The Tiffinians IIs season had settled into the comfort of mid-table obscurity. A few of the squad had started booking their end of season spa breaks before a poor run of results dropped Tiffs down the table. Cue a relegation six pointer against Old Tenisonians on the hottest day of the year.
The Motspur Park ground was at fever pitch with a bumper crowd of nearly double figures, each of them shielding their eyes from the sun and the even brighter glare of Luke Peake’s new neon boots.
In the manner of so many modern professional sides, the Tiffs warm up was mainly nutmeg based. The club’s coffers swelled by the resulting fines, the IIs took the field in confident mood.
Twenty minutes after kick-off, Tiffs were finally able to get out of their own half. Before that, some dogged defence kept Old Tenisonians at bay as Ollie cleared brilliantly off the line and Cottee forced the Tenisonians striker wide when clean through. There was a bit of luck too as three shots were fired over the Tiffs goal from twelve yards out.
Two smart substitutions by Tiffs turned the flow of the first half, who took the lead with their first attack of the game. A wonderful cross-field ball by Sammarco to Avery, played onward to the definitely-not-offside Bettis, which led to Dave pulling the ball back onto his right foot and sending a shot spinning over the keeper’s head via a wicked deflection. 1-0 to the Purps.
That threatened to open the floodgates as chances started to fall to Tiffs. Bettis put a volleyed lob just wide, Greg Nutt hit a beautiful curling 20 yarder a postage stamp wide of the post, and both John and Dave put long-range efforts over the bar. However, it was more resolute defence from the centre back trio of Dicky, Ollie and James Kimber, backed up by the commanding presence of Cottee in goal, which kept Tiffs ahead at half time.
The team talk was unanimous that the IIs really needed to win this one. Sadly, Old Tenisonians had other ideas, and they started the second half in similar vein to the first. Two early chances were squandered by their strikers, again repelled by a mix of desperate tackles from the Tiffs defence and good positioning by Cottee.
It quickly became end-to-end stuff. Any suggestion that this was because the IIs are not fit enough to play in temperatures above 15 °C has been vigorously denied by the management committee. Thankfully, the referee judged most Old Tenisonian attacks to be offside, which saved a lot of effort in having to track back. It also meant that the IIs could concentrate on pressing forward as Dicky poked just wide from Colin’s whipped free kick, John had two good chances repelled by the Tenisonians keeper, Dave had a low shot palmed away for a corner, and Colin and Tommo had half-chances to put the result beyond doubt.
Tiffs’ failure to extend to the lead meant that the last ten minutes were a nervy affair. A flurry of desperate clearances, another missed one-on-one, and a goalmouth scramble or two ratcheted up the tension. An equaliser almost arrived when an errant back-pass left the IIs defence with red faces, although that could have just been the sunburn. Thankfully, that chance was also spurned, or was judged to be offside, no-one was really sure.
The final whistle sounded, confirming a 1-0 Tiffinians win and a giant leap towards mid-table safety for the IIs.
The Man of the Match award went to Ollie for a towering performance at centre back which secured a rare clean sheet. Back in the clubhouse, the team tucked into their Sports Science Approved warm-down meal of hot-dog and chips, gazing out at the sun-drenched pitches, happy in the knowledge of a job well done. Even Ben couldn’t find anything to complain about… or could he?