Merstham 1 vs Lewes 3: Put A Tanner On It

This winning lark’s fun, isn’t it? The Rooks followed up their impressive stonking of Enfield on Saturday with another convincing three-pointer at Merstham, climbing up to fifth in the (still early) table.

The Rooks haven’t sniffed these heights since Darren Freeman’s promotion-winning side romped up the table at the start of the 2018/19 season. And Rooks fans with decent medium-term memories will recall that season began to fall apart at Merstham – a 3-2 defeat and a career-ending injury for Steve Brinkhurst were the catalyst for a second half of the season collapse that saw us sink from top to 11th.

Still, the current batch of Rooks are currently riding the upward curve and last night’s win can be attributed to some particularly fine finishing, amongst other things (see our expert’s tactical breakdown later).

The Rooks set about Merstham early and it was very much with the run of play that Lewes took the lead in the 8th minute. Razz De-Graft danced down the right-hand side and squared a ball across to Ollie Tanner, who gave the YTS Merstham keeper no chance with a well-slapped strike.

Lewes dominated the remainder of the half, with Merstham often plonking ten men behind the ball and only leaving the (ahem) well-nourished Omar Folkes up top for Captain Nelson and the increasingly impressive Weaire to deal with comfortably.

(We interrupt this match report for an apology. We’ve been calling Matt Weaire ‘Wearie’ all season. It wasn’t a cheap pun. And Matt’s a big lad. Grovelling apologies, pint on the bar etc.)

The Rooks were more comfortable than Terry Parris’s Hush Puppies, which is of course why Merstham scored out of the blue. A trio of corners eventually found the lolloping great Merstham 6 free at the back stick and he planted his header past Carey for an ill-deserved equaliser.

Perhaps a sign of their new-found confidence, the Rooks didn’t turn on each other or lose patience. They kept playing the possession game and it paid off once more on the cusp of half-time. Kyron Richards had replaced Killian Colombie at right-back only five minutes earlier. Whether it was a tactical switch or an injury sub wasn’t clear. What was clear was his strike into the roof of the net, after a series of blocked shots saw the ball squeak to Richards on the edge of the box and he let fly. 2-1 up at half-time and good value for it, too.

Merstham, to their credit, gave it a proper go in the second half. And it was something of a relief when Ollie Tanner made it three on the hour. The giraffe-like Merstham 6 might be handy at a corner, but he was all limbs and despair as Tanner ran at him, ducked inside and slotted the perfect shot low into the corner to give the Rooks some breathing room.

Merstham kept plugging away and gave the Rooks a few scary moments towards the end, but it was us that came closest to scoring again, Taylor Maloney’s crisp shot glancing off the outside of the post after the midfielder nicked a squared ball and ran straight at the target.

A very solid night’s work, but what’s changed since that wobble against the Met in the FA Cup? We’ve recruited a renowned tactical genius to talk us through it…

Andy Townsend’s Tactics Truck

Well, for me, Clive, it all starts with the three fellas in midfield. The lad Olukoga – he’s a ratter. He does the dirty work, he gets around the field like a Kante.

– Not sure you can say that on live TV, Andy…

No, Kante, Clive. Kante. N’golo Kante.

– Sorry, Andy.

Olukoga’s joined in there by little Brad Pritchard, the gardener fella. I don’t know what he’s growing in that veg patch at the Pan, Clive, but I’ll have some, because he doesn’t stop running for the full 90. Terrific engine. Then there’s Taylor Maloney. Sounds like a chain of estate agents, but he’s got quality, Clive. Good on the ball, keeps it tidy, hits a mean free-kick. So them three, Clive, have made a big difference.

– Back to Des in the studio.

Lewes: Carey, Colombie, Carlse, Weaire, Nelson, Coleman De-Graft, Olukoga, Pritchard, Maloney, Tanner, Taylor

Subs: Klass, Parker, Allen, D’Arienzo, Richards