Dunstable Town 2-2 Ashford Town (Middlesex) (HT 1-1) Attendance 82
Well, the answer to that is Harry. Harry Knock, right-back for Ashford Town, whose well-taken goal in stoppage time took the tie back to Short Lane on Tuesday, when it appeared that Dunstable were about to seal a richly deserved victory in this FA Cup first qualifying round.
This is the first time the clubs have met since a 1-1 draw at Ashford in October 2005, in the Southern League, and Stuart Strange headed an equaliser in stoppage time before Paul Taylor was to make a spectacular save in the last kick of the game. Ashford were league leaders and had already defeated the Blues 5-2 at Creasey Park.
They are members of the Southern League Central Division, as were our last opponents, North Greenford United, and the consensus was that Dunstable Town would fit comfortably in this higher level. Their supporters and officials expressed the view that the host were indeed unfortunate not to win, as they had come from behind and after taking the lead were just a minute or two away from a victory which no-one would have disputed.
It was Ashford who were the more grateful of the replay – they had not underestimated the Blues and we saw their representatives watching us in the Aylesbury game – but they were just, like North Greenford, a little taken by surprise of the depth of play produced by Dunstable Town.
The Middlesex side keeps that appendage to their name even though Ashford Town, Kent, are now Ashford United - and custom and usage will keep it so, even if that county name has been all but erased. But the Tangerines came to Creasey, with one survivor of the team that played in 2005, skipper Russell Canderton. Our one survivor was there today, goalkeeper Paul Taylor, who is now fit and will be contesting for a place.
Another sunny day made it pleasant for spectators but tough going for the players who took on fluids whenever a chance cropped up, and who can blame them since the pace was unrelenting. Clearly both sides thought they could or even ought to win and it was not long before the first shot was sent in, courtesy of the Ash Trees Kofi Lockhart-Adams and for the Duns we saw Frater’s shot bring a corner. This was typical as both sides were eager to get forward and it was clear as well that the Tangerines were no lemons in defence.
With midfield combatants giving as good as they were getting, chances of a clear breakthrough were limited for the Blues, but the Tangerines showed they could break quickly, often utilising both full backs, Ed Thomas and Harry Knock. Dunstable defenders Fabio Bufano, Shane Wood, Danny Mead and Graeme Buchanan all featured in my preliminary notes for intervening challenges, and often under pressure.
But the Blues, with their customary modest start were eager in the face of stern opposition, yet there were moments when they conjured moments of anticipation, with Burnett’ neat flick that was collected by Frater who whose shot cleared the bar. Some combinations were initially sound but obstructing traffic was heavy and there were some nest dispossessions going on.
Not the slowest of starts but not the most precise from the Duns and Ed Thomas was allowed to scamper away on the counter. When his shot from the left was fired in it looked like a routine save for Kidd who was somewhat surprised at its volition and the keeper seemed to palm the ball into his own net. Thirteen mostly even minutes has passed and the emotional reaction was to see the goal as an error by the young Dunstable keeper, but this attack was one that the Blues were too slow to close down.
Dunstable were thus prised into greater aggression and from the restart they forced a corner, which was safely gathered by McCarthy. Cashman saw his shot blocked and this was something that occurred a good few ties to different players and showed just how alert to duty the Ashford defenders were in denying Dunstable space to create the scoring moment.
Free kicks from the Blues were none too exhilarating, Barnett shooting a little tamely straight at McCarthy. Ash Trees centre forward Dan Brown had his effort blocked as well. When Dunstable tried to barnstorm through, employing the vociferous Olaleye or more usually Frater or Roache – they found their pockets neatly picked.
But Roache in particular is adept at keeping possession and tormenting defenders who, as the game progressed, tended to delay their challenges. But at this stage they were successful in keeping our little genie (or I might say genius) in his bottle. Quite simply the Blues were being crowded out. Yet, as we know, they did not give up and anticipate the law of averages and the equaliser came close to the half hour mark was netted amidst a conglomeration of players wanting a piece of action. Roache got the final touch and this represented something of a breakthrough.
With the equaliser secured, the Duns settled better and played with more composure, with moves having more assurance rather than a hesitant optimism. Olaleye, although he incurred the referee’s displeasure for comments that might be labelled as gamesmanship, or ‘sledging’ began to be more and more influential. Harry Knock cleared effectively from a Roache incursion, but back it came and Roache’s final short pass was intercepted and lofted to safety.
Dunstable still felt they could make inroads and again they were robbed at crucial moments. Much the same came at the other end with the indefatigable Mead and Buchanan doing their allotted jobs effectively. Dunstable corners caused some alarm and the eagerness saw infringements or some good defending from the likes of Bairoh Conteh or Canderton.
Ed Thomas still had the wherewithal to find space and robustly take the ball along the left flank seeking to cross – one good one took a fine intervention to clear. Mark Bitmead when he decided not to try to ‘earn’ a free kick, showed he could shoot and well. On one challenge form Frater, Bitmead clutched his head and cried foul, but when he saw the chance of a return pass he had a miraculous recovery from his claimed near decapitation. Well, they all do it from time to time, don’t they? Kidd needed a good save or two to assuage his probable guilt feelings at conceding, and in this he was successful.
His repertoire seemed, in the second half to be ‘if a cross comes in punch it.’ This was almost routine from him, but to be fair his distribution was good and there was no doubting his fierce commitment in crosses.
Being all square at the interval allowed supporters on both sides to exchange pleasantries along the lines of ‘this could go either way’, but I should think there was a degree of nervousness on both sides.
The Tangerines were, in in my view, a stronger team than North Greenford United, and the onus was on them as the nominally senior team to prove it. But although they had their moments in the second half they began to go a little off the boil and whereas they denied space beforehand they were being put to the test.
Both Barnett and Roache had early shots in the second spell, and Dunstable were sensing a release from the defensive shackles that had cramped their style. Mead put in a long cross that was too high, and at the other end Bufano was strong and calm under pressure – for the most part, but he handled on the edge of the box and the Ashford free kick was beaten out by Cashman. Lockhart-Adams put in a mild shot that was easy for Kidd, and then a Dunstable corner was tipped onto the crossbar by McCarthy. Dan Brown was very much in the frame and his shot was pushed out by Kidd. A sweet move by Olaleye was thwarted, but he did not have that freedom of movement in the first half. Lockhart-Adams tried again and Kidd was safe. Roache was still a torment but at times his artistry almost saw hmm disappear up his own backside. But following a long throw by Shane Wood, Roache was again bobbing and weaving in possession and from nothing he conjured cunning shot that hit the foot of a post. That kind of creativity deserves a goal, and alas, the following move saw McCarthy claim vigorously.
On we went, attack and counter moves by either side. Bufano conceded a corner and Conteh headed square rather than forward.
A fine move from Brown saw a cross that Shane wood was forced to put behind for a corner. Kidd was punching away crosses with alarming frequency for what seemed a long time, but this was the last real bit of pressure from the visitors. Dunstable looked the more assured and on seventy-five minutes it was roach again who was bedazzling the defence with his fine work until a neat pass found Cashman, who had his goal been the winner, he would have indeed been the Cash Man, what with £3000 being the prize for victory.
But Leon Cashman had put the Blues ahead and I heard the Ashford supporters, who were vocal and encouraging throughout behind the goal, espouse the view that this had been coming. It left fifteen minutes plus stoppage time. Clearly Dunstable had impressed or surprised them – or both. I was gratified to hear that they were indeed appreciative of the smart play of Olaleye and Roache – and not entirely begrudgingly.
Both Roache and Canderton saw shots saved but it did seem that the duns would see this one out safely – bringing on Pickering and Plowright to protect defenders – but their eagerness to be more involved left the occasional gap. Their allotted tasks called for a prosaic help for the rear guard, but in a cup tie everyone eants to be a hero – and the belated hero was indeed one Harry Knock.
Dunstable conceded a disputed free kick – well disputed by the Regiment most of all. Yet this seemingly innocuous free kick caught one or two players out of position and Knock seized on his Roy of the Rovers moment and his well taken blast of a goal put the tie to a replay at Short Lane. There was still time for Dunstable and there were efforts yet not as close as we would have liked.
Partisan though it sounds I report here the views of many – from sides, officials and supporters that Dunstable did deserve to win this match. It was a delightfully clean contest and there was some fine football played in what was a consistently entertaining match.
I have no hesitation in declaring Ashford Town (Middlesex) to be a good, strong side and if they had lost they would have conceded that they had ultimately been outplayed and were just a tad fortunate to grab that equaliser in stoppage time, with a bit of help from a bit of a lapse from Dunstable.
So, to the replay, and many were making various predictions. I feel it will be a hard game, with a tricky journey at peak times to start with.
Dunstable would have liked to have squared up to their league opponents, Hillingdon Borough, on Tuesday, to keep that little run going, but, as we all know, there is no extra time in the first match, and both sides will go at it at Ashford.
On the positive side, I feel that the Duns have showed that they are a side who, should they meet their aspirations could settle well in the Southern League. Their play is characterised by good team work and understanding with players meeting the expectations of their allotted roles. As the wit said, I never make predictions…..but we can expect a good show from the team who have a much better balance than last season’s squad – the players drafted in after the Hemel exodus have proved their worth – consistently.
My Blues’ star man was Moses Olaleye, and I detected a greater show of confidence from Fabio Bufano. The work rate from Frater was up to his standard but he was again booked for dissent when it seemed he was equally sinned against.
The Regiment will make their way to Ashford Tuesday, and I do hope the old flags get an airing – they are missed you know.
Finally, with both teams still in the hat, there will be great curiosity as to who the opponents will be for the eventual winners of our tie, and I feel neither side will give it up without giving it their utmost.
Lewis Kidd, Shane Wood, captain, Daniel Mead, Fabio Bufano, Graeme Buchanan, Jonathan Barnett, MOSES OLALEYE, this reporter’s Blues’ man of the match, Leon Cashman, goal, 75 minutes, Nathan Frater, Lee Roache, goal, 29 minutes, Tony Burnett.
Substitutes used – Warren Plowright and Damen Pickering – for Barnett and Burnett.
ASHFORD TOWN ( MIDDLESEX)
Paul McCarthy, Harry Knock, goal 90+1, Ed Thomas, goal, 13 minutes, my choice of Tangerines’ star man, Russell Canderton, captain, Bairoh Conteh, Jack Mullan, Ashley Lodge, Scott Weight, Dan Brown, Kofi Lockhart-Adams, Mark Bitmead,
Substitutes – Alex Duffy (Bitmead) Tyler Tobin, Samad Kazi, Joe Bennett and Perry Luckins.
Referee- Mal McIntyre, assisted by Ben Lester and Andrew Stevens.