It was the penultimate game of a short yet drawn out season. The Marlins sat top of the league on goal difference by a single goal going into the weekend. Playing at Waigaoqiao before Shanghai Marlins were title rivals Lions who were up against Shanghai Kickers.
A resounding 9-0 victory later, the 13 Marlins were taking to the field in preparation for their game knowing (Pete did at least) that they needed to win by an eight-goal margin to ensure they held the advantage ahead of the conveniently scheduled final game of the season against Lions on Sunday 3rd June.
There was a sense of determination, not trepidation about the task ahead, with Mitch Matthews embodying this with his Richard Ashcroft impression as he strolled through the middle of a cricket match without a care in the world.
Looking to dust off the cobwebs and gather momentum early on, the Marlins wanted to control the pace of the fixture against a typically technically and competitive Japanese side.
Gaffer Carl Edwards proved why he’s known as the epitome of versatility by starting at right-back and leaving just centre-back as the outstanding position he’s yet to line up in this season.
Within a few minutes, the Boys in Blue were one up. Matty McColl intelligently laid the ball back to a supporting James Moss down the left side. The Macc midfielder delivered the buffet of all buffet balls with a first time cross that split the Japanese defence and allowed Pete Rosselli to cushion home on the volley with his long leg. The buff Brit (happy now Heaney?) immediately collected the ball and took it back to the halfway line making his side’s intentions clear to all.
Despite taking an early lead, the Marlins regressed slightly as Japan began to get a foothold in the game.
Marlins goalkeeper Max Baier pulled off a couple of brilliant saves to keep his side ahead with one heading for the top corner. But as Japan threatened, the Marlins grabbed a second on the counter from a corner.
Jon Heaney cleared his box with a fine long pass to Rosselli who was fouled just inside the Japanese half. Looking to capitalise, Mossy started making a run down the left as Wilson Scott gathered the ball for a quick freekick. Scott played a perfectly weighted ball down the channel for the marauding Mossy who then played another first time cross for Rosselli to get a vital touch and deceive the out of position keeper. Two-nil with 15 minutes of the half remaining.
Shanghai Marlins pressed for a third and forced Japan into misplaced passes. Scott and Matthews were denied by the keeper while Fafa was somehow adjudged offside in one of the season’s more bizarre decisions as he nodded in Scott’s lob from close range. Let’s not be pedantic though.
Needing such breaks, most teams would curse their luck and let their heads drop but not this Marlins. Mossy struck cleanly from just outside the area to beat the keeper at his near-post and ensure Edwards’ side entered the break 3-0 to the good.
At half-time, Edwards made a couple of changes to maintain the intensity and rotate the team knowing the Marlins would need to put in a massive second-half performance to get the result they desired.
Despite a rocky start, the Marlins extended their lead to 4-0. Mossy retrieved the ball and passed to Rosselli whose shot from the edge of the box found the bottom corner following some poor goalkeeping.
But Japan clawed a deserved goal back as their strongest player found the far top corner.
The Marlins needed five goals without reply to remain top of the league and time was running out with just 20 minutes remaining.
Rosselli had a clear opportunity but his effort was far too central and only resulted in a corner. Soon after however, he redeemed himself with a near-post header from Mossy’s corner making it the fourth time that combination resulted in a goal.
Left-back Ash Smith then got in on the act with a well-struck shot beating the keeper at the near-post.
Both Mossy and Scott were denied by the crossbar while Chris Bonner saw his effort saved as Shanghai Marlins continued to pepper the Japanese goal.
Rosselli turned provider as he controlled Mossy’s ball down the left channel before squaring for Fafa to claim his first Marlins goal. Now they just needed two more in the final eight minutes.
Karlton Watson was rewarded for a fine performance with a goal from another dangerous corner by Mossy. Watson managed to knock it over the line with the most active part of his body besides his mouth.
With several minutes remaining, McColl received a pass from Matthews before steadying himself and squeezing his shot over the line to reach the 9-1 target!
Now the Marlins just needed to avoid conceding a consolation and wait for the final whistle.
True to their reputation, Japan never gave up and very nearly got that goal but for another fantastic save by the Berlin Wall. Making himself big, which isn’t hard, Baier closed down the angle to deny a first-time finish from a low cross.
Edwards and Adam Christy on the sideline could breathe again as they continued to count each other’s fingers and toes praying the American education system hasn’t failed them.
The Marlins still nearly reached double figures at the other end but that didn’t matter as referee Kevin Doherty blew for full-time. Mission accomplished.
Max Baier – Produced a couple of great saves including the one at the death. Another fine performance by the German who was controversially overlooked for the World Cup squad.
James Moss – One goal and five assists for Chinkladze who showed intelligent play beyond his actual IQ for the second goal as he and Scott linked up superbly.
Karlton Watson – Confident, composed and dominant both in central defence and midfield. Unfortunate not to have scored more than one but Jermaine Jenas’ long lost twin is a welcome return to the squad.
The majority of the squad headed back to Jinqiao to enjoy some well-deserved drinks at Blue Marlin. They were even joined by Harry Swain who couldn’t make the match due to work commitments.
Sat inside again, Mossy was happy to be back amongst the swinging lights whilst displaying a marked improvement on his swimming pool table technique much to Swainy’s delight.
Despite not playing and therefore not scoring on the pitch, Swainy seemed intent on making amends off it as he tried to chat up the most attractive Fiona since GMTV’s Fiona Phillips. The Bus Eater wasn’t put off by said Fiona’s phone obsessed mute of a boyfriend who sat in the corner as his partner flirted with Hungry Harry. Suffice to say, the line “You could be a model” only got a thank you and extended chat/flirt before the boyfriend ran out of battery and wanted to leave.
As el pizhou did flow, so did the time. Suddenly, the constant combo of saag and laughter became no more than a pipe dream as even Edwards’ local Bollywood was unable to cater the saag needs of Swainy, Heaney, Mossy and Edwards while Rosselli briefly became religious.
Despite the blow of no late-night curry, Heaney did restore a bit of joy by hopping on to the back of a moving truck as it parked nearby. Thankfully, karma prevailed as he was left with cemented converse…the nonce.
One game to go and we’re gonna have a sort out. So bring your mates and bring your f**kin saags because by the time we’ve finished with them lot, we’ll f**kin want some!