Sunday 10th March 2019
By Patrice Mongelard
Honours even in wind-assisted ten-goal thriller at Reigate Priory
What an eventful morning - it would not surprise me if the wind speeds we experienced today turn out to be another meteorological record. We never seem to get a full squad to travel to Reigate although it is not that far, and it is even less so if you do not take any wrong turnings. It is a wonderful setting, with other sports on show such as tennis and ladies’ lacrosse. Parking is an interesting experience and the wooden clubhouse has a certain faded charm and our hosts are very hospitable.
A potential squad of fifteen came down to the bare eleven. This included Toby Manchip, once again responding without hesitation to our midweek S.O.S. for a keeper, and he was even ready by the time I turned up to collect him. I thought I was making good progress after Simon Thomas and Sinisa Gracanin joined us more or less on time, as we made our way to pick up the M25. However, despite the presence of Croatian satnav Sinisa I turned east rather than west at the critical juncture – at the time we were chewing over the latest scandal in the Senior Vets universe - Pizzagate. Thankfully, it only added around seven minutes to the journey but it will take years before Toby Manchip gets tired of mentioning it. We had won the home fixture against Reigate 8-1 on 18th November but were not expecting this game to be a breeze (Toby’s witticism). We were expecting a much tougher outing and that is what we got.
Michael Hills, Ian Lyons, Patrice Mongelard;
Matt Ellis, Sinisa Gracanin, Kypros Michael, Simon Thomas, Gordon Thompson;
Peter Harvey, Jay Hardy.
Supporters: Waine Hetherington (first half).
Chief Football Correspondent: Patrice Mongelard.
The game was barely two minutes old when I had cause to think that an hour of Toby Manchip in the car had been worth it. I fluffed a pass back to the keeper – the grateful Reigate forward could not believe his luck but Toby made himself big and foiled what would have been a calamity from my point of view. The wind was having - and would continue to have - quite an influence on the game. The strong wind favoured Reigate in the first half and we had trouble making progress up the field and yet there were moments of promise and hope whenever we could string passes together and release our forwards. We took the lead after about twelve minutes. Peter Harvey whipped a free kick from the left which reached an unmarked Simon Thomas at the far post. Simon was probably surprised that the ball had travelled all the way to him and it looked like his body was not quite ready for it and the connection was not ideal. But he recovered the ball and recycled it to a predatory Jay Hardy lurking in the box. Jay’s crisp first time shot was instant and in the blink of an eye the Reigate net bulged.
We hoped to defend that lead and for a little while Michael Hills kept our defence shut tight like a timorous clam but the wind then intervened. A Reigate forward chanced it from distance and the flight of the ball was enhanced beyond Toby’s reach. Reigate went on to edge ahead just after the half-hour when a cross from the left proved problematic in the wind and the ball was bundled in via a close-range header. Despite this reverse we could see glimpses of what was possible. Simon Thomas had two meaningful crosses that would have yielded more in calmer conditions. The Reigate keeper pulled off an acrobatic save to deny Peter Harvey.
At half-time despite the absence of oranges (a new policy on my part) and water bottles (with a player who unfortunately was indisposed and could not make the journey) we knew that our opportunities would come with the wind now in our favour. Toby Manchip made a double save early doors that encouraged us further. We did not have long to wait to draw level and what an equaliser. Simon Thomas flighted a corner from the left and Peter Harvey launched himself to volley the ball first time with venom into a crowded penalty box. The ball kept low travelling with great velocity though a forest of legs into the net. Peter later confided that at the moment when he committed himself to the manoeuvre his thinking was that this would be either sublime or that he would be making a tit of himself. Thankfully it was the former. Our joy did not last long. Hesitancy in our defence saw a Reigate cross headed into the bottom corner by one of the smallest players on the pitch.
Goals came thick and fast in the last half-hour. We scored three times in fairly quick succession. Peter Harvey was taken roughly from behind in the box. Matt Ellis tucked away the penalty with great aplomb, the right combination of power and accuracy beating the more than competent Reigate keeper who had guessed the right way.
At 3-3 our tails were up, like engorged windsocks. The effervescent Jay Hardy collected a slide rule pass from Matt Ellis, beat his marker and advanced on goal in a central position with the keeper rushing off his line to make things difficult. Jay stroked the ball past the keeper. All twenty-two players stopped moving and watched the ball roll towards the goal in slow motion almost until it passed three inches on the wrong side of the base of the post. Ever the perfectionist Jay later noted that he should have struck the ball with the outside of his foot to counter the effect of the wind. Peter Harvey then carved open the Reigate defence bamboozling two defenders, advancing to the byline and beating the keeper from a tight angle to curl the ball into the bottom corner with relish. We increased our lead with a Kypros Michael special, twisting and turning whist still going forward, making defenders dizzy and dummying the keeper before lashing the ball into the net.
At 5-3 up and with about ten minutes to go it looked like we would come away with a rare victory from this away ground. Reigate continued to press and we began to concede free kicks in dangerous areas. Reigate had technical players who could strike the ball well and with the wind a factor we paid the price. Toby’s erection (of a wall) failed, compounded by the schoolboy error of not having a defender at the post (though some see this as an anachronism in the modern game). A viciously struck free kick brought Reigate to within a goal of our tally. The wind was now in their sails and yes you guessed it they drew level with less than five minutes left with a peach of a left foot curler that left Toby Manchip embalmed on the line, with a fixed look on his face but utterly still and peaceful. It was a goal worthy of winning a game except it did not, but it did mean that both teams left the pitch satisfied with their performance.
I would like to compliment the referee we had today – an elderly gentleman who handled himself and the two teams superbly. He was scrupulously fair, rightly taking exception to some of the fruity language that could be heard, not a little of it emanating from one familiar source in our ranks. The referee even congratulated Kypros Michael on his goal, saying this was the sort of skilled execution that he was happy to get out of bed for on a Sunday morning. “Thank you, sir", replied Kypros, a polite middle-aged man.
After hot showers we adjourned upstairs to a cosy bar for drinks and a waiter service that delivered freshly-made sandwiches to our table. There was even a big screen which allowed me, as a plastic fan, to watch the second half of the Liverpool-Burnley game. The journey home passed off without incident. I dropped off my passengers with Toby Manchip preparing to explain to son Oliver that he did not let in five goals in the first half.
Next week we are back at home in Farnborough for one of the four remaining home games we have this season. I am not alone, I feel sure, in looking forward to the aroma of hot take-away pizzas after these games.
Man of the match – a Harvey again this week, Peter, for two superb exhibits of the striker’s art.
Man of the match: Peter Harvey