BLUES FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE
Tring Athletic 1-1 Dunstable Town (HT 0-1) Attendance 88
Before the match there was a minute's silence to honour the memory of Terry Gilmore, a senior league official who died recently.
Another punning headline, which is readily explained. Today’s game gave the hosts an awkward piece of what is known as logistics, as there was a music festival and a rugby match in fields outside the perimeter of Cow Lane and it gave a surreal effect as well as a parking headache for arriving spectators. We are all used to a bit of pre-match music flowing almost apologetically from the speakers within the ground, religiously shut off when play commences, but here at Cow Lane we had a full blown orchestra, hidden from view in a large marquee type erection, in zealous and persistent rehearsal trotting out popular orchestral pieces such as ‘The Dam-Busters’. This often rising to a crescendo to match the dramatic moments on the pitch, where no-one wanted to play second fiddle.
The second half brought some doleful operatic arias where it seemed to me one of the lyrics was ‘my heart within me pants, me pants, me pants , me pants.’ Well the Blues were indeed disheartened by the result when they gave more or less a gift of an equaliser in the fourth minute of stoppage time. They indeed faced the music after the game and perhaps a few comments from chairman Roger Dance that would not come under the category of the soft word that turneth away wrath. Needless to say, the Blues managers were suitably incandescent. This was two points needlessly thrown away.
Tring, when you’re winning, might be a good place to be, but for the second successive season the Blues failed to win. The programme quietly pointed out that Athletic took four points from Dunstable last season and effectively put paid to the championship hopes with their first ever win over the Blues.
These statistics were omitted in error from the programme as it listed a history of results against Berkhamsted, but no matter – I have an unenviable record for errors in our programme.
Dunstable were without the services of Jonathan Cooper and Chris Francis was given a start and it was he who looked the likeliest of scorers even before his spectacular overhead kick from close range opened the scoring, to the accompaniment of the entire strings section of the orchestra.
But it was not a replica of that much praised win against London Colney on Tuesday where they were as slick as a brilliantined trout, to quote Dylan Thomas. Now to console myself you will have to put up with some musical puns as for the first half the Blues were a little off-key and at times struck the wrong notes particularly in midfield where they fell prey to the snappish defending of the home side.
If they had not let a last second goal in against Ashford Town, the Blues would have been facing St Albans in the FA Cup today, and as we all know – and almost saw today, the fat lady had not completed her ditty and another late, late goal was conceded. It could so easily be avoided, with Shane Wood only needing to clear with an anywhere ball, but the former Tring man lost the plot and the hosts finished a la fortissimo, heedless of the fact that they did not really merit a point. If conceding late goals strikes a chord with Dunstable teams past and present, it is a habit we could do without particularly as the Ashford strike lost us the loot.
I am not blowing our own trumpet when I suggest that after a shaky start the Blues went on to be in effective control, they ought to have sealed the win by adding a goal from several second-half chances that came their way. I feel that at half-time it had been drummed into them that they really ought to have made their growing superiority count. There was also the fact that Frater had seen one fine shot bounce of the crossbar – and that would have given an early lead.
Had the Blues conducted themselves with greater harmony from the start, as they did Tuesday, then they would have been more comfortable. Tring played them at their own game and did not allow their visitors to settle. Frater shot wildly over the bar in an early effort and a snap shot from Roache posed no problems. Tring themselves put together a number of good moves, requiring some good play from the Dunstable back four, where Wood and Mead were outstanding. In their own fashion Tring were adept at closing down moves and intervening precisely, allowing no real fluidity in midfield. Connor Waite was also guilty of placing a fine chance way over the bar and into the egg-chasers game beyond, and no doubt there was a chorus of abuse from the rugger chaps at seeing a round ball near their scrummage.
Francis was indeed eager to show his pace straying off-side after a fine move, but he looked likely with Roache being attended to by some well drilled defenders when he came into the frame. There was indeed not that much in it for the first half hour or so, with a bit of niggly play thrown in, bringing an early caution for Moses Olalaye. This was followed later with Damen Pickering’s entry into the book along with three Tring players. But in no way was this a dirty game, just late tackles or dissent being the cause.
Corners from Pickering were sound but judged well by Underwood or his defence and the same went for Dunstable, where Kidd was sound even when electing to punch rather than gather. Fabio Bufano, fancying a chance sent his effort clear of the bar and a Rob Duncan free kick looked the business but was cleared. Connor Waite had perhaps the most inviting of chances but shot just wide.
When Roache seemed about to tune into one his deceptive spins, turns etc. just outside the box he was boxed in no fewer than five defenders. But this brought a flurry of activity in the Tring penalty area. Frater’s free kick hit the defensive wall and from this came a corner…and from this the cross was met and partially defended before Francis was enabled to perform the kind of goal we love to see, an overhead kick….last seen when the old legend Grant Carney did the same in a 7-2 win over Harefield or was it Hanwell….but it is odd one remembers the goal more than anything.
This was seven minutes before the interval and marked a turning point. It enabled Dunstable to fine some proper rhythm. But it had taken some time. I imagine there were some frank words exchanged in the Blues’ dressing room as their second half performance was much improved,well, to the point that they dominated yet could not find the little bit of extra perception to bring a goal. They plainly ought to have done –with Chris Francis, before he was substituted by George Brinkman, coming closest. He fired well at close range and underwood did exceedingly well to save it. I did not forget that Stewart King had had a broadly similar chance that was thwarted by Kidd, and that had the angle not been so acute Francis may well have earned a second towards the end of the first period.
With the operatic arias in flow over penalty areas we expected some more drama by suggestion, but it was unfulfilled. Frater was plugging away, one wide, one deflected for a corner, but territorially Dunstable were in a higher key now. I was amused that one robust clearance hit a player in close proximity of his orchestra stalls at the precise moment the disembodied voice of the singer went up an octave. Francis also had a shot on the turn that was saved well – his replacement Brinkman being of a more bullish temperament – a bit like a bulldog replacing a greyhound.
I do not want to harp on this theme but the Blues really ought to have put this one safely away and may come to rue the loss of those points. A draw these promising days is almost greeted like a defeat – not an arrogant assumption but based on the balance of play in this second half.
A Frater shot was punched clear, Roache shot meekly after Frater had done the hard bit. Wood was tidying up neatly at the back yet there was that rusted scissors of a thought that there could be a breakaway goal for the home side. But whilst Dunstable held sway with possession and good passing moves it seemed feasible that someone like Roache would have one of his special moments.
Tony Burnett strove to meet a fine delivery with what would have been a neat tap in, but the ball did not bounce for him, so to speak. That goes for the team really. On Tuesday the Blues were particularly on song and for many of the travelling supporters this was disappointing.
The imagined fat lady was trilling away into our stoppage time and I hoped she would finish and then relinquish the drawn out concluding notes as the home side were finding the wherewithal for a storming finish in injury time. The came Wood’s error, which was such a pity as he was indeed my star man of the Blues.
Tring take credit for their neat smash and grab and will be trilling over that gifted point. I gave plenty of leeway for Darren Croft and Paul Reeves to conduct their requiem or rather post mortem but the air was blue and the players were despondent. I went in to sort out the kit and there was a rather downbeat atmosphere so I left at the earliest opportunity in time to receive a call that the reserves had lost 0-5 at home.
It is unrealistic to expect a virtuoso performance every time and with the good run lately we have quietly come to expect more than we ought. The team remains unbeaten with seven wins and three draws, but others are closing in, banging their gongs and bagging points. The best I can say is that to some extent results went in our favour but Aylesbury United won away and trail by just one point having played one more game than Dunstable. I need not add that it looks like being very close at present and all games are vital.
Next Saturday sees a break from league action for the Blues who have a domestic cup match away at Hales Ley United and as far as I am aware the two teams have not met. They are a Division Two side and with the reserves being away at North Greenford the plan of sending a mixed squad has rather gone out the window, but a grim faced Darren Croft told me with a baleful glance that his first team would be on duty and expected to atone for their misgivings today.
So, look for some syncopated rhythm and progress in that Challenge Cup being an expectation from the managers rather than a desire. I will also make the thorny point that Royston town won the championship last season by drawing just two of their matches as opposed to our six, and we have had three already.
I was, at the end a little confused as the Tring scorer was hailed as Bradley Wiggins, but he was listed on the sheet as Wilkinson – not that it matters to much too us of a blue persuasion. I do confess more than a little disappointment as Chris Francis has had the headlines pinched from him by this stoppage time strike – some four minutes into it as well, with the whistle going upon restart.
I feel that the Duns had done just enough to deserve maximum points, given the errant finishing of the second half where they looked a lot better, but is that finishing on a high note – not really. But I can reveal that the team felt bad about conceding a draw and will be determined to do something about it, not only in the forthcoming cup game but also in the next league match which is a tricky trip on Tuesday 2 October at Pancake Lane where they will contest the points with Leverstock Green, the team my missis has the cheek to favour, as she was formerly domiciled in that area.
Oh well, music may make the world go round but it does not guarantee three points. Gertcha!
Mike Underwood, Rob Duncan, Matt Jarvis, Andy Hughes, cautioned, Dan Steadman, Tony Fields, captain, cautioned, Connor Smith, Jack Thompson, Stewart King, Connor Waite, Che To, cautioned.
Substitutes used – Bradley Wilkinson, goal, 90+4, Reon Thomas, Jack Sunderland, Adam Robinson.
Lewis Kidd, Damen Pickering, cautioned, Daniel Mead, Fabio Bufano, Shane Wood, captain, Leon Cashman, Moses Olaleye, cautioned, Tony Burnett, Lee Roache, Nathan Frater, Chris Francis, goal, 38 minutes. (Brinkman)
Substitutes not used – Graeme Buchanan, Jonathan Barnett, Mark Boyce.
Referee - T Barnes, assisted by A Crawford and R Hall.