Shanghai Marlins returned to action in 2018 following a long winter break where some enjoyed their holidays more than others.
Despite the recent cold snap, it was a surprisingly warm Sunday in Shanghai as all but one of the expected players made their way to the Jinqiao field.
It was initially a squad of 15 but a certain Harry Swain suddenly went off the grid. It’s not like the Donny midfielder to do this – unless he’s injured and incapable of supporting his teammates before returning home (to the bar) – so as time wore on, the Marlins grew increasingly concerned. Was he knocked off a Mobike having failed to learn from his previous mistake and riding on the wrong road? Did he get flashbacks to last week’s team gathering where James Moss regularly accused him of being a Jimmy Saville whilst mocking his bed hair? Did trying to emulate Marlins legend, Dan Griffiths’ 12 beers no food approach on a daily basis finally catch up with him? Sort of.
The man born in a pub had spread himself across a few drinking establishments after a game of football on Saturday and in doing so, lost his boots. Travelling across a couple of Shanghai’s districts to find them, he eventually came up short as kick-off approached. Intelligently – and probably to avoid the inevitable backlash whilst scuppering any future boot deal with Kipsta – Swainy thought it would be best not to relay this information on to his teammates so they at least knew what was going on. Hell, they could even have found him a(nother) solution by providing some spare boots. But no, switching off the phone made much more sense, as did an afternoon beer for comfort and familiarity.
But then the owner of Koala arrived to find a despondent Swainy trying to play pool but only thinking about how he had let down his teammates on their biggest game of the season. The owner then discovered an odd item in the umbrella pot which turned out to be Swainy’s boat boots. With kick-off imminent and in fear of failing a post-match breathalyser, Swainy gave a wry smile, said “What are you like ‘Arry?” and proceeded to send Mama Swain a postcard via WeChat detailing what had happened.
As Swainy was letting himself, his family and more importantly the team down, the squad who were able to not only keep a track of their boots but also bring them to the pitch, welcomed another Agent Dale Johnson recruit in the shape of Karlton Watson. When questioned what Watson’s standard was, the Jorge Mendes of Shanghai replied, “My two other recruits were Dave Watson and James Moss.” Club Secretary, Pete Rosselli, was quick to point out that whilst one of those has been an undoubted success, the other was recently caught in an Australian gay marriage controversy which did provide some good PR for the club but at a cost of communication channels to one of its finer (more aggressive) players.
Fortunately, but say it quietly, Johnson was right and Watson was more than capable of playing for Shanghai Marlins. The club are lucky to have the best Karlton in Shanghai…chin-up Palmer. It was just bad news for Wilson Scott who has another ‘Main Man’ candidate to contend with.
With Watson in the squad, Coach Carl Edwards and his returning Assistant, Jamie Gerrard, had a roster of 14 to choose from which included their fine selves.
Despite the build-up to this match recognising it will be one of their harder tests this season, the Marlins’ warm-up was limited to zero ball work, with Mossy last to get ready despite being five minutes from the pitch three hours before kick-off. But that would prove an unintentional blessing.
Straight from the start, Mossy played a diagonal ball to right-winger, Jamie Lally, who cut inside before unleashing an effort at goal that deflected wide for a corner. From the resulting set-piece, the Marlins were ahead thanks to Mossy’s cross and Rosselli’s glancing header from point-blank range because that’s all that he knows.
It was the ideal start for the Marlins but it was nearly cancelled out within 10 minutes but for some fine goalkeeping by Max Baier. The Berlin Wall stood tall at his near-post to deny Lions’ winger Shinji as his shot cannoned off the German’s knee and out of play.
The Boys in Blue learnt from that warning and were able to double their advantage soon after thanks to a great run and cross from the left-channel by Mossy which found Scott near the penalty spot. The Bearded Magician proved he doesn’t only have magic feet as he provided a clinical header past the Lions’ keeper for a two-nil lead.
It turned out that the Lions don’t just sleep at night as the Marlins showed great hunger and desire to claim their first victory over their rivals for a couple of years. Defender Jon Heaney showed a little too much desire as he received a very early caution which made his life more difficult. His inability to look nothing but dead behind the eyes when his game face is on meant despite his teammates telling him to calm down on the challenges so to avoid an early red card, Coach Edwards had to pull him off to calm him down. Then he temporarily subbed him. Zing.
Heaney acknowledged why he was subbed but also admitted that once Edwards started explaining his reasoning and providing some sound and much needed advice, all Heaney could do was switch off and have the tune, “Sunshine and lollipops…” in his bowling ball of a head.
Heaney returned to the fray and his side were nearly three-up before a quarter of the game had been played. Rosselli’s cross somehow found Pete Roberts at the back-stick, 15-yards out and the Welshman’s fine strike smacked the near-post before being cleared to safety.
The Lions were rattled and their task of getting back into the game got even harder as their best player, Azzedine, was injured following a robust challenge by Marlins Captain, Lally. The Scouser was quick to apologise and admitted Azzedine just got the better of him but that wasn’t enough for some Lions with one knobhead in particular looking for retribution via a cowardly kick at Heaney. Fortunately, Edwards’ words, the song in Heaney’s head or the pulling off, had the desired impact as the Boro-Brummy defender thought twice before getting involved.
With just over 10-minutes of the half remaining, Marlins did get a third when Scott brilliantly controlled and finished Toby Rossiter’s fine ball. Rossiter had a superb first-half screening the backline whilst Scott was a constant menace for the Lions’ defence.
Shanghai Marlins held on and contained their opponents but they were given a lifeline just before half-time when Jack Sanders was adjudged to have fouled their knobhead forward. Keen to maintain a clean sheet, the Berlin Wall refused to be beaten as he dived to his right and parried the shot away. Baier’s Santa Cup heroics paid dividends and the Marlins took their three-goal advantage into the break.
Coach Edwards brought the team in and delivered a reassuring pep talk that even Pep would have been proud of. The American emphasised there was no need to let the Lions back in by seeking a fourth goal. He made a few tweaks to the pressing and organisation but was keen not to upset the apple cart. To speak the language of his British team, Edwards explained that they can’t have players going on safari like Mossy’s hairline.
Amazingly, the Marlins listened and carried out Edwards’ instructions, apart from not getting on at referee Kevin Doherty if a decision didn’t go their way.
Gerrard made an impact on his return as he did a 30-yard wind-up for a challenge on the right-wing which saw him receive a booking.
But by and large, the Marlins were very disciplined in their second half approach, almost professional, as the Lions failed to seriously trouble Baier in goal despite having more possession.
Scott nearly got his hat-trick on the break but shot wide while Watson put in a solid and commanding performance alongside the head-singing Heaney in defence.
Ash Smith and Sanders were controlled at full-back as the entire defence and midfield in front delivered a master class in game management as they provided great protection.
The game was made easier when Shinji received a deserved second yellow card having got away with a poor challenge on Smith just before half-time. Smith was much quicker on his feet following the dismissal having carried Shinji in his back pocket for so long.
With the numerical advantage, the Marlins were more adventurous in attack as young Chris Bonner started to break from midfield in support of the forward.
Mossy also exploited the space as he linked up with Bonner before dummying a pass to allow Rosselli a first-time through ball (too tired to take a touch) for Mossy who despatched an emphatic finish to ensure an equally emphatic victory.
The final whistle came and the Marlins celebrated a vital win in their pursuit of the league title. The Lions were left to lick their wounds ahead of an inevitable reaction in the next head-to-head.
There were a number of candidates for this award such was the performance but not only did Scott get two key and well-taken goals, he took the defenders to Hull and back when often isolated in the second half. He nearly got his hat-trick right at the death but his work was already done by then.
Shanghai Marlins took their celebrations to their sponsors, Blue Marlin, where Watson’s first name was clarified after Roberts admitted calling him Clayton on more than one occasion.
Three long islands were downed by the debutant, Berlin Wall and Bearded Magician. Meanwhile, Rossiter enjoyed his chips and popcorn chicken despite the fact the team gets two of each dish to share for free.
Mossy let Sunday’s triumph and beer get to his head as he predicted a 3 or 4-1 win for his beloved Man City if Liverpool didn’t have Van Dijk. He also fell asleep at half-time because he’s a proper fan who drinks 12 pre-match pints.
Watson put in an impressive first Sunday Funday shift but had to leave for a date. Forest Gump and talking about his Nottingham Forest days with a woman whose honour he defended like a true British Gent by going all Kingsman on some American thugs was the evening’s plan.
The last Marlins standing left at 11:00 p.m. following another successful Sunday Funday…unless you’re Swainy. A great start to 2018 and let’s hope it continues with Galacticos, Japan and MMFC to face before the Chinese New Year break!