It’s a new season and a new era for Shanghai Marlins following the departures of several players and long-standing Manager, Steve Fishwick. The regime of Coach Carl Edwards and “Mad Dog” Jamie Gerrard needed to get off to a good start otherwise they’ll risk flirting with a David Moyes comparison or even the ill-fated Co-Managerial tenure of Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier. There’s a reason that 20 years on we’ve seen nothing like it in England.
As well as a new and experienced management team, there were enough new faces to make Wheeler Dealer Harry Redknapp proud as he awaits the next club desperate for some top man-management, repetitive compliments and “triffic” signings like Nigel Quashie. A desperate recruitment drive over the summer saw half-a-dozen new arrivals try to fill the void left by some Marlins Hall of Famers….and Romanian spy, Andrei.
Based on the only Pre-Season get together last week, the Marlins can enjoy the Berlin Wall (Max Baier) causing others to fall; raise the spirits of a depressed Palace fan in Adam Jones; discover who is more competitive out of Gerrard and John Trinder; teach Jameson Waugh how not to live his life; and determine whether they got shafted or not by only getting Jon Heaney from the folding of Century Park.
Match-day saw Fran Adams and Toby Rossiter introduced to the Marlins squad. The young, Suzhou-based, Toby, was actually taught by Castaway’s Pete Roberts when he was in Secondary School so it surprised everyone that he arrived wearing sleeves. But a closer look at Toby’s WeChat profile revealed an attempt to compensate sleeves through an inability to do the buttons on his shirt. Definitely taught by Roberts!
Jamie Lally also arrived as part of the new-look Suzhou trio, cursing Liverpool’s draw with Burnley from the night before. The announcement that he will be club captain this season failed to raise his spirits, largely because Dale Johnson let the cat out of the bag during the warm-up, proving he’s not only premature in the bedroom.
The club’s management hope that Lally’s English will be misunderstood as Chinese which should help his side gain clarity over the frequently debatable refereeing decisions throughout the season.
After a different warm-up to the Marlins’ norm and a pep-talk by the motivated Gerrard, the game got underway in the Jinqiao sun on Adam Helling-Christy’s carpet of a pitch.
Looking to begin with a high-tempo and maintain possession, the Marlins got off to a good start as they threatened to take an early lead. The keeper was called into action as he recovered from his fumble to deny Pete Rosselli on the rebound.
Johnson, meanwhile, wanted to show everyone that his boxing training hasn’t gone to waste as he punched a corner and then had to scramble it off his line. The Chinese opponent in this Saturday’s fight better hope his face doesn’t resemble that of a Nike football!
Despite that scare, it felt like only a matter of time until the Marlins would find the breakthrough…
Enter Harry Swain.
Dominant in the air like a hungry Doncaster fan on an empty bus, Swain scored his side’s first goal of the season…WITH HIS KIPSTA-BLISTERED FOOT. The pub-born swimmer converted the rebound from Roberts’ original effort at goal.
One soon became two when captain Lally took aim from distance and drilled a great shot into the corner. The small gathering of locals behind the goal gave it an “oooh”, “aaaah” and a round of applause which made more sense than anything that’s come out of the Scouser’s mouth.
Rosselli then spurned a great chance to extend the lead after James Moss’ brilliant through ball. The beanpole forward’s honesty ensured the Japanese defender wasn’t sent off as the last man although based on this referee, he would only tell everyone to “calm down”.
Another goal-mouth scramble took place around the 25-minute mark as Wilson Scott and Roberts were denied by the woodwork and some very desperate defending.
Heaney did his best George Weah impression as he dribbled from one end of the pitch to the other. Unfortunately, the Boro born-Brummy looked more like Weah’s supposed cousin, Ali Dia, as he returned to his centre-back position, wheezing all the way.
With a squad of 18 to choose from and Coach Edwards putting in a very competent shift at left-back, Gerrard was calling the shots from the sideline while auditioning for China’s version of Baywatch.
Several changes were made after half an hour with the Marlins just two goals to the good despite their dominance.
A few more chances and opportunities were squandered before Japan got one back as their pacey left-winger got to the byline and crossed the ball for a tap-in that Johnson could do nothing about.
With just over five minutes remaining, it was a blow not to be out of sight and it nearly got worse for the Boys in Blue.
Japan broke the offside trap and it was one vs one. Basically, the whole of Japan vs Johnson. The Scunthorpe supporter and lover of continuously spouting out shit, stood his ground and forced the hesitant Japanese forward to make the move as he did have the ball. The back-tracking defenders arrived a minute later to help out Marlins’ number one as collectively they prevented a second goal. It was a brilliant and vital save that Johnson can only wish Ben Foster had seen.
At the other end, Lally tried to run beyond a defender down the right channel only to ruffle his hair and concede a foul. In Japan, ruffling one’s hair is very disrespectful and equal to that of an off the ball kick. In football, that equates to a red card, unless you’re a Chinese ref determined to ensure calmness during these tense and uncertain times with North Korea…just send the bugger off and give Lally an English lesson.
Moments before the break, the Marlins’ two-goal cushion was restored when young Waugh did what Sadio Mane couldn’t and beat the keeper to the ball. It was a soft penalty but Mossy didn’t care as he stepped up in front of his favourite Starbucks to send the keeper the wrong way.
At half-time, Edwards and Gerrard pointed out a few areas for improvement and emphasised that Japan need to come out more so the Marlins should be patient with the ball. They also declared their joy with the opening half-hour and Helling-Christy’s naughty touch when under pressure.
Despite a few more chances being missed, Shanghai Marlins did eventually get a fourth when Rossiter collected a loose ball on the edge of the box and shot towards goal, only for Rosselli to deflect it beyond the stranded keeper.
The game was opening up and the tempo was dropping as the Marlins went in search of more goals. Lally was cursing the sheer existence of his right-foot, wishing he was born with two left-feet instead. Don’t worry fella, you’ve proven that’s the case on the dancefloor.
Rosselli meanwhile thought he was a cross between Van Basten and Charlie Daniels as he wound up for a volley that barely made the goal.
Ash Smith didn’t take too kindly to a two-footed challenge on the sideline which led to a heavy-handed nudge and a yellow for each player as the peacemaker ref continued down his path of enlightenment.
Against the run of play, Japan got another goal back. The shot squirmed through and bounced over the line despite Johnson’s strong hand.
It wasn’t long after that when test-tube baby Rosselli had a chance to finish one of the game’s better moves as Mossy slipped him down the right-side of the box having finally given up with the 30-yard shots ‘on goal’. Unfortunately, Rosselli took an extra touch having realised the keeper’s unorthodox positioning which allowed a kamikaze save, heels first, which left its mark on the pristine field.
Scott had more time than he realised as the Bearded Magician was denied by another save which led to yet another corner.
Soon after, Gerrard replaced Scott for the final 10 minutes. The Hull ambassador took his frustrations out on the nearby goal, crashing a ball against its crossbar and adding an extra 100m to his heat map in the process.
Gerrard’s introduction brought an immediate impact. Mossy clipped a lovely ball towards the far-post for the assistant-to-the-manager to produce a delightful side-foot volley over the keeper and into the far corner. It was like Kenny Dalglish when he was player/manager at Liverpool but with a smaller arse. A goal with his first touch instantly endeared him to the newbies who may have been questioning some of the instructions from the walking, shouting sunglasses.
The game came to an end and the Marlins’ season got off to a decent start. Next up are rivals Lions in the first of three meetings this campaign, all of which will prove pivotal in the title race.
Let’s just hope Mossy has recovered from his two Long Islands – he’ll tell Leander he had to because he got man of the match – and he’s moved on from the joke of pretending to order on another player’s number. That also includes Johnson and Edwards. #Fivetimes
Man of the Match: Jon Heaney – The former Century Park centre-back had a great debut and showed a fine range of passing throughout. Another classy defender alongside Helling-Christy and a fine addition to the Marlins both on and off the pitch. He’s also a keen admirer of the junk in Harry’s trunks (swimming reference)!