The day didn’t quite take on the shape expected, or rather the schedule was terminated prematurely. We did manage a 10.30 start for beers, wine and rugby; we did leave for a curry at 12.45; we did get over to Welling for the match; and we did then get back. But a combination of last night’s and the morning’s excesses, followed by being baked for a couple of hours on the open terrace (why can’t we have a bit of rain?), saw enthusiasm wane for a return to a pub and a second curry. Shame on us. So instead I don’t have a decent reason not to pen something on the game (and can take the opportunity to add my belated congratulations to Welling on their promotion to the Conference).
It was, as they say, a game of two halves as Sir Chris adopted the entirely sensible tactic for a friendly of playing two teams for 45 minutes (I wish they’d adopt this for international friendlies). We were to win the first 4-0, which speaks for itself, with undoubtedly the headlines made by Piggot, who notched a hat-trick (does he get to keep a match ball?); the second was a more humdrum affair, one we were rather fortunate to win 1-0, although having gone ahead we could have gone on to score a couple more.
The programme contained the words that off the pitch, many improvements have been made, some that are noticeable today and others that are not”. One improvement not yet made, or at least entirely unapparent to me, is the loudspeaker, which remains unintelligible to those outside the main stand. The meant that the early periods of both halves were spent clarifying who was actually playing (and now having a quick shuftie at the club site to ensure no mistakes). So it seems that in the first half Pope was in goal, Morrison and trialist Wood were the centre-backs, Solly and Fox the full-backs, with Jackson and Hughes in central midfield, Harriott and Pritchard out wide, and Kermorgant and Piggot up front. Might have been a bit strange for Kermit to find himself not the obvious target for high balls forward.
Given the nature of the contest, our interest understandably focused on the non-regulars in the team: Pope, Fox and Piggot. The first half belonged to Piggot, who took three of four (arguably five) opportunities that came his way, taking advantage of their keeper’s propensity to come out for balls he couldn’t get to lob one in, and finishing smartly for his third. Kermorgant was not to be sidelined and he notched the fourth with a good finish. Pope made one decent save when called on, but by and large Welling didn’t threaten, which made it hard for Woods to shine; perhaps you can say that Welling didn’t threaten because he did his job well enough. Fox was put under some pressure at times by a lively winger but came through it well enough.
There was some welcome news with the start of the second half. First, Welling brought on their splendidly rotund keeper. In the game a year ago he – thanks to the programme I can now put a name to the frame, Jamie Turner – came on and looked for all the world like a veteran just come in and a touch short on match fitness. A year later and he’s pretty much the same. He must take stick up and down the country and, quite rightly, seems indifferent. Perhaps his deal with Welling – and it can’t be easy to find a part-time guy content to be on the bench – amounts to: ‘I’ll turn up and play if required, but sod training. He must be a bit of a character as he seems to have chosen 66 as his squad number (the other player count stops at 33). Second, included in our second team was Evina, who it seems hasn’t (at least yet) found a new home having turned down the contract offered. I hope he stays (just as I hope that Haynes doesn’t find another club and comes back).
The second-half team was Button in goal, Cort and Dervite in central defence, Wilson and Evina the full-backs, with a five-man midfield – Green, Stephens, Hollands, Gower and Cook – and Smith operating as a lone striker. Not surprisingly we managed to dominate midfield, but there was little evidence of players running on from midfield to support Smith, at least until towards the end. Less stretched at the back, Welling were to carve out chances this time around, with Button making a couple of more than routine saves and helpless when one looping header went over him only to come back off the bar. We did go on to win the half, thanks to an iffy penalty (a Wilson cross blocked by a barely outstretched arm) converted by Green, after which he became livelier and better movement from him and Cook created openings. Smith, who had been unlucky with a couple of headers, did then fail to convert a couple of one-on-ones, while Hollands almost scored with a chip.
It was a tough ask for Smith, to follow up Piggot’s goals and to operate on his own without much support until the late stages. Cook came more into the game towards the end as he seemed to be more intent to go looking for the ball. More of that please if he’s going to make an impact this season, as he needs to.
So, a satisfactory and enjoyable afternoon all round. Apparently Wiggins has a knock and didn’t feature, nor did Hamer. Perhaps a little disappointing not to have a chance to see what Azeez can do (he was one of six unused subs, all youngsters). Now we focus back on who might come in and who might still depart, with for me the opportunity for the Valley friendly before ducking out of the start of the season for the holidays. My French partner Suzanne has already made her plans, booking a London trip in September which will incorporate .... the Millwall game. Well, if a French woman can win Wimbledon perhaps the culture shock won’t be too great.