TWO goals in two minutes turned an uncomfortable evening for Merstham into an emphatic win in this Ryman League Cup last 16 encounter, but it was anything but easy for the Moatsiders.
Manager Hayden Bird had said at the beginning of the season that the Ryman League Cup was one of his targets and he lived up to his promise by fielding a strong side, with just two changes from Saturday’s victory over Havant & Waterlooville. One of those was enforced, as skipper Tom Kavanagh was ruled out with a knee injury, with Marc Okoye taking the captain’s armband.
Bird said: “I put out a strong side not only because I want to win the competition, but also out of respect for our opponents who are having a very good season and were always likely to give us a good test tonight, and so it proved.”
Merstham started well, dominating possession early on and it came as no surprise when they took the lead in the 11th minute. Rae Bailey-Allen did well to beat his full back and get to the bye-line. He pulled the ball back to where Xavier Vidal was waiting, who calmly picked his spot to put the visitors one up.
At that point it looked a question of how many Merstham would score against an inexperienced Casuals line up. But, as so often happens, totally against the run of play, Casuals were awarded a penalty when a sprawling Tutu Henriques appeared to handle a low cross and referee Stu Kyle pointed immediately to the spot. Up stepped Jordan Clarke who sent Merstham keeper Phil Wilson the wrong way to level it up at one apiece with 18 minutes on the clock.
From that point on, it was a curious performance from the Moatsiders, who at times pieced together some sublime passing movements and at other times casually gave the ball away when under no real pressure. Dan Bennett almost put Merstham back in front, but he took an extra touch allowing Danny Dudley to make a last-ditch tackle. At the other end, Phil Wilson had to produce a good save to deny Jasper Harlington. Casuals Max Oldham also had a great chance to put the home side in front, but mis-kicked, with the goal at his mercy. Merstham went straight down the other end with a fine move which led to a corner on the right side.
Vidal swung it in and Tutu Henriques was allowed a free header from inside the six-yard box, which he took full advantage of to restore the lead after 35 minutes. The half time whistle sounded with Merstham 2-1 up and seemingly in control once more.
The second half however, turned into a real struggle for the Moatsiders. Their play lacked urgency and precision and Corinthians more than held their own, employing a much higher tempo pressing game than they had in the first half. Neither side were creating anything much of note and it looked as though Merstham would be able to see the game through, without playing especially well.
That all changed with 15 minutes left, when a rather dull second half sprang into life. The catalyst was a superb strike from all of 30 yards out by Casual’s Callum McAllister which flew into the top corner, giving Wilson no chance and levelling the tie once again at 2-2. Conceding the equaliser seemed to spark Merstham back into life and they replied almost immediately with a carbon copy of their second goal; another in-swinging Vidal corner, another Henriques header from even closer range and another goal for the visitors.
In a flash, 3-2 became 4-2 when sub Dan Hector delivered a low cross and a rather panicky Casuals defensive clearance cannoned off another Casuals defender and dropped invitingly at the feet of Callum Willock, who calmly side stepped the keeper and fired home to effectively kill off the cup tie.
With just under a minute of normal time left, Dan Hector put the icing on the cake after he was picked out by a terrific cross-field ball by Addai and his first-time finish left Casuals keeper Dixon stranded as he came out. For those just looking at the result, it appears to be a cake-walk for the visitors, but Corinthian Casuals gave it a real go and the final score was rather harsh on the home side.
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