November 13th – Shanghai Marlins 1-7 Lions

It’s just like watching Brazil

As Shanghai Marlins arrived at Waigaoqiao in dribs and drabs, they were welcomed by a surprisingly warm Sunday afternoon despite it being mid-November. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the only surprise of the day as they took on reigning champions, Lions.

The hour leading up to the 2 p.m. kick-off saw a variety of transports used to arrive at the pitch at equally varying times. James Moss cut it tightest with a dart around the enthralling cricket match with just a few minutes to spare.

Manager, Steve Fishwick, had a total of 15 players to choose from which was pleasing given the number of absentees that forced a slight reshuffle of the pack.

Having seen Lions drop two-points against Japan a fortnight ago, the Marlins knew this was an opportunity to extend the gap between them and their rivals.

The opening stages were scrappy and there was no opportunity for any fluency as the referee impersonated a traffic warden with the big boss in town, fully equipped with a new shiny whistle. The frequent and often unnecessary stoppages (advantage and contact is allowed in football) were mutually unappreciated by both sides.

But on the half hour mark, the Marlins broke the deadlock thanks to one of the few passing moves of the game. Michael McGirr found himself in the pocket of space between the Lions midfield and defence which allowed the white feather to slip a pass for Pete Rosselli towards the right channel. The lanky forward had temporarily lost his marker and with both vocal and physical support from Wilson Scott who was making a run through the middle. Rosselli back heeled a first time pass for the Bearded Magician to curl his shot from the edge of the area. The Lions keeper couldn’t get a strong enough hand onto the effort as it bounced over the line to give the Marlins the lead.

There were few clear chances during the first period but Shanghai Marlins looked the more threatening in the final third and deservedly led at half-time.

Fishwick, whilst pleased with the general performance and score line, wanted more intensity from the boys in blue, citing a flatness that isn’t common for this particular fixture.

The start of the second half saw Marlins threaten to double their lead through set-pieces with the Lions keeper often caught out of position. But less than ten minutes after the break, Lions were level.

A corner to the far-post was headed in from point-blank range and that triggered a monumental shift in momentum.

A few minutes later, Lions took the lead with a well-struck shot to the far corner. A couple of minutes after that, it was 3-1 when a lunged volley (might be a thing) drifted into the far top corner.

Shanghai Marlins were shell-shocked at the transformation but with half an hour remaining and a less than convincing Lions backline, there was still time to make a comeback.

But despite a couple of near misses that would have made the game interesting, another lapse of concentration saw Lions score a fourth then a fifth with 75-minutes gone.

It became a matter of restoring some pride but as a team, that didn’t materialise. Those wearing blue shirts may as well have been cones as their opponents showed their ruthless streak to claim two more goals and run out emphatic winners.

Ironically, the Marlins found themselves desperate for the frequently blown whistle to bring an end to proceedings. It’s a first, and hopefully last, capitulation for a team often associated with battling until the end and always competing.

There was little that could be said apart from Fishwick correctly pointing out that if the players aren’t willing to put the effort in then neither is he.

Things nearly got from bad to worse when Mossy thought he’d lost his phone and some of the players had left the kit and balls in a taxi. But just before Mossy was about to put on the waterworks, his phone was found after it was handed to reception by a good citizen. The taxi driver showed his virtuous side by returning to Blue Marlin with the kit and balls, refusing Simon Moore’s offer of 100rmb as a thank you by instead requesting one of the balls such is his love for the game.

The positives didn’t end there as the majority of the squad displayed its famous team spirit by heading back to Blue Marlin for a much needed drink. The upcoming get together will also provide another opportunity for rebuilding bridges and strengthening team unity ahead of their next fixture against much fancied Century Park on 27th November.

Until then, the Marlins have some time to dust themselves down and decide whether this match paralyses or galvanises. How they respond to this setback will determine whether the league is lost or won.