Guest match report by JP Casey, Soho FC
On a cold day in north London, Soho FC scrapped their way to a fifth successive win in the London Unity League, with two headers and an awkwardly knee-er carrying them over the line against a spirited AFC Muswell Hill side.
The day began in ominous circumstances for the visitors; as they were playing at Muswell Hill’s ground for the first time, the early part of the day was spent bumbling around car parks and changing rooms in search of the right place to be, and even when the correct facilities were found, curious signs declaring the clubhouse to be the property of ‘Crouch End Vampires Football Club’ introduced a note of gothic horror not normally present in Sunday league football.
The visitors were also unusually depleted, so short of defender that not a single defensively-minded player was fielded on the bench until James appeared at half-time, fresh from a night shift and about fifteen minutes of sleep that impeded his ability to make the 1pm kickoff.
This gave a first start for Austen at left-back, alongside Adam on the opposite flank and AJ at centre-half, both of whom have been ever-present in the league this season, with captain Bjørn pulled back from midfield to fill in next to AJ in the Soho back four. The front end of the team was similarly shorthanded, with top scorer Lorcan still absent, but a front three of Rash, Cameron and Kieran, himself returning from a groin injury, pressed the Muswell Hill backline early and to great effect.
Kieran nearly played Cameron in behind on the counter after eight minutes, and the two combined again to give Soho the lead in the 13thminute, Cameron hurling a throw-in into the Muswell Hill box before the defence could set themselves, giving Kieran all the space in the world to fling a knee at the ball, and send it bouncing into the back of the net.
However, the home side responded positively, seeing a lot of possession and forcing Soho to play on the counter for much of the first half. While the Oranges struck quickly and incisively, a second goal would not come, and their attacks often stretched holes in the team’s fragile shape, with midfielders bombing on ahead of forwards, and defenders stepping into the midfield with the ball at their feet, which made for some terribly exciting, but not necessarily defensively robust, passages of play. More than once, Dan was overrun in central midfield, and the unfamiliarity of the backline resulted in breakdowns in communication, forcing Will to make a number of smart saves from forwards who found themselves in considerable space in the penalty area.
But the home side failed to find an equaliser, and were ever-vulnerable to Soho counter-attacks; a deflected shot slid midfielder Edgar clean through on goal, only for him to fire straight at the keeper, and minutes later, Rash slipped Kieran in behind the Muswell Hill defence, only for his touch to fail him, the ball bobbling away from him and into the grateful gloves of the opposition keeper.
By half time, neither team had been able to find the net, but James had been able to find his way to the pitch, and was introduced in place of Austen in defence. Ten minutes into the second half Kieran, who had spent much of the intermission with his leg in a bacta tank filled with deep heat, limped off to be replaced by Andy.
The substitute had a golden opportunity to double the visitors’ lead within seconds of coming on, as he chased down a long ball in behind from Bjørn, but, like Kieran before him, he failed to control the ball on the undulating surface of the pitch, and the danger passed as the ball rolled harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s hands.
The home side continued to dominate possession, and should have equalised, when they pressed the Soho defenders, who steadfastly refused to hoof the ball into row z, instead tipping and tapping the ball around their own penalty area looking for a clever pass downfield, turned over possession and forced an exceptional save from Will at point-blank range. Just six minutes later, however, Soho doubled their lead, somewhat against the run of play, with Cam nodding home from a delightful angled free-kick into the box from AJ who, having scored from a similar position a few weeks ago, was now proving himself to be quite the halfway line dead-ball specialist.
As the Soho midfield began to tire, I was introduced, alongside Wingy and Declan up front, and the game continued in much the same pattern, until a frenetic last fifteen minutes. Muswell Hill had continued to monopolise the ball, and their defensive line was pitching its tents ever-closer to the Soho goal; the home side were winning corners and free kicks, and running quite directly at increasingly leggy Soho defenders, ultimately leading to a penalty as a Muswell Hill forward was brought down in the box. The spot-kick was duly converted, and a sense of ominous dread began to disseminate amongst the visitors for the second time that day.
Dread turned to horror, however, as minutes later, Muswell Hill put the ball in the back of the net, a shot from the edge of the box following a corner thudding against the post, only for an opportunistic forward to tap home before the Soho defenders could react. However, as the home side celebrated, the referee chalked off the goal, waving his hands and pointing to Edgar, who had been substituted and tasked with running the line on the Soho left wing, and was now flagging emphatically; the forward who poked the ball in had, in fact, been offside, and the goal was disallowed.
The episode seemed to deflate the home side, who perhaps deserved to come away from the game with a point, but were now staring down their fourth consecutive defeat of the season. Five minutes from time, AJ whipped another super free-kick into the Muswell Hill penalty area, and Sam arced a beautiful header into the top corner from the edge of the penalty area.
The result sees Soho climb to second in the table, and maintain the league’s only perfect record after five games. After a bright start, Muswell Hill have suffered four straight defeats, and sit in fourth place, on ten points from their nine games. Neither team is expected to play again before the new year, when Soho host Titans XXL on 6 January, and Muswell Hill play East End Phoenix on the 20th.