Phantom subs win the day
Hudson 1 PFFC 2
Another epic game. No tabloid sensationalism. No exaggeration. Trust me, this was a glorious night for the Thinkers. In my four years with the team, on only a few other occasions I’ve experienced such a will to win, such a passion to overwhelm difficult situations and a really nasty opponent. And, believe it or not, for the first time ever, I was scared during the celebrations of the winner, that came with 60 seconds to go. Put aside the usual composure that has always distinguished our celebrations (to my disdain): at last we all joined in a wild human bunch with dwarfs like Richard and Mauro jumping on the top of us. “Two-one to Philosophy” (to the tune of “1-0 to the Arsenal”) was the hymn that I personally launched while going back to the right-back position for the last minute of the game. The chorus was rewound and released again at the end of the game, on the pitch and in the dressing rooms. The opponents? Dumb. They talked, rattled, insulted, hassled, for 45 minutes. The first half. Then, slowly but relentlessly, it happened again. A few weeks ago we beat them 4-1, shutting them up. On Monday, a replay. Rarely in my long though undistinguished career I’ve met such an unpleasant team. Bottom of the table, but as presumptuous as if they were first.
A step back: 15 people on the PF list on Sunday, 10 at my arrival at Willesden. Gaffer’s face was telling everything. A mask of tension and disappointment. “Who dropped off”? I ask. “Jamie and Bryan”, the reply. I enter the dressing room and the first person I see is Bryan. So silent he didn’t even say hello to the Gaffer. At least we are 11. No captain Ally and no keeper, too. Richard has volunteered. Bryan and Richard will be the key men.
The first half is a long sufferance. We’re too shy, too timid; no tackles, no headers. I’m the only one who’s doing the talking, but I’m short of breath after 10 minutes and my English is even more tortured and colourful than usual. Think of Ranieri.
They have half a chance, and they score a soft goal, really.
And talking about Ranieri: “From Tinkerman to Thinkerman” was the headline of today’s Evening Standard. At half-time the Gaffer, with no one on the bench, makes three changes: Bryan from centre back to central midfielder, Vipul replaces him from left back and Ronan slots in there from the centre of midfield. What a move.
We start to play, tackle, create chances. We score the first one when Mauro shoots from distance. The shot is parried by the keeper but Edgar is fastest onto the rebound for the tap-in. His opponent carried on telling him he’s an average striker. Our own Rivera netted three goals in two games against him. Wise words…
The ref disallow a regular PF goal, but we keep on believing. And in the end Bryan drove a wonderful belter with his magic left foot. Twenty yards and counting, the keeper hits the ground, ball into the net. The Willesden Lions get three points. In the league: played 3, won 3. But on Monday we’re up against the table-toppers.
“Noi vogliamo 11 leoni” (“We want eleven lions”), was the second song I sang in a delirious finale. Then I ended lying on the floor of the dressing rooms agonising for cramps, to the laughter of the entire team. Theatrical? That was real pain.
PFFC (4-4-2): Richard; Filippo, Bruce, Bryan, Vipul; Mauro, Kieran (c), Ronan, Gibbo; Edgar, Eric. All.: Gaffer.
Attendance: 6 (Hugh, Hany the league leader, two runners on the track, the two attendants of the Sports Centre).
PAGELLE (6 is sufficient)
Richard: 8 As Al would say, “Immense!”. Cool and confident, too cool and too confident for the Gaffer’s cardiac system in some cases, he gave us tranquillity. Well positioned and with a great goal kick, the only problem is that he thinks that a keeper can save without using his hands. At a certain point he decided to maraud from his box passing through a couple of opponents. “Release it!!!” was the desperate call from the touch-lines. Adrian and Rob are more than welcome back. This must remain a one-off. Wonderful has it has been.
Filippo: 5.5 as a player, 7.5 as a raving motivator and chant composer. I loved my super-crap opponent. Good ball for him. His marker (that’s me) panting miles away, first touch, ball out on the touchline, for my usual throw-in. The perfect opponent.
Bruce: 7 After some difficulties in the previous game, back to his best, specially in the second half when he had to cover for the right-back. Solid.
Bryan: 8 Man of the match. Impeccable in defence, fantastic in midfield. He brought back to us the lacking composure and most of all the three points, deserved but almost out of reach. Has to work on his accent if he wants to communicate with the Italians playing on his right.
Vipul: 6.5 That comes from 5.5 in the first half and 7.5 in the second. He, as many others, re-entered the pitch transformed, and not for the first time. Decisive in the heart of the defence, formed a perfect pair with Bruce. Upcoming.
Mauro: 6.5 Not a great game after a long absence from the pitch, but the great merit of creating our first goal. I know Neeskens can do much better, but he has to get used to English football, Astroturf, and has to play more. Encouraging.
Kieran: 7 Much better in the middle of the park than on the right, improved dramatically in the second half thanks to the electric shock provided by Bryan. Almost got the winner with a scorcher one minute before Bryan’s. The Kieran we used to know. Sure.
Ronan: 6.5 Replacing his missing brother as a central midfielder and then moved to left back, in a few appearances he has already played at right back and on the left of the midfield. Quickly earning the familiar praise of utility man, had a good second half.
Gibbo: 6.5 As the entire team, got better in the second half. Worked his socks off, becoming a constant threat to the opponents during the last 45.
Edgar: 7.5 Opposed to a nasty defender who used to climb on him to head the ball shouting, he never lost his cool and even managed to punch the guy without being caught by the ref. Well done, and even better was the goal that set up our victorious come back. Our own Pippo Inzaghi.
Eric: 6.5 Incredible work-rate, still lacking a bit of confidence in front of goal. It’ll come, no problem. For now, his good partnership with Edgar is more than enough.
Gaffer: 8 “I need a drink” was his technical comment in the press conference just after the game. Suffered all the afternoon to get the team together, and then for 90 minutes in which he managed to scare Hugh with unusual behaviour. It’s like he played too, and, most of all, he made those vital moves at the break. Thinkering.