HARD WORK IN HEREFORD
HEREFORD 2 DUNSTABLE TOWN 0 HT 0-0 ATTENDANCE 1,686
I received a phone call the morning after the match and it was a female Hereford supporter who asked me to pass on her message which, concisely, was that she had nothing but praise for our players who had held out for fifty minutes before conceding – and then only from a penalty. Later – as Gareth Jackson said in an interview, a late second goal was scored ‘and a wave of relief went round the ground’. ‘We applauded your players off,’ she told me, ‘we always do that for visiting teams, but there were a lot more supporters involved than usual. They deserved it.’ They are both right – as Dunstable – although under a good deal of pressure had held out well and might have nicked a goal and Hereford were anxious to make the game comfortable. It was indeed a performance that we can reflect on with considerable pride.
I thanked her for her kind words and would recommend anyone to look at Gareth’s interview on the Hereford web- site. So ended another chapter in the ‘plucky loser’ volume – but it was, in essence a lot more than that. Hereford are a big club at our level and Edgar Street is a magnificent stage for both league and non-league football. Hereford, as Hereford United were once in The Football League and, as I will expand on later, as Hereford United, they played their last ever game under that name at Creasey Park against Dunstable Town.
The board room looks out onto the pitch and as the Dunstable players emerged for an initial look round, I observed that many were rotating their phones in camera mode. For them this was a big stage and again I theorised that the better the venue the better our team plays. The problem was maintaining it and remaining error free. The pivotal point was as it was with Kings Langley – a conceded penalty. Hitherto Dunstable had taken all that was thrown at them – the new, on loan goalkeeper from Ipswich Town, Nicholas Hayes, had drawn polite support for his numerous saves on his debut appearance and his defence were playing heroically, with the full quota of timely tackles, headed clearances both on and close to the goal-line.
New signing for the development squad, Erin Amu came on as a substitute to join Arel, his sibling, and for the first time in my experience, a team had two sets of brothers playing. (Gedeon Okito and Peter Kioso are so related despite the different surname). Hereford, of course, had one eye on their forthcoming sell-out FA Cup Match against AFC Telford United – a sell-out that means 5,000 since one of the terraces behind the goal may not be used for safety reasons. Sensibly, they rested one or two key players.
Seen as a home banker the game kicked off and provided the hosts with an immediate chance for Lance Smith, with Nick Hayes making his first save – and what a save is was – from his legs and from very close range. In a way this epitomised the game as Hereford forged repeated chances on goal and were denied by excellent defending, astute goal-keeping and some errant shooting as well as a little bit of misfortune. Both Ben Collins and Daniel Trif chose the ‘safety’ of conceding a corner – but they were not shy of making well-timed challenges and adept clearances that drew applause from many of the home crowd. Time and time again the lithe figures of Peter Kioso and Gedeon Okito were seen defending fearlessly and effectively.
There was a great atmosphere and I sat with others in our committee in the packed stand and was pleased to hear many comments praising the defensive work of Dunstable who were making matters difficult for the hosts. When they could they sneaked forward, with Ryan Young and Andrew Osei-Bonsu manfully trying to connect with Arel Amu, who was monitored closely. With pressure mounting it did look as if the home side would break through but when Dara O’Shea had a gilt- edged chance, his fine shot drew a simply magnificent save from Hayes that was sportingly applauded.
I lost count of the number of corners and from each there was a high level of expectancy but downright Dunstable defended splendidly. They were called upon for total concentration and they did not disappoint. It became apparent that the longer this went on, it would favour Dunstable as, with a couple of wasted shots from Hereford, I heard comments that it ‘was going to be one of those nights’ which I translate as the away team raising its game and increasing its confidence, which was indeed the case.
Hopes were raised when Jonathan ‘Lucky’ Barnett took a free-kick, but this, rather than invoke one of his glory goals, it was straight at Martin Horsell. It took almost forty minutes for Dunstable to win a corner and another was won from a cross from Lanre Ladipo. The majority of the action was predictably in the Dunstable defensive half. Yet the quality of football from the visitors was impressive and it was largely due to sheer hard work – often in a critical zone within their own penalty area. If the goal-keeping problem has been eased, the other problem is scoring goals. Dunstable have yet to reach double figures in the league and chances in this game were similar to other games – somewhat limited. But the creative force is growing and it is clear that the potential is definitely there.
Reaching the interval without conceding was welcome – despite the many close shaves. ‘So far so good’ were the words of one home official to me which indicated a little flicker of sympathy as well as the tacit admission that perhaps the defiant spirit of the team may have surprised them. Members of the Dunstable committee asked to go onto the terraces to thank the few Dunstablians who had made the trip – including one fellow who was working in the town and was pleased to pop along to see his home-town side. The playful chant of ‘you must have come in a taxi’ was somewhat accurate in this case. The game was originally scheduled for a Saturday but Hereford have enjoyed a good cup run so a rearrangement was necessary, otherwise many more would have made the trip.
I have to hand the programme Dunstable Town versus Hereford United, a 1-1 draw on Saturday 13 December 2014, and it proved to be the last game for Hereford United. The attendance was 168 (it was 1686 tonight) and the game, since it meant the demise of the famous club, was widely reported and two printings of the programme were quickly sold out. Hereford’s record was thus expunged and we were denied the much anticipated return visit to Edgar Street.
But here we were, almost three years later and Hereford are very much back in business and they enjoy solid and loyal support. The central question was how would this game continue – it was taken for granted that the hosts would go forward with increasing urgency – but if Dunstable contained them as they had done then the point gained would be seen as akin to a victory.
And of all things imagined it was indeed a cruel knock. A tackle from Daniel Trif five minutes after resumption was penalised – and it looked like another free-kick, as I often say, centrally, just outside the area. The floodlights tend to blur the marked white lines and we were a little aggrieved that it was judged to be inside the area. As it turned out Trif’s trip was expensive as Lance Smith, who had been very close to scoring from open play, gleefully slotted home the well-taken spot-kick. There was a perceived notion that this would be one of a number of goals, but it was not the case as the second goal did not come until the last five minutes.
Dutifully, Dunstable’s play echoed Hereford’s rather lengthy motto of ‘Our greatest glory lies not in having fallen but in rising when we fall’. Kioso cleared an almost certain goal from the line, and his side forced two successive corners. No-one could completely rule out an equaliser on the break, and the home team really would have liked a bigger comfort of an extra goal or two. Jonno Barrnett was clearly still showing signs of a former injury and he was replaced by Erin Amu who came on to a memorable debut, with Brandy Makuendi being a late replacement for Saul Williams who had played himself into the ground.
There were moments when a Hereford shot was beaten away only to allow a second shot but still the defence held firm. If only they could have had a swift break as they still had the pace despite the burden of continual defending. What chances they created they took well but the hosts defending demonstrated that they wanted very much to avoid a ‘banana skin’ as I had been informed that they had a record of below par performances against teams in the nether regions of the division. Substitute Adam Page set up Lance Smith who failed to add to his penalty goal and Garyn Preen was wide with another effort as he tended to be in his first half efforts.
But the ‘wave of relief’ Gareth Jackson alluded to was tangible when Keyon Reffell smacked home a fine late second goal. Hereford had also brought on one of their rested players, John Mills, who like his namesake is a real star, and has reportedly scored 121 goals in 121 appearances. He did not add to his tally tonight, but he will no doubt seek to remedy this in the big FA Cup match on Saturday. So the whistle came after some appreciable added –on time and it was gratifying to see the sporting reaction of home fans. In no way did Dunstable disappoint. Tony McCool had prepared thoroughly for this and is players did him and us proud.
Yes, I know it is another defeat and our position may be seen as a little perilous still, but judging by this performance it is clear we have come a long way in a relatively short time. This was evident by the huge encouragement and appreciation shown by Dunstable committee members in the players’ lounge after the game. They were right to be proud of the lads who had played with a full heart in a demanding arena. There was little that was not positive and they can look forward to the home game against Frome Town on Saturday, and, it is hoped, this current team can end a rather poor sequence of results against the Somerset side.
I had arrived very early and in strolling around the city centre, my mind was not so much on sight-seeing as it was on our eventual performance, which I can proudly report was memorable. When you sit next to committee members who kept up a constant barrage of real encouragement and praise, you just feel that one more corner is being turned.
Finally, we would like to wish Hereford all the best for their cup tie and let us hope that as a Southern League side they can bring a bit more glory to the league as well as themselves.
Martin Horsell, Jimmy Oates, captain, Dara O’Shea, Rob Purdle, Dan Preston, Jack Deaman, Garyn Preen, (Adam Page), Keyon Reffell, GOAL, 85 minutes, Lance Smith, Penalty GOAL, 50 , (John Mills), Pablo Heysham, Mike Symons. Other Substitutes – Jamie Bird, Harry Franklin and Alex Harris.
Nicholas Hayes, Dunstable man of the match, Peter Kioso, Gedeon Okito, Jonathan Barnett, captain, (Erin Amu, 54), Ben Collins, Daniel Trif, Ryan Young, Lanre Ladipo, Arel Amu, Andrew Osei-Bonsu, Saul Williams, (Brandy Makuendi, 83), other substitutes – Sam Odusoga, Joseph Chidyausiku and Justin Koeries.
Referee, Richard Gardner, assisted by James Whittington and Lewis Mansfield-King, a youthful trio who had very good games.