February 26th – Shanghai Marlins 4-2 Japan

A cobbled-street-like pitch at Waigaoqiao hosted a game that saw a dramatic battle between Shanghai Marlins and Japan.

The Marlins went in search of their third consecutive win of the calendar year. There were a few absences for the 2015 Champions which included manager Steve Fishwick who was chasing Storm Doris in England and negotiating the possible transfer of Wilson Scott to Kings of Leon. Something the playmaker reminded him about with a well-judged voice message that simply went, “Steeeeeeeeeevvvooooooooo!” Jon Banks, was unavailable having caught his son’s concoction of viruses while Dan Griffiths kicked a curb and lost.

As a result, Pete Rosselli with the help of stand-in captain, Simon Moore, and the slightly injured, Matt Banks, took charge of what can best be described as herding cats. The first issue was working out who was able to play and where. Dave Watson once again showed why he’s so greatly appreciated by his teammates as he went in goal, while Pete Roberts played out of position at centre-back alongside Moore.

Have you seen any of Mossy’s phones?

Debutants Nic Brauer and Ash Smith ensured the Marlins had a squad of 13.5 to choose from. However, that was based on the pillar of self-pleasure, Watson, bringing James Moss to the game on time. The muppet donated yet another phone to China’s black market following a heavy Saturday night. But when you’re in love and in possession of several turtle necks, nothing else matters.

Fortunately, the two Northerners arrived five-minutes before kick-off and were able to dress themselves accordingly.

Given the state of the pitch and opposition, the Marlins were instructed to play percentage football in search of territorial advantage against their Japanese opponents. A few minutes in, the boys in blue took the lead thanks to iMoss’ free-kick. Just over 20-yards from goal, Galaxy Moss side-footed with power into the bottom-left corner on the keeper’s side.

Shanghai Marlins continued to probe for a second goal but the conditions weren’t conducive to a particularly pretty game of football. Japan, meanwhile, posed a threat from corners and used a more direct approach as they too were unable to play their typical triangles.

With around half an hour gone, Japan were level following some fancy footwork by their left-winger. He cut onto his right and squeezed his shot past Watson from close-range.

The Marlins had several opportunities to restore their lead before half-time but were thwarted by blocks, saves and interceptions. Jamie Lally was particularly unlucky to see a right-foot snap shot go narrowly wide having shown great acceleration to reach Steven Fong’s through ball.

At the break, the team were encouraged to carry on with the direct approach as they looked the more likely to score again. Avoiding overplaying at the back and looking for more measured balls up field was going to be fundamental in their pursuit of victory.

The second half saw a bright start by Shanghai Marlins as they dominated the territory. An inconceivable back pass provided Gui Leclerq with a chance to rifle one home but a goal-line block ensured that didn’t materialise.

Jack Sanders nearly tapped-in a spilled effort having made a lung-busting dash from left-back.

Watson came to the rescue on one of the rare occasions Japan entered the Marlins’ defensive third. His save avoided a goal against the run of play but he could do nothing about their second big opportunity of the half with 20-minutes remaining.

Rosselli and Côme Doleac had just come on in search of a winner only to see Japan break through within 60-seconds of their arrivals. The well-taken, first-time lob gave Japan an unexpected lead.

A few minutes and a couple of saves from the Japan keeper later, Matt Banks rightly put Leclerq back on as the Marlins went to three at the back.

A quarter of an hour from the end saw Marlins win their hundredth corner. Both Scott and Blackberry Moss had been delivering great crosses all game without the returns they deserved. Fed up of the disappointment, the Bearded Magician put the Kings of Leon rumours to one side and scored directly from the set-piece to make it 10 for the season.

With their tails up and time on their side, Shanghai Marlins went straight back to their half, ready and waiting for the restart.

Moments later, it was 3-2 to the Marlins following some smart build-up play. Leclerq received the ball on the left, holding it up before playing a square ball for Xperia Moss who blasted his shot in off the bar. Cue a celebratory run off to the corner flag – probably in search of his phone – and a bear hug from a delighted Lally.

With the clock ticking, it was all hands-on deck. The defence weren’t taking any chances whilst Fong was covering plenty of ground in midfield. Lally had filled in at left-back – his fourth position of the day – to revert to a back-four as the majority of balls aimed for the corners.

As the game approached injury-time, Watson commanded his area to claim a lofted ball with great conviction. Rosselli was signaling for him to fall on the ball and kill some more time, but the ambitious Geordie showed great vision and even better execution to play a dropkick down the right-channel. Rosselli’s first touch forced him to consider a run to the corner flag before realising that he had Leclerq in support against one defender. As Peter Crouch’s body double got closer towards goal, the defender continued to block the angle to Leclerq so Rosselli took aim and beat the keeper at his near-post to confirm victory.

It brought a dramatic end to an ugly but competitive game. The Marlins dug in and churned out the sort of win that title challengers need to produce over the course of the season. With plenty of players to return and a better pitch to play on, they’re only going to get stronger!

Man of the Match: Jamie Lally