passed the ball competently, but seemed unable to make a dent in the Avondale defence. At the Sutton end, Bond, Jacobs and O'Brien just seemed to take turns to score as they pleased.
I must say, I rather gave up counting the goals, although I believe it was 2-10 at half time. The steady rain of goals continued in the second half and then to add insult to injury Eakins had to sit out the last 3 minutes with a dislocated finger. Avondale managed to score another three goals during this final interlude, without resonse from the increasingly ragged Sutton team. The final whistle sounded above the home team's bickering. Not much of a game for the impartial observer. I heard somene say the final score was 3-15, but it certainly seemed like rather more than that to me.
Let us fast forward to this Monday evening. It was obvious from the outset that although they had only one or two additional players, the Sutton team did not intend to be on the wrong end of the second drubbing in a week. They were much more agressive from the outset, posting their intentions large. Avondale were as laid back as they usually are, but this time their initial bombardment was wide of the target while at the other end Sutton seemed to have finally found their touch, hitting the corners of the net rather than the old boy flailing around in the Avondale goal.
In just a few minutes Sutton were three goals ahead and there they stayed throughout most of what became a rather fractious encounter. A scuffle escalated into some fist waving and each team lost a player to the dressing room.
Meanwhile a rather odd combination of refereeing changes did not seem to be calming matters. Both teams initially contributed a referee as the designated official arrived after the match had started. He joined in for the second quarter and then the Avondale referee stepped aside for the middle quarters before resuming his duties for the final quarter.
One can accuse the Avondale Captain of many things (his ability to drive a car safely, his penchant for lurid internet content, his inability to remain relaxed and easy-going after consuming large quantities of alcohol, are but the start of a significant list...) but when refereeing his own team he is always slightly biased in favour of the visiting side. Would that this were a universal trait. My eyesight isn't what it used to be, but I was rather perplexed at one or two of the decisions I saw this evening. One cannot know what a referee sees or more importantly thinks he sees in each encounter - we all tend to see what we want to see after all. However, I was surprised at the very defensive attitude of one of the officials in resonse to the rather gratuitous cheering that greeted the award of a 5 meter penalty to the home team, an event they clearly thought long overdue. My intuition was that an official feeling more sure of his ground might have reacted with more control... Had there been a pram nearby, many of the brightly coloured articles therein would have found themselves on the pool side!
Throughout the second and third quarters the teams marched their goal count forward almost in step. Avondale managed to miss even more of their chances than they normally do and the formidable 'Tank' playing in the pit seemed only to be able to hit the Sutton keeper in the face. It seemed that Sutton would weather the storm and even as the final quarter started they stayed out of reach.
And then a strange thing happened. Perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps a victim of an overly complex integrated transport policy by successive governments, I know not, as the final quarter began Sutton's nemesis from the previous match appeared on the pool side. With about five minutes remaining and with Sutton the same comfortable three goals to the good, the deceptively long O'Brien slipped into the pool.
A frisson of excitement rippled through the crowd, were we in for a dramatic finish. It hardly seemed plausible. And yet, something indeterminate but almost tangible changed. I could not see the difference, could not detect the shift in the balance of the game, but three minutes later the scores were level. It seemed that Avondale only had to finish the match off in the final two minutes... but there's many a slip 'twix cup and lip. Somehow the final blow never fell. An open goal missed, a shot to the post that was easier to score and we were suddenly in the dying seconds. Sutton's last attack with the match clock in single figures and for the third time in the game the blocked shot went to their hand and the ball was flicked into the corner of the net. The visitors cheers rang loud around the hard walls.
Sutton left having avenged their heavy loss of only a few days earlier. Avondale have only themselves to blame. Regardless of the shenanegins that took place on the pool side they had chance after chance to win the game. But that's sport; if it was predictable we would have to invent it all over again.