Usually, our heroes in grey start out strong and tail off, as injuries, work commitments, Friday nights and an eventual sobering mid-table finish kick in. But so far, they’re still undefeated, six games into the new season – with a healthy five-goal-a-game average. And really, a top-of-the-league dogfight is unfamiliar territory. But that’s exactly what the Greys faced tonight, against second-placed – with a game in hand – Copa ’90.
Playing in matching orange Netherlands kits, with a big man at the back wearing an actual captain’s armband, Copa ’90 kick-off. They look fit, physical and intimidating. Buoyed by their recent form, however, the Greys stand toe-to-toe, passing the ball around and spreading the play patiently.
Early in the game, Greys winger Karim is brought down just outside the box. He takes the free-kick himself and fires a stinging shot at the bottom left corner of the Orange goal, but the big keeper gets down surprisingly quickly to keep it out.
Next, Karim fires a corner at Greys forward Martin, whose low, hard shot hurtles towards the middle of Copa ’90’s goal. But again, the keeper reacts well, showing surprising agility to readjust from his position on the near post and keep the score level.
Then a long throw from Ollie, his first of the match, finds Adam at the back post. Unfortunately, Copa ’90’s defenders scramble his header out for a corner, but it’s a good start for the Greys. Then Copa ’90 start to flex their muscles…
Their big centre-forward throws his weight around like Diego Costa, jumping into players rather than for the ball. He’s good, but he’s sneaky. Finally, a long punt from Copa ’90’s keeper ends up in that dreaded no-man’s land between Greys last-defender Julien and keeper Yusuf. The hulking forward reads the situation well and throws himself between them like Andy Carroll flattening David De Gea. He gets a head on it but Julien stands up holding his face. It looks like a foul but the ref disagrees. One nil Orange.
The Greys fight back but they’re up against it. Martin and Karim can’t find the same kind of space to dance past players like they usually do. It seems crowded in the Orange box. Their defenders are ice-cool on the ball, often taking the John Stones approach and sending Greys forwards the wrong way with a few neat step-overs rather than booting it out of play.
A long throw from Greys right-back Koyes finds Martin on the edge of the box. He scoops the ball over the keeper and into the back of the net, but the ref blows for a foul on Copa ’90’s last defender.
Then a torpedo throw from Ollie sails right into the top corner of Copa ’90’s goal. The Greys claim the keeper got a touch, but again, the ref disagrees. Goal kick.
The second half is just as tight. Physical. Intense. And end-to-end. But the play is stop-and-start, as Copa ’90 make a number of cynical fouls. On top of the tight defending, their keeper catches everything in his box, thwarting the Greys’ long throws, crosses and corners and breaking up play even further.
Then the Greys win a pretty non-threatening-looking free-kick just inside Copa ’90’s half. Karim whips a long ball into the box and Greys defender Paolo jumps to meet it. Incredibly, he dives backwards and glances the ball off the side of his head perfectly, looping it over the sprawling keeper, into the top right corner. 1-1.
Meanwhile, the Orange forwards clatter into Yusuf every time he jumps for the ball. At one point, a gung-ho defender smashes into him, elbow out, and bundles him over the line. No free-kick. With minutes to go, Copa ’90 win another corner. The ball’s whipped in and the Oranges’ Costa jumps straight into Yusuf, this time sneakily holding his arm down as he jumps. The ball ends up in the back of the net and it looks like the ref’s given the goal. The Greys are incensed, until they realise he did spot the foul and the goal doesn’t count. I’m sure this ref’s just bored and goes out of his way to irritate people and wind them up by being as ambiguous and pedantic as possible.
Towards the end, Copa ’90 are relentless, and the Greys can’t seem to get the ball out of their own box. But thankfully, that’s how it ends. 1-1. Exhale. The Greys walk off like they’ve been in a fight. A battle. And to be fair, the draw is a fair result.