Stotfold 2-2 Dunstable Town (HT 0-1) Attendance 73
I suppose it is indicative of the Regimental expectations when an away draw is greeted with mutterings and thorough disappointment; but Dunstable have always found Stotfold to be among the most stubborn of opponents. True they have had good results against the Rokermen but these have only been achieved from sheer, grinding hard work. What Stotfold lack in flair and imagination they compensate by having a tremendous work rate throughout the game.
Dunstable suffered their first defeat of the season in the FA Cup replay at Ashford Town (Middlesex), when conceding two avoidable penalties knocked the confidence from them. Today’s game was an opportunity to boost their morale with a fine league display. But, fourth from bottom Stotfold, who lost 0-2 to AFC last week will be the happier of the sides as they held on to late pressure to gain a valuable point. It would be easy to write that Dunstable threw away these two dropped points but, in all fairness, this was not the kind of performance that is concomitant with the form of aspirational title-bidders.
On another sunny and warm day and a dry, firm pitch, the Blues, (wearing their red away kit) started well and within minutes could have taken the lead when Frater first had a shot saved, following assistance from Leon Cashman and with his next effort he hit the cross bar after Danny Mead’s deep cross.
This was suggestive of better things to come but although the intent was there and the preparatory play, the finishing was imprecise, sometimes frustratingly so. I have often said there are no easy games and whilst Dunstable are regarded as the team most likely to, they will face teams who have the incentive to take their scalp, and as such, raise their game.
This was apparent when there were some good early moves from Nyasha Sagwete and Joe Bradbury with the cross headed clear, as was one from the sprightly running Sean Herr. Dunstable had more of the possession and this led to some elaborate build-up where the anticipation exceeded the event.
Olalaye blasted wide with tie on his hands, as did Cooper who seemed a little out of sorts. Buchcanan needed to draw on his defensive nous on more than one occasion where he dealt with hopeful long balls that just could have got through. Paul Garrett shot over the bar and shortly after this Burnett was down for what seemed lengthy treatment. Stotfold also made a substitution, bringing on Billy Baird for James Dillnut.
The bulk of the half was mainly about Dunstable building from midfield and crating chance after chance that was thwarted, and occasionally, long balls from Stotfold gave the hope of a breakaway home goal. It was clear, however, that this was not Dunstable at their free-flowing best. Lee Roache was on the substitutes’ bench when his artistry might have made a difference – yet when he did get on later his opportunities were strictly limited.
What was noticeable was how lacking in fluidity was the Dunstable midfield, who on their day are slick and deceptive but the prosaic wholesomeness of defenders like Paul Donnelly were able to challenge successfully with interventions and interceptions. Donnelly, who belied his portly presence with a manoeuvre that led to his side’s second goal, is a quiet favourite of the Regiment. He may look as if he would be more suited to playing darts but he still has the skill and the will to be an important and exemplary member of the team.
The Stotfold work rate was impressive – particularly the determination of Sean Herr and Joe Bradbury. I would also include the experienced goal-keeper, Martin Patching who is still a reliable custodian. He saved well from Olaleye who became increasingly overheated, literally and metaphorically, and I did detect a few recriminating exchanges among Dunstable players. They were dissatisfied with their play overall, yet this hardly pays tribute to the solidness of the Stotfold defence. Remember last season, the two Dunstable wins were from a Brinkman goal at Roker Park and there was a 2-1 narrow win for the Blues at Creasey Park. Another odd statistic is that in the last three games between the sides there has been a dismissal each time.
I add, sotto voce, that the games have not been an example of artistic exuberance , more a war of attrition and it does fall into the category of what is called a ‘ground out result’. This is all very well if you win, as the points are gained and it can be consigned to the archives – but it is clear we cannot afford too many of these. We can also do without the kind of lackadaisical back pass from Buchanan that almost handed a gift goal to the Rokermen. When there is time to steady yourself you do not have to see if the ball can clear the still leaf bound treetops. Either do crosses need to be too high or long, when there is little or no pressure. Olaleye had a shot saved, Barnett’s thirty yard free-kick was on target but saved by Patching, who tipped it over and we marvelled at the decision of a goal kick. Buchanan atoned by sure-footed last man defending and corners from the Blues failed to pick out the target men- and Burnett was an obvious one given his height.
Frater, diligent as ever was awaiting his chance and one such came when a timely dive from goalkeeper Patching reached the ball before the striker could stab home. A late corner from Cashman was gathered by the keeper and it seemed that the half would end without score. Yet Stotfold conjured up another chance, albeit unsuccessful and a blistering shot from Cooper required a good one-handed save from Patching. From the corner we saw the Stotfold defence breached when Tony Burnett headed the visitors into a just about deserved lead. Cue the mutterings of home supporters who were of the opinion that the five minutes of added time were far too generous, but had they scored then of course it would not be mentioned. As a matter of fact I agreed that it did seems a trifle long, but then there were sly moments of time wasting that people had chosen to ignore. Then there was an individual in the back row, many yards from me who affected asphyxiation from my pipe smoke when those sitting next to or around me were entirely oblivious. Heigh-ho. I then had to confess that I had not seen the much lauded gold pillar-box near to Roker Park to commemorate a local Olympian, being further chastised as – since I was a cyclist it was more or less my duty to seek it out. I am however, accustomed to criticism.
The most sensible remark, from my point of view was the chairman’s comment of ‘about bloody time’ concerning this laboured lead. We did think that the team would come out in the second half and make things rhyme rather than continue in blank verse. But, by my troth, it was the home side that began the livelier and looked good for nabbing an equaliser. There was a bit of an initial flurry from Cashman and Frater, but then we saw Pickering concede a corner under pressure, after being sure-footed for so long. Then Bradbury and Herr combined well before Mead intervened, to add to his already steadfast contribution to this game. As half-time rollickings go, it was clear that the home manager was the more successful as his team were deservedly level after fifty-four minutes when Paul Garrett put away a simple low cross, relatively unchallenged.
We did hear Buchanan opine that this was the much needed ‘kick up the arse’ the team needed and he exhorted them to greater effort, and the Regiment echoed that sentiment. Burnett did some good stuff on one flank but was then outflanked. Then Donnelly had his moment of appearing lithe and lissom as he evaded two challenges with the grace of a ballerina to win a corner. From this the home side scored again, and again through Garrett – just over the hour mark. Barnett fired straight at the keeper from a free kick and Cashman played a short unsuccessful pass when the better option seemed to be to have a crack at goal.
It was then Buchanan’s ‘turn’ to fire a free kick straight at Patching, who seems to have replaced Ender in this position; and soon we saw the expected Dunstable substitutions. Inevitably Roache entered the arena, with some subdued criticism that he needs to pass more instead of being crowded out. He did so, and ironically I began to wish he just did his normal ‘thing’, but he was never allowed to express himself in the manner to which we are happily accustomed. Credit the Roker men for their hard work here,, although they did concede a goodly number of free kicks in pursuance of this end.
Cashman, before he was substituted, did have a promising run cut short by a foul by Donnelly, but the free kick came to nothing. Pickering’s free kick was again easy for Patching. Roache found himself dispossessed and did not establish his individual rhythm that has made his such an exciting player for the Blues. His next effort was a blocked shot and he was allowed no space.
Then there was an alarming moment which Garrett will regret but Kidd will not. The Stotfold number nine was clearly through, evading off-side with only the keeper to beat, but Kidd judged his intervention cleanly and well and deserves credit for this. We must remember that this Luton loan player is a young lad and learning his craft and on occasions like this some appreciation.
Joe Bradbury shot wide for Stotfold and then after a careless foul on Olalaye, Ellis received his second yellow and made his way to the dugout, which had a spare space as Ron Ryall, the home physiotherapist was dismissed for what can only be unflattering remarks to the referee.
Mead’s free kick pinged off somebody’s head and I was reminded that there went another chance and the home side were within a quarter of an hour of inflicting a first league defeat on Dunstable Town. Francis came on for Cashman and Bufano for Buchanan. Roache had already replaced Barnett.
Mead was still earnest in free kicks and another went wide, and when Roache was fouled on the edge of the area we had hopes, that were still spurned. Except for sporadic forays it was clear that the home side were content to see this out and defend their lead and they very nearly did it, despite the growing pressure from the visitors.
Mead took a corner and following this the equaliser came from Fabio Bufano.
‘It came off my face’ he told me later, as I was gathering the kit. They al count I reassured him with the quiet thanks that at least we had got on level terms with five minutes to go. I say five, but the referee seemed to wish to prolong his experience and we had an eyebrow- raising slice of added on time in which Stotfold held on and Dunstable pushed forward with great efforts from frater and Roache that nearly nabbed it. Cooper was also in on the act and he was unfortunate not to get a really clean shot away. Pickering, always a never-say-die man thundered along the right flank and put in a cross that was defended at the expense of a corner. Mead’s cross was beaten out and Frater’s header was just over the bar.
Two points dropped then – and thus it makes the top of the table clash with London Colney all the more important. They were being removed from the FA Vase by Wembley, 4-1 today, but they, like Dunstable are unbeaten in the league and will be encouraged by our failure to gather maximum points today.
It will be the game of the season so far and ought to be a cracker. I do feel that the Blues ought to shed their hangover of their unfortunate exit from the FA Cup and this largely uninspired performance today by turning on a show against the newly promoted London Colney, who like their compatriots Ampthill, who won today, and whose only loss had been against Dunstable Town - they have made the Premier league sit up and take notice.
The Premier Division is shaping up in a way that suggests it will be a very close contest all the way through. At the very least we should be treated to a fine game of football at Creasey Park. See you Tuesday.
One last thing – it was pleasing to see the Regiment present Jonno Barnett for his goal of the month award, by Froggy, who despite the infusion of Foster’s had his lines off pat. Well done Jonno – and you are overdue another one from range!
Martin Patching, Nyasha Sagwete, Paul Donnelly, captain, cautioned, Jaiden Irish, (Baird), James Dillnut, Myles Lee, Joe Bradbury, Mark Ellis, dismissed, two yellow cards, Paul Garrett, cautioned, Sean Herr, Josh Cook.
Substitutes- Andy Carter, Steve Young, Billy Baird.
Lewis Kidd, Damen Pickering, Daniel Mead, Shane Wood, captain, Graeme Buchanan, (Fabio Bufano, goal, 86 minutes,) Jonathan Barnett, (Lee Roache), Moses Olaleye, Leon Cashman, (Chris Francis), Nathan Frater, Tony Burnett, goal 45+4 minutes.
Subs not used – George Brinkman and Paul Taylor GK.
Referee- P Evans assisted by K Moore and M Richards