Shanghai Marlins FC finally kicked off their 2023/14 SPL campaign with a tough looking fixture against Japan. With the core of last season’s squad still with the club, the squad had a familiar look to it, bolstered by a few new additions. New signings Will Doar, Hamish Richie and Michael Yang were on the bench, along with Shanghai Shooters supremo Roland “Zippy” Broughton. As the massive (in numbers) Japanese squad ran through their impressive warm up routine, the Marlins concentrated on staying cool in the 30+ degree heat.
As expected the Japanese started at a fast pace, playing a high line and pressing Marlins every time they had possession. With both teams packing the midfield, chances were few and far between, the best falling to Croatian striker Fedja Selimovic who narrowly missed the target after a fine backheel layoff from Pete Rosselli. There were also some good interchanges of play between captain Jon Banks and footballing trickster Mike “McGoo” McGirr, with Gui LeClerq going close at the end of one slick move.
Marlins suffered a setback around the half hour mark when they lost winger Jonny Dicken to a hamstring injury, giving new boy Hamish the chance to make his debut. Centre back Lee McCluckie then picked up the game’s only yellow card, as the Japanese changed almost their entire team and pushed for the opening goal. Marlins defended comfortably however, and retreated to the shade of the clubhouse at half time reasonably pleased with their first half performance. Half time 0-0.
The start of the second half saw American holding midfielder Will Doar make his debut in place of Captain Banks, and as the heat and pace of the game took it’s toll, Marlins manger Steve Fishwick rotated the squad to try and find the breakthrough goal. Youngsters Alex Hull and Luke Jones brought much needed fresh legs to the midfield, and jet lagged full back Tom Housden was replaced by Marlins stalwart Dan Griffiths. Upfront, the experience and footballing brain of Broughton were starting to create some half chances, whilst at the back keeper Dale Johnson had a couple of anxious moments dealing with the Japanese long ball game.
It was starting to look as if the game would finish goal-less, when an inspired double substitution gave Marlins the lead. Within seconds of being reintroduced into the game, Selimovic and McCluckie combined for the opening goal. Awarded a free kick on the left, Fedja’s inch-perfect delivery was met by a towering header from McCluckie which flew into the Japanese net. 1-0 Marlins, and scenes of wild excitement and bizarre goal celebrations ensued.
Faced with defending their hard won lead, Marlins initially kept the Japanese penned back in their own half, with Hull going close direct from a corner. Japan then brought on another set of fresh players, and with Marlins pressed deeper and deeper, Fishwick reintroduced Banks to shore up the tiring midfield. It looked as if Marlins would hold on to take all 3 points, but with 5 minutes left Japan found their equalizer. A great run from their attacking midfielder looked a certain goal until left back Dave Watson intercepted with a fantastic last-ditch challenge. Unfortunately the ball broke free to another Japan striker who slotted home to give them a share of the points.
With no further chances the game finished 1-1. Overall a fair result against a team who will be very difficult to beat this season. Good defensive performances for Marlins from Adam Christy and Simon Moore, and a mention for the referee who controlled the game well. We now have a 3 week break until the league resumes, hopefully with some cooler weather.