Another long break between games following that annual and merry celebration known as Christmas meant the Marlins were playing their first match since the end of November. Although, the hardcore Marlins who hadn’t gone back home to enjoy mummy’s cooking did attend the Santa Cup 8-a-side tournament on 7th December and subsequently won it with eight players. That’s four wins out of the last four competitions on offer, making Steve Fishwick (and sidekick Marlin) a genuine candidate for any of the top Premier League jobs.

Providing the opposition this week were Cowboys who when it comes to team selection are about as predictable as the aforementioned Premier League. The previous week saw them comfortably defeated 8-3 by a weakened ERS side. But true to form, when facing the Marlins and reigning champions, they bring a younger, more athletic squad of players. Fortunately that often suits the Marlins as those who don the blue shirts enjoy a competitive and physical game.

Despite the Cowboys’ fancy boots and hairbands, it was the number of tracksuit wearing players that caught most of the attention prior to kick-off. One player in fact resorted to a hoody under his shirt because apparently he grew up on the sun. Suffice to say, there should be a complaint lodged as it doesn’t do much for the league’s reputation when one team turn up wearing team tracksuit tops and polo’s, then the compulsory socks, shorts and shirts that match their teammates for the game, while the other team are dressed like they’re about to attend a lifeguard exam with Dave at the local swimming pool.

Shanghai Marlins had a squad of 15 to choose from despite a few absentees due to injury and work.

Looking to get off to a fast start, the Marlins took the game to their Chinese opponents and threatened to exploit the gaps in their defence on a number of occasions. The Cowboys’ tactic appeared to be over-playing it in the middle before a long diagonal ball behind the fullbacks.

It was the Marlins however, who broke the deadlock as Gui played in Jamie Lally. His initial effort was saved by the rather tall keeper but Jamie Gerrard like a bull in a…picked up the rebound and drove through the defence before squeezing his shot past the keeper.

Cowboys rarely threatened and were resorting to ambitious and sometimes very well executed attempts on goal from distance.

The Marlins had a very good chance to double their lead following great work by Pete Roberts down the left hand side. The Welshman dug out an inviting cross to the back post that Pete Rosselli only managed to volley towards the roof of the net, which suited this particular keeper.

Eventually, the pressure told when Ashley Reid floated in a great cross for an unchallenged Gui Leclerq to head home at the back stick. It was a deserved goal as the Marlins were creating by far the better chances. They were unfortunate to have an earlier one-on-one opportunity cut short by the referee’s whistle for what he deemed a foul, known in England as a tackle.

Half time came and the Marlins were looking comfortable and playing fairly well considering the long break, which subsequently led to several impressions of Tom Hanks from Castaway.

The start of the second half saw more of an attacking intent from Cowboys but the Marlins rarely looked troubled. As a result, there appeared to be more gaps down the channels but the boys in blue weren’t able to exploit them as well as they should.

With a little over half an hour to play, Cowboys won a freekick on the right touchline just inside the Marlins’ half. With Dave Watson berating the hopping Chinese winger who was escorted off the pitch for some magic water treatment, their centre-back stepped up and took aim from all of 45 yards. If Sir Alex Ferguson thinks that Charlie Adam’s left foot alone is worth £15m then this lads wouldn’t be too far behind. It was a very well struck effort that left Dale Johnson no chance in goal.

Whilst some of the Marlins were debating whether the referee had blown his whistle or not, the quality of the goal had to be appreciated and it seemed to shake Shanghai Marlins a little.

Less than ten minutes later and the game was turned on its head as the Cowboys equalised with a dipping volley from outside the area. It was another fine strike but a lack of consistency in terms of ‘high boots’ led to protests by some of the aggrieved Marlins.

The game now was very much in the balance but the Marlins showed great character to regain the lead via another great delivery by Reid. His freekick found Jonny White who was left with the simple task of nodding home from close range.

A little over ten minutes remained for the Marlins to hold on to a lead, which over the course of the game they very much deserved.

Unfortunately, the Cowboys had other ideas as they won a very contentious free kick to the left of the Marlins’ penalty area. As the players were arguing the decision, they lost concentration and the Chinese side capitalized with a low flick on towards the far post. It was a very soft goal that you’d normally only associate with Liverpool.

There wasn’t enough time to take the lead again and so the points were shared. At times it got a little heated but it was generally a good competitive game.

Shanghai Marlins have paid the price for lacking discipline and concentration on a few occasions this season. As a result, they’ve been unable to take all three points from games against Gremio, ERS and Cowboys, which those performances had merited. They need to realise that no one is going to hand them the win and that the opportunity to do so is always within their hands. Of course, a few moments of bad luck or poor officiating might make it harder but that’s all it does.

Next up is another tough match against arguably the most in-form side this season, the Lions. Another long break for Chinese New Year after this means the Marlins need to get back to winning ways to ensure their right in the thick of it for the second half of the season.

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