Rising from the Ashes
Tanya (Attwood) Plibersek (apparently!)Another beautiful Monday evening greeted the teams. The biggest question on the lips for all was “could Utd muster the energy, focus and positive spirit” to overcome the damaged ego’s from previous lost game to the brothers-in-arms. The well-constructed initial line up necessitated loan players as United regulars were out supping their tea or whinging about minor injuries from their wheelchairs. So the regular 4-4-2 line up of McCulloch, Catela, Rathner, Gough, Coard , Boyte, Gulec, Hughes, Dykes, Whan, Sims ( with Jenkins Snr, Caridi, Brown, Marcus and Moore on the bench) settled into the game well for the first 5 minutes. But where was our illustrious bean counter Stock? AWOL? Me thinks not – he was spotted on the field somewhere but not in United colours!!!!! His presence was duly noted when he unkindly bundled over an innocent United attacker to let us all know he was in “take-no-prisoner” mode. So a cautious start from both teams with little ground given. Then a near disaster with Utd conceding a dangerous free kick on the left in a moment of defensive panic from the whole back 4. Fortunately the resulting push by Alphington amounted to nought. Then a reverse situation brought the game to life with a quick move up the guts to release Rod who managed a “shot” which didn’t trouble the scoreboard operators or anyone else on the field apart from the touchline markers who will need to dust down the corner quadrant. The game was opening up early on and a great passage of play from Gid with some smart tic-tac interchanges in midfield looked promising – but shit always happens when things are looking rosy!! A horrible turnover from the St. Kilda – based left back gave a simple chance to ALP which was saved by big John – not the first time on the night he would be called on to save blushes in the United ranks. Another break down the left opened up the Utd defence giving a straightforward cross and toe poke which was saved but Alphington got the first goal on the board with a follow up conversion 1-0. Yet another break down the left once again exposed the United crew with an identical cross and an identical crucial save from John to keep the 5 minute tidal wave at bay. By this time Eddie had seen enough and his previous weeks resolution to calm down his “studs up” challenges was sidelined for a minute or 2 when he extracted his scythe and tried (unsuccessfully) to chase down either or both of the strong ALP midfielders (to take their legs) who were started to establish control. Their No. 6 was looking very dangerous and tested John out who pulled off a tremendous double save. But by this time the No. 6 was rampant and set himself up well from 18 years to strike a great unstoppable shot into the top corner: 2-0 United’s spirit was not dampened and the confidence was still maintained with optimism on show. A couple of well thought through changes brought Coard into play and some more balanced attacking play resulted in a corner after sustained Utd pressure. A well floated corner had the supporters on their feet as Moore dropped in late at the far post to plant his forehead on the free header – a goal was almost certain – well almost! The game was by now very open and another ALP attack had our illustrious and completely unbiased Assistant Referee (McLoughlin) flat footed and utterly embarrassed by his lack of attention to the game having a chat with the bench (mind you – I’ve never seen SM embarrassed about anything). So he flagged a legitimate offside from his vantage point of 5 metres from the half way line which for some reason the ref acknowledged. A get out of jail free card for UTD. But then all the positive energy from United worked wonders with a great right hand side attack released Mo into the area and an expertly despatched power chip hit the back of the net from the breakaway: 2-1 and the momentum swinging towards Utd. Rod then made a forceful run deep into the ALP half and all looked good for an attempt but the offside trap was successful and stopped the advancing reds. Box to box exchanges ensued with 2 more ALP long range shots which proved easy grabs for JM in goal. Then a further flurry of Utd pressure through Boyte and Caridi (who had come on to try and push home the Utd momentum before half time) with 2 opportunities to unleash from distance from which Utd struggled to pull the trigger. But the ALP guys were very good on the counter and sustained pressure in the last minute of the half around the Utd box looked ominous but hero Gulec saved the day with a brilliant interception when another goal was beckoning. So 2-1 down at half time with a very evenly balanced game – anyone could take the points. The 2nd half started with heightened energy and action from the get go. Andy Hughes played a perfectly weighted through ball to Caridi who slotted the ball home to wails of delight from the touchline: 2-2 The game was now being fought evenly in midfield with breaks from both sides threatening to result in goals. Yet another sustained ALP attack gave a clear opening to ALP but the goal attempt was once again thwarted by JM pushed out for a corner from which a header was blasted just wide – Utd survive. By this stage Utd were throwing bodies on the line to keep ALP under control. Dykesy decided to use any appendage he could to stem the tide – his wrist seemed a useful item – he only has one other use for it! so he flung out his left one and managed to interrupt play (and likely do some damage to himself taking one for the team). A quick change on the subs bench called Captain Jenkins into battle to replace the poorly Dykes. However, the immediate disruption to the Utd structure was damaging with Utd giving ALP a free passage of play in the middle with loose marking and no-one tracking the runners (Hmmmmm seen this before?) allowing the ALP striker a clear run on goal which he dispatched expertly – 3 : 2 The game was balanced and could still go either way but Utd seemed to struggle to maintain the defensive structure and were lucky not to concede from the ALP corner when the marking once again was notable by its absence. Another dangerous corner was taken by ALP with a goal bound attempt expertly saved by JM. Utd decided to revert to the game plan for a while and started to regain some composure and looked to replicate last 5 minutes of the first half – it worked and a great period of Utd pressure released Caridi 1 on 1 with the keeper but alas the fortunes didn’t prevail and the goal attempt was missed. With the last 5 minutes beckoning, United upped the ante and saw the opportunity to press harder and sneak a goal against the run of play to set up a frantic last minute or so. A great run by Mo was spotted by the United midfield and an accurate through ball was deemed to be marginally offside. Mo once again push ahead and saw an opportunity to pierce the defence but a snap shot ended up going somewhere near the corner flag in the “dark world over there.” By now the game was non-stop end to end action with John M called on again to keep the team in the hunt with a cracking save. The final whistle blew to call an end to a thrilling encounter – evenly fought in good spirits with neither team backing down and playing to win until the end. Final result: United 2 : Alphington 3 BMW BoP : John McCulloch with numerous saves all through the game most of which were dead set goals until his intervention Muppet Moment : Despite this reporter’s searching through his notes for a Muppet on the field – none could be found, so this evening award goes to our South African Linesman for keeping up with the game (not) and trying to run the line 5 metres into the field of play as well as offering his advice to the players on both sides which was politely declined. Memorable Moment: Basically a strong team ethic and bounce back from the previous week’s derby with a great club spirit on display from the United stalwarts and the City loan players.