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Jokers 4 - 2 London Wayfarers Knights (H)

5th February 2024

By Martin Dye

Sugden Road, Saturday 3rd February 2024

Scorers: Stone (PC), Hodges (FG), Foster (PC) , Balbirnie (PC)

Team: Tony Haycroft GK (Capt), James Draper, Jason Foster, Jim Sayer, Jon Bowen, Martin Dye, Steve Hardy, Rob Stone, Jon Milsted, Phil Balbirnie, Harry Hodges, Nick Sait, Andy Wingfield

Umpires: James Andrew & Alex McKee, thank you both.

The sight of the Wayfarers’ black and orange kit brought back bad memories for those Jokers who'd participated in the away fixture before Christmas. Not our finest hour in various ways, that day, but we remembered that Wayfarers liked to break at speed and had a good corner routine, so resolved in the pre-match briefing to set up to counter that this time. With our recently discovered form and focus, and the return of our prodigal full backs from their adventures in other teams, surely things would be different this time?

Fast forward to the second minute of the game. Wayfarers break, outrun us, create an overload and win a corner which they sling in via a limp-wristed deflection from our post man. An inauspicious start, to say the least. But 16 points from the previous 18 have bred reserves of resilience in the Jokers, and by the end of a pacy first half, we turned around 2-1 up thanks to Stoner's shinpad-height strike from our first PC and Harry's instinctive deflection of Phil’s reverse stick cross-shot past a helpless keeper.

The half time talk centred, as most weeks in our “experienced” team, on two topics - the importance of the next goal, and who was least injured or puffed from their first half exertions to go back on after the break. The slightly unfamiliar line up that took to the field upon resumption won few beauty points and bent many times, but never buckled. As Wayfarers found it increasingly difficult to string moves together, the game slowed and the Jokers moved out into a 4-1 lead as Jason and Phil provided the clinical finishes to an unusually efficient day of work for the short corner club. Wayfarers pushed hard to the end, but via much solid defence, a little riding of our luck, some sparkling x-rated repartee and Rob's yellow card for general s***housery, their only reward was a scrambled PC goal in the last minute. This concluded the scoring, and left honours even over the two games.

A fine all-round effort from all involved (except from your correspondent, naturally), but I would single out Phil and Jim for their tireless high-quality work in unfamiliar midfield roles, and the returning “El Gordo”, Jason, martialling the troops at the back, for special praise. Ski season/intensive physio beckons for the Jokers now, before the push to the end of season and all to play for, with only three points currently separating second from seventh in this competitive league.