The Hoofer: No substitute for quality, John

By Peter Conchie
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The Independent Online

Almost into February and team spirit remains high, despite the fact that we have still won only one game all season.

We're a phlegmatic bunch and don't much care about status. To our mind, the quality of football is more important than winning – it's incidental that relegation has been technically impossible since October, when a team dropped out of the league.

Our aim this season is to consolidate, blood some fresh talent and limit the number of games in which the opposition score more than five times. On Saturday we had a full starting line-up, four – count them! – substitutes, and even a spectator.

We started well, and the scores were level, with Daymo poaching a header from a centre-half position, after a frenetic first 45 minutes. Too frenetic for some. During Josh's half-time team-talk Nick lay away from the huddle, gently retching as he reacquainted himself with his breakfast, the bulk of which lay cooling in the breeze in the centre circle.

By the time the second half started Nick had vanished and Del's mate Declan had replaced him. Demonstrating the high standard to which all new recruits must aspire, Daymo then scored the goal of the season from a free-kick almost on the halfway line.

The Hinkley assassin had made three calculations. First, on a three-quarter-sized pitch it was only about 45 yards from the halfway line to the goal; second, their keeper was staring directly into the low, winter sun; third, he was rubbish.

Daymo let fly and the keeper, bless him, realised the danger too late. As it sailed over his right shoulder and into the net he gave chase, like a little boy who had just let go of his kite.

Around this point Nick reappeared, with two cups of tea and some ham-and-tomato rolls. Revitalised, he paced the touchline, exhorting the players to greater heights, pointing out that there were plenty of subs waiting to take their place. Josh misheard him and immediately ordered a replacement.

In retrospect it was a substitution every bit as disastrous as the time West Ham brought on an ineligible substitute towards the end of a Worthington Cup tie and were forced to replay the game.

It wasn't the change itself that was the problem, it was the Keystone Cops execution. As Chris traipsed off, the call went up for John to replace him. But which one? Big John, a defender, or Little John, a fresh-faced midfielder from North Carolina?

Josh settled on Little John, which was unfortunate, as he wasn't wearing any shinpads. Although he hesitated, we urged him on. With the score a heady 2-1 in our favour, we couldn't afford to concede a goal.

Seconds later Little John was booked for not wearing any shinpads and ordered off the pitch to get some. In the time it took Del to take off his pads for his team-mate, the opposition had scampered through to score the equaliser. Minutes later, they scored the winner.

And the moral of the story? There's no substitute for a quality substitution.