On an emotional afternoon at JTC Park, a much larger crowd than normal had gathered well before kick-off. Yet, with many familiar faces around, there was a particular one missing, and it was this, rather than any football match, that had attracted those that might normally put their feet up in the warmth of their own homes, to pay a visit and their respects to our Honorary Life President, Frank ‘Ginger’ Lucas who we sadly lost the previous week.
With a minute silence planned before play commenced, to see so many football people standing shoulder to shoulder along the touchline, it demonstrated what high regard the man was held in, irrespective of club loyalty. Frank’s son, Peter, made his way to the centre circle with his clan of stunning grandchildren, and the minute silence was then beautifully observed by all – if anyone does have the secret for stopping grown men welling up, answers on a post card please.
Given the backdrop of the day, it was a game Wanderers simply had to win in order to both propel themselves up the league table and avoid the wrath of Ginger, who will undoubtedly have been looking down from above with his usual eagle eye.
With yet another changed side due to absentees, Birrell, Sellers, Stratford, McKenna and Borg made up the defence. Lucas Parker made his second consecutive start, holding in midfield, with Daniels and Nafkha retuning from injury, Payn, Andrews and rising star, Harrison Moon, leading the line before beginning a three match suspension.
During a frenetic first period, it was Wanderers that settled best and after a sustained period of pressure the break though came from a left footed Lucas Parker corner. His flighted cross was met on the run by who else other than Sir Christopher Andrews who out jumped his marker to power the ball past the helpless Trinity keeper from close range with a firm header.
Payn, who probably registered his most effective game to date, was a constant threat down Trinity’s flank, and Nafkha’s pace and energy added a further dimension of threat. However, Trinity had their moments too, but brave defending by both Stratford and McKenna and a particularly good save with his feet by Birrell, kept Wanderers’ noses in front.
Half time came, but not before Trinity’s Marco Zochhi had needlessly got himself sent off for foul and abusive language leaving his team mates with an uphill battle.
The second half couldn’t have started better and after a succession of half chances it was the home side that extended their lead to a two goal margin. Good work down the right by Harrison Moon resulted in a low near post cross and Payn was on hand to side foot the ball into the roof of the net.
With 20 minutes remaining, Trinity pulled one back. A straight free kick was fired towards goal and with bodies screening his view, Birrell was left helpless as the ball sailed past him and into the net. Queue a very nervy end to the game.
Josh Daniel and Kamen Nafkha made way for the fresh legs of Declan O’Connell, also returning from injury, and new signing Arthur Illingworth. Despite creating a number a good chances, it remained a close encounter right until the end with Trinity employing a longer, more direct style of play to compensate for their numerical disadvantage. In fairness, they applied good pressure right until the end.
Ollie Thompson was brought on for the injured John Borg towards the end and made some important defensive challenges and headed clearances. Injury and fitness are holding him back at the moment, but if he can get himself free of injury and back to the levels of fitness of previous seasons, he should become a pivotal player after Christmas.
To the relief of all, the final whistle blew, the points were safe, and Ginger’s day came to a fitting end.