Pyrrhus of Epirus

Slingsby Lane has a unique energy before a big match.  Its as if the old ground has shaken off the cobwebs and is once again shiny and new: the color of the pitch is more vibrant, the cries of the hawkers louder, the Wild Fenland Rovers’ tifo freer of typos.

While there are times that Wanderers can channel this spirit and lift their play to hitherto unseen levels, tonight it seemed that it unsettled them before their third round match against Fourth Division FC Keto.  As a result, while Wanderers had their share of chances, all the dangerous opportunities fell to Keto.  SSW only stayed in the match because the oldest of Wanderers, keeper Ferdynand Pasieka, was able to ignore his balky knees and make several acrobatic saves.

Then, in the 39th minute, disaster struck.  Alex Barton lingered over the ball a second too long, and was clattered by a studs-up tackle by a Keto fullback.  Barton fell to the turf clutching his thigh and was carried off the pitch.  To all the world it looked like Barton was going to be out for a couple weeks at the worst possible time.  Then, just as the manager was about to send in Nick King to take his place, I became aware of a disturbance on the sidelines.  Barton, desperate to impress the Team USA selectors in his last appearance before qualifiers, was begging our medic, Arijit Chitre, to let him back on the pitch,  With great reluctance.  Chitre allowed him to continue, and Barton limped back onto the field.

With matters still scoreless in the second half, Wanderers finally began to find a rhythm, even if hampered by Barton’s moving at no more than half his normal speed.  Finally, in the 71st minute, the breakthrough came.  A crunching tackle by Freddy Krug led to the ball rolling towards Barton’s feet.  One perfectly-weighted through ball later, and Terry King was one-on-one with the keeper.  He made no mistake with the finish, notching the only score in a 1-0 win.

The hangover from this one will be brutal.  Barton is now battered and bruised at the worst possible time for his U-20 hopes.  The team as a whole faces a tough league match, followed by an extremely difficult cup tie against Third Division aerial specialists Jumping Jehovahs.  Still, tonight is a night for celebration, as SSW is through to the fourth round.


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