HARES OUT OF THE HUNT
Dunstable Town 3-0 Harefield United (HT 2-0) Attendance 101
This was a rather odd game where much of the elaborate play from Dunstable seemed to be in slow motion, almost encouraged by an extremely shy Harefield midfield. To be honest it was not a gilt-edged performance, with the hosts never really engaging top gear as they did in the slick 4-0 win at Leverstock Green. Harefield seemed to hasten conclusions with their nondescript finishing eve from the most earnest of moves.
Having returned to the top of the table the Blues needed to win to ensure they would stay a point ahead of nearest rivals Aylesbury United, and still have the game in hand. But with the Ducks and the Jets, and AFC all winning, there is a good deal of pressure on the still unbeaten Duns.
Harefield United had an equal record against the Blues with three wins from six games – and there has never been a draw. In one remarkable season the Blues won 7-2 at home, with Carney, senior, scoring a hat-trick which included a wondrous scissors kick, but then we went to Preston Park and lost 4-2 with the Hares under the direction of our former manager Darren Feighery. Last season saw the Blues achieve a league double over the Hares with emphatic an emphatic 5-0 home win and a smart 4-1 win away.
But it was well known that the Hares had revamped their team and installed a new manager, so there was a degree of speculation on how the game would turn out. The Hares had won just two of their eight games before today and occupied seventeenth position in the table.
The Blues fielded an unchanged side from Tuesday, and the news was that Nathan Frater, injured at Hales Ley was not yet recovered sufficiently for selection. After a miserable Friday of steady rain, the sunshine and relatively warm conditions were welcome, and the pitch was at its optimum level for a game.
Dunstable began confidently, but there seemed to be a little missing in the firing power in terms of accuracy and strength. An early cross rom Wayne Mills picked out Roache rather nicely who then fired meekly, straight at Craig Garrett. Roache was to have his usual self-created chances but for most of the match he was contained, despite continuing good service from colleagues. Moses Olalaye almost replicated the Roache type of run into the area evading all, but he was dispossessed. Dunstable had a few free kicks at this stage in areas where a goal could feasibly be the outcome. They were of middling quality, failing to raise the temperature – yet efforts from the visitors were entirely negligible, the finishing almost mocking the more direct preparatory play.
From a reporter’s point of view it was very difficult to read the black numerals on the Harefield red shirts. White would have made matters a good deal easier, and I do believe that this point was received meaningfully. I was concerned that the willingness of the Hares to put together a quick counter attack brought sufficient warning to the Blues.
A Barnett free kick, coming after the usual pacing by the referee and reluctance of the defence had an unsuitable anti-climax but Garrett cared not a jot as he gathered. Another area of concern was the perceived lack of pace. It was there, of course, but it seemed to be slower in execution. This was because of the ponderous build-up, with back and square passes in order to retain possession. What was surprising was the time allowed for players to dwell on the ball, as if inviting them to measure the optimum pass. This, in a sense worked against the Blues who have been accustomed to opponents closing down as soon as possible. The Hares were ineffectual in midfield, yet their back four retained a sense of urgency, often dispossessing with admirable neatness.
Tony Burnett found space along the flank and he was able to place crosses. Roache was also adept at cutting in to see if he could deceive and before he could be adequately challenged he sent in a close cross that Newman Carney was able to convert and thus score his first goal for Dunstable Town from relatively close range. It was not against the balance of play by any means, but it was as if the Blues had woken up to the need to put one of their chances away properly.
Thirteen minutes had gone and already it was a perceived notion that with this reduced pace a second goal would justify the unconscious showboating of pass and move. The rather pedestrian Mark Weedon cleared from a Roache attempt, and this led to a Harefield half-chance that brought a free kick, which although well-placed fell to an infringement. Dunstable were then awarded a free-kick when the referee was heard to yell ‘sandwich, blue free kick’. This set piece saw Garrett gather and his clearance led to a scamper towards Lewis Kidd’s end, bit a wild, wide shot was the poor outcome. Danny Bennell was cautioned soon after, and there were moments of controversy after this with the Blues appealing unsuccessfully for a penalty with the Regiment claiming video evidence, which means little to an official who has to judge in real time. Harefield also claimed an identical decision a little later and it was also dismissed.
Without doubt Roache ought to have extended the hosts’ lead when he had danced skilfully into the penalty area and although he deceived Garrett, he took just a fraction too long to pull the trigger and drew a blank by a matter of a couple of inches.
The keeper did very well to recover his position after being momentarily stranded. At the other end Harefield were having little good fortune on their finishing. Good work was undone by shots either too wide or too high. The same applied to the Blues when Barnett’s cross was too high and long to be of use.
Dunstable seemed to have the freedom to roam in their opponents’ penalty area but it was the harbinger of some pretty cool defending and effective clearances to a muddled midfield who seemed not to want to bear the responsibility. But with the Blues chipping away it seemed plausible that they would crack the hares’ defence and this occurred when after some enjoyable exchange of passes Tony Burnett extended the hosts’ lead on thirty-five minutes – with Jonathan Cooper taking full credit for his persistence and the final pass.
Soon after this Roache appeared to be impeded in the penalty area but the referee adjudged it to be a fair challenge and bore the brunt of the Regimental wrath, and once he was out of earshot they harangued the assistant referee with the same venomous observations. A tricky cross from Cooper was awkwardly headed behind for a corner. A further Dunstable attack brought an optimistic appeal for a handball in the area. The half finished with a couple of chances for the visitors and a promising run by the outstanding Fabio Bufano was cut short by the referee’s whistle. It was a more or less satisfactory half as a two goal lead was infinitely better than one, and Harefield had looked ineffective in front of goal, with Lewis Kidd aiming to secure his fourth successive clean sheet.
We all see things in a contrasting manner and my chat with one or two of a Harefield persuasion thought that their team were unlucky to be two down, and that the Blues seemed a little slow. Home views were that the hosts had not really got out of second gear but were worth their lead. But I would agree that after the interval the visitors had a lot more possession and a greater display of constructive ideas. But they just fizzled at the finish, and were often caught in possession with elementary tackles. There was a scrappy ten minutes after this unfulfilled Harefield resurgence, and the game lacked the expected pace.
Kunani shot firmly, but straight at Kidd, Cooper was wide with an effort and a Barnett free kick was only just off target. Harefield preferred the direct play procedure whilst the Blues were adroit at passing it about waiting for the best pass. The referee had a job in keeping a tight rein with certain decisions and he was perhaps too involved in exchanging remarks with players instead of just imposing his authority. Then again, it might be seen as laudable that he did allow the free exchange of views.
Harefield employed all three substitutes in the form of Chevy Hart, Grant Kemp and Rhys Rabbes, and the home side brought on Buchanan, (startling with a gingerish beard and orange boots) and Chris Francis for Carney and Burnett. One thought running through my mind was that this game could be summed up as ‘not a classic’, but it still had to be won. Roache, nearly averaging a goal a game looked intent on keeping this up and had a shot blocked and Buchanan had one of his customary stabs at goal saved by Garrett. The Hares’ Harry Newman had had some pace bout him in the first half and he did not relent, but although they seemed a little awkward at odd moments, the Dunstable defence did their allotted job, and to keep four clean sheets in this hard fought league is a good achievement.
We were almost through the second half without further score but a fine delivery from Buchanan was literally chested into the goal by Lee Roache with five minutes remaining. I do not think as one or two Hares’ supporters voiced that the score flattered the Blues as quite simply they finished better and when it mattered. I would say this was not the best of performances but it was good enough, and the team continues its unbeaten run to a twelfth game.
Given the fact that Aylesbury United, Oxhey Jets and AFC all won, today’s victory has added importance. It will be eagerly awaited as to whose consistency is the first to waver, and the title race is as close as the table suggests.
After the game I was asked by Graeme Buchanan to include in my report the team’s intention to donate funds for a charitable cause. Graeme’s close friend has suffered the loss of a son, aged just eight years, Rhys Nelson, who died of a brain tumour. There will be a benefit match for this tragic youngster at a later date.
Next Saturday sees a break from League action when the Blues travel to Barking for a cup tie – in the FA Vase, and should this be drawn after extra time, the replay would be at Creasey Park on Tuesday 16 October. Barking play in the Essex Senior League and have been keeping an eye on us as expected. We, of course, desire an improvement in this competition after the stuttering performance at Long Buckby last season, where our established full-back Danny Mead came on as substitute for the opposition- and then he made his way to Creasey Park.
Ending on a very positive note, the Blues, in their last three games, league and Challenge Trophy have scored thirteen goals and conceded none.
Lewis Kidd, Wayne Mills, Daniel Mead, Shane Wood, captain, FABIO BUFANO, Blues man of the match, Jonathan Barnett, Moses Olaleye, cautioned, Jonathan Cooper, Lee Roache, goal, 85 minutes, Newman Carney, goal, 13 minutes, Tony Burnett, goal 35 minutes.
Subsitutes – Graeme Buchanan, (Barnett) Chris Francis (Carney).
Craig Garrett, Dave Tilbury, cautioned, Aiden Trentholme, Danny Bennell, cautioned, Mark Weedon, Harry Howell, Jake Girt, Max Hubbard, Sam Kunani, Daniel Fleming, Harry Newman.
Officials- referee, Mike Barnes, London, assisted by Silvio Ciccone, Hertfordshire and Chris Miller, Buckinghamshire.