Balmain Rovers 4A v Strathfield
Strathfield Park, Strathfield
Sat 14 July 2001
Report by Craig Brown
After the goalfest that was the Reserves game, everyone must have fancied their chances in the Firsts team. Of course, only one man is captain, and Gary Van Heugten pulled rank to get a start up front, probably to the chagrin of top scorer Paul Edwards. The full line-up was: Rovers: A. Mackie; N. Hopkins, C. Brown, G. Bacic, K. Tsalikis; J. Nicotra, P. Edwards, A. Farmery, M. Clementson; S. Fiorenza, G. Van Heugten. Subs: A. Haining, M. Sommers.
Things began well though, with Strathfield being pegged in to their own half for most of the first 30 minutes. Sounds very familiar to last week, and after a couple of early efforts went wide you could have been forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu. Luckily, the pressure paid off, with good work from Eddie and Serge resulting in a chance for Gary, who duly stuck it away.
We didn't have to wait too long for a second, as Joey sent Gary down the right wing, from where he cut into the box and pulled off a beautiful double somersault with a half twist to earn a penalty (of course it was all kosher. Wasn't it Gaz?). Gary dusted himself off to put the spot kick away and it was 2-0.
There was one passage of play just prior to the third goal where it actually felt like we were playing football, and not having a kick about in the park. Certainly the only time in my distinguished career. I'll cherish that thought - at least until the next time I play and get a reality check.
The third goal itself was the result of our sustained pressure and some good work by Gary and Andy Farmery. Eddie was prowling around to put it away and at 3-0 we were looking the goods, and while perhaps not thinking of 10-0, a la the Reserves, a few more weren't out of the question. Unfortunately, our best period for the game had passed, and things got a little tougher.
Just after the third goal, our defence rolled out the red carpet to the Strathfield number eleven. I even held the door open for him. Luckily, Ammon Mackie pulled off a great save to preserve our lead. Strathfield continued to take more of the game from us, and things weren't helped when I had to go off with a strained hamstring, being replaced, albeit briefly, by Ally Haining. A few other Rovers players began limping around, and anyone watching might have been fooled into believing that we aren't dedicated, super-fit athletes. Perish the thought.
Just before half-time, another welcoming committee greeted the Strathfield number eleven in our penalty area and he took full advantage of our hospitality by heading a loose ball into the net. Aamon was one of several Rovers players with a chance to clear, but contented himself with smacking the poor guy in the head, or something to that effect.
That made it 3-1 at half-time. Should have been better, but we always say that, don't we?
Not long into the second half and one of those incidents occurred that makes playing in this league what it is - sometimes absolutely bizarre. Ally, frustrated with a team mate(s), turned up the volume on an unsavoury remark. The F-word was involved, but it was all pretty commonplace; the sort of thing that's said every five minutes on a football pitch. Perhaps every two minutes if you're playing in Glasgow. But to his utter astonishment and, it's fair to say, to that of most people watching, the referee brandished the red card.
Obviously a new edict from FIFA - that Scots can't swear on the football pitch. Perhaps Ally should consider adopting a nice soft Home Counties accent, or use the Dutch curses endorsed by Gary and John later at the Annandale. Dorian uses "Merde", which is of course French for shit, but perhaps he has others up his sleeve that can help us get Ally through ninety minutes. Any suggestions should be forwarded to the Rovers e-mail list. Personally I like the Spanish word "Cabron", which equates to something like "bastard".
Back to the game, and the second half was a battle of attrition somewhat, and if anyone should have been sent off, Andy Farmery should have for an errant pass that spilled Sam's beer (Sam was shattered, but has apparently recovered). Andy, Glenn, Kon and Nik had to work a lot harder with only ten men, as Gary moved back into the midfield to help cover for Ally, and we lost our ability to hold the ball up front. It just kept coming back, despite the best efforts of Serge and Mikey, who I think came on for Clem.
The second half highlights were confined to Eddie having a good chance saved by the keeper (rueful miss); Andy trying a speculative free-kick from Donny Nicholas range (about 40 yards); two superb and vital saves by Joey Nicotra, who took over the goalkeeping duties from Ammon at half-time; and the Strathfield skipper, who looks remarkably like "Tony Montana"- Al Pacino in Scarface - doing his block with everyone (who would argue?).
The whistle blew for full-time, and a 3-1 win to Rovers, which I think guarantees us a spot in the Major Semi. This might require an explanation for all the Poms in our two teams. Ally ran onto the ground and some of us feared the worst, but from a distance it appeared as if he only wanted to dance with the Referee, who he approached, whispering sweet nothings into his ear. This seemed to make Gary jealous, as he threw his arms around Ally, obviously imploring him to think twice and dance with him instead. At least that's what it looked like from some 50 yards away. Perhaps I'm mistaken. You'd better ask Ally.
The Pele points go to:
Joey Nicotra - 1 - solid first half on the field, then two vital saves in goal
Gary Van Heugten - 1 - all over their back-line like a Rotterdam Rash in the first half
Andy Farmery - 1 - another promising performance from the youngster
Paul Edwards - 1 - good effort despite needing hip replacement surgery
Kon Tsalikis - 1 - Mr Konsistency (OK - pretty bad, but I'm running out of ideas here)
Glenn Bacic - 1 - very strong two weeks running
Also, sad to see Nik Hopkins heading back to the UK, and missing the Finals. Of course it'll be even sadder to see him back here in four weeks time, but I'm sure the immigration department have their reasons.