THE SKY’S THE LIMIT
Dunstable Town 5-0 Sky Sports News (HT 2-0)
This friendly match was one that will fill the notebook of Tony McCool since he coaches Sky Sports News, as well as his new club. Our visitors are a polite, modest, unassuming bunch of chaps who epitomise enthusiasm. They held their own for a goodly proportion of the first half, but once they went behind, it was inevitable that the greater skill, fitness and accomplishment of the home team dominated as was expected.
The result, of course, is inconsequential – the purpose of the game for Dunstable was the continued scrutiny of both the possible and probables. The harmony between the staff of the first team and the development squad was also encouraging. This may be underlined when a spiffing goal was scored by one of Simon Reilly’s squad.
With the emphasis on player development, eagle eyes were on each moment. Those not selected to start were put through a training programme on the grass bank that overlooks the training pitch, where this game was played. This is the first time I have seen a pre-season on the 3G, since we had an away fixture against Crawley Green. Then as now, we peered through the high green fences like POW’s allowed a little fresh air.
Gedeon Okito, who became our first booking, asked me if the game was to be played on the main pitch. I told him that if it was, it would be nil-nil as there were no goals in place and no pitch markings. An automatic watering machine was working hard, without complaint.
The main pitch is, however, looking rather splendid and we will see the team tread the hallowed turf against Hendon on Saturday (22 July) and Luton on Tuesday (25 July).
The consensus of the supporters was that they were generally impressed at the performance at Marlow – particularly the second half. New captain John Sonuga summed it up for the team by saying it was a good start and that the team was pleased. ‘We have started from scratch, and we have come a long way. We were better in the second half as we all understood our roles much better.’
I was rather pleased that he told me that he was delighted to be given the captaincy and was aware of the onerous duty that brought with it.
As usual it is difficult to report in minute detail, what with so many changes and the relative unfamiliarity of the players. A fine gesture came from our Northamptonshire officials, who declined to add travel expenses, thus keeping down the costs. I conveyed thanks on behalf of our chairman Alex, who was away teaching in Bournemouth.
In what was almost a studied casual manner, both teams and the officials strolled onto that durable surface. Spectators were dotted around both within and without the compound. It was obvious that the Dunstable team that started was somewhat more experimental than it might have been against stronger opponents.
I do not denigrate our opponents one bit as they began well, had the first goal chance and held their own against their senior opponents for a good twenty minutes. The perceived notion that the home side ought to impose itself with some degree of swagger was thus suspended. There was indeed not much in it. Dunstable players would seize possession and imply that they would confuse any challenges, but Sky Sports snapped at their heels in a pleasing ‘we are going to contest this, whatever the score’. I love such exuberance.
The Blues eventually eased themselves into ascendancy and this was underlined by a notable opening goal from a player who had been attracting favourable comment. This was Ayebami Salami whose shot from range put the home side ahead. I confirmed the name with coach Gareth Jackson. ‘Ayebami Salami’ he said, the words rolling off his tongue making it feel like a multicultural greeting, so much so I bowed in gratitude, just withholding the riposte of ‘Buenos Aires, senor.’
Salami had been there or thereabouts with some probing goal attempts and showed he can shoot from the hip. He is lean and sleek and has that shaven head of that chap that used to sing for the popular beat combo, Hot Chocolate. Their song with the refrain ‘I believe in miracles’ might be applicable to us as the season unfolds – but it might not since we move onwards with confidence in what we have.
Dominating but not adding to the score, we witnessed the Dunstable players putting into practice some of the tips/instructions from Mr McCool. ‘Don’t fart around with the ball – pass and move and move yourself.’ But it was not until a minute or so from half-time that the second goal came and it was ‘textbook’. A Claudio Silva corner (I recognised him from the turn-ups in his shorts) was headed in with grace and emphasis by development squad player Kieran Ogden. That brought a smile from Simon Reilly and applause from us all. Ogden is a name familiar to me as that of a fine Irish pipe -tobacco manufacturer, but I digress, except to add that that goal was smoking hot, dude.
The whistle went soon after and off we went to the interval, still relaxed but pleased. A word here about the splendid organisation. Committee members had been there to meet, greet and direct in a useful dry run for a full-on league game. We knew that those chaps who had been training on the grassy knoll would be seeing action in the second half, which proved to be a lot more dominant for the hosts than the first. There had been many a goal attempt from the home team and the Sky Sports keeper had already earned his share of the post- match refreshments where the sausages and chips had been replaced by a healthier option. Full marks go to Rob and his team in the clubhouse for arranging this so well.
We had barely kicked off when Samuel Odusoga netted the third goal. He had scored at Marlow and later added another in this game. Superior fitness told of course and so it should do, but Sky Sports played on with unremitting enthusiasm. But Brandy Makuendi scored a fourth midway through the half. Shots on goal came again with varying degrees of accuracy and just to give me some extras copy (or so it seemed) – the last minute fifth goal was marked by protest and controversy. Odusoga scored to the huge appeal of off-side. The referee, who had swapped roles with the chap who officiated ‘in the middle’ the first half, signalled the goal. One of the Sky Sports’ players had been unable to check his momentum and found himself impressed with the image of the perimeter fence, gaining a temporary criss-cross tattoo. He had involuntarily left the field of play but it was pointed out that despite this he had still played Odusoga on-side. I confess that I was unaware of such a ruling but that is the benefit of hiring properly qualified officials. It is clear that officials gain as much from pre-season as the teams they are asked to officiate.
One of the officials did say to me, sotto voce, after the game that these chaps from the broadcasting unit ought to keep abreast of the rules. So, 5-0 was the score and this forms a nice little preparation for the visit of Hendon, which will be a more difficult task.
Both teams were amply fed and watered, our guests thanked us most graciously and I thought I might get some insight from Tony McCool. He was more concerned with getting the kit washed for Saturday. I had placed the away kit in the launderette and was asked could I do the same with the home kit, soiled by our new heroes. I assented but then remembered I had come on my bicycle and could not manage it. These was not a Baldrick cunning plan as I like to cycle, since it keeps me young, fit and handsome, and one out of three is not too bad; but if you are reading this and want to be a kit manager, do please let me know.
This was a good work-out and gave the players a chance to show their skills and commitment. No doubt Gareth Jackson will be referring to his notes about zonal positioning and awareness and all kinds of things that would leave me nonplussed – but on the quiet I am pleased that we have a fine technical back-up and a desire to improve the quality of those who have thrown in their lot for the hard journey of Dunstable Town in the coming season.