Dunstable Town 1-0 Berkhamsted (HT 0-0) Attendance 88
They do not come much closer than this. In what was a pulsating and very even game, substitute Damen Pickering headed home for his second goal of the season with two minutes of normal time to go, following a free kick from the right by Wayne Mills. This may have been Dunstable’s sixth successive win over Berkhamsted, and I include games when they were Berkhamsted Town. In their new guise, Dunstable achieved a league double over the Comrades, 4-0 at home and 3-0 at Broadwater, but this revamped Berko team are a force to be reckoned with. They had recently beaten AFC at Creasey Park and were thus looking for a particular league double and away from home.
They could well have done it as it looked increasingly that there would if there was any score, be just the one goal to separate the sides. Even so, the Comrades were definitely disappointed with their late loss and had they achieved a point there could be little complaint from the home side. For the Creasey Park faithful this was a must win game as the nearest rivals, Aylesbury United and Oxhey Jets went head to head tonight and a late strike by Oxhey forced a 3-3 draw. This was a desirable result for Dunstable as it meant that both rivals dropped two points – and I need not remind you that Aylesbury United come to Creasey Park on Saturday for what is the game of the season so far. But this one had to be played tonight and it had its fair share of tension, near misses and timely defending. Berko had come on a high, having disposed of AFC, and they matched the Blues blow for blow.
First Jonathan Cooper had a blocked shot and then Taylor made a one-handed save from Culaj after a corner. Tony Burnett appeared to be getting the better of goalkeeper Carl Tasker but he dragged wide. Taylor was then called upon for another save after a quick counter and a pattern was being set. One side would attack, see it beaten off and the other would swiftly get the ball up the other end, often by circumventing the midfield. This combative midfield was often clogged as both teams tried to pass their wa through it but found the back four answering the call of duty. There were quite a few free kicks of variable quality, meaning may could and should have been a lot better, some being plainly wasted. Dunstable had one of these when Roache was impeded on the edge of the area but it was cleared by Power, a late addition for Jamie Gavin.
Burnett neatly dispossessed Tasker but he shot wide on the turn. A neat interception from Jowle looked the business and Taylor was equal to it, and already having a fine game, with some confident interceptions. Frater had a shot blocked and a combination involving Newman Carney and Mills saw a deflection for a corner. Miller’s superb tackle on Cooper put an end to an expected shot and Taylor was in inspiring form dealing with Jowle’s successive in swinging corners. Carney had a neat idea for a free kick but his short pass was not expected and the move broke down. Roache was clearly a marked man, ad well he might be as he has scored thirteen goals in his last seven games prior to tonight. In one daring move he had three men bear down upon him and the top marksman found the traffic too heavy on this occasion. In his next encroachment into the area he was impeded short of the eighteen yard line and a free kick was awarded and Carney was just wide of the far post.
There was not an abundance of clear goal chances which was a testament to both back fours and goal keepers- the latter had seen full action and looked safe. It had been an exhilarating half tinged with a degree of anxiety as long balls forward could have resulted in a neat bit of trickery to put a man in with a one on one chance. There had been a probing for weaknesses and mostly constructive play that did descend into some overt physicality in the second half.
But undeniably there had been some enterprising football played by both teams despite their ability to deny space and movement to one another. The first half was even and if nothing else, Berko had tested the Duns at home quite severely, very much in the manner that Oxhey jets had done when they had become the only team hitherto to take a point from them. Some of the home supporters had seen the AFC/Berko game and had reported a fine performance from a strong Comrades’ team and the consensus was that if there was a goal it would be the only one of the game.
It was, of course no surprise to see a feisty performance from Berko as they are much stronger than last season and they had a real incentive to add to their success and get a double over the town of Dunstable. Certainly they began with a relish with a rasping shot from Stephenson bringing an important save from Taylor. Stephenson had been a real handful in the first period and looked like replicating that form. Mills made a good clearance from the corner and from a Dunstable breakaway there was a slight incident of shirt pulling confrontation. After Mead had made another vital clearance from a good-looking cross Berko retained possession and there was a further incident that involved Taylor, Mills and Pritchard. The referee dealt with this immediately and effectively and play was able to continue without any cards shown. There were, in the corse of the game four cautions for Berko and one (Cooper) for Dunstable, which led to inevitable complaints afterwards but there was a distinct physical edge in many challenges from Berko, who at this stage were getting forward with determination. Substitutions from both sides were inevitable as both managers sought to add a little extra.
Dunstable employed Pickering for Frater, Francis for Carney and Olaleye for Hutchins – the last named having scored three goals in three games. Pickering’s lust for action was soon translated to ball winning and a desire to have a hand in forward moves. The indefatigable Mead was there again with a spoiling tackle, not his last by any means. A Jowle free-kick was high and cleared but Jowle put it in again and Taylor was there to gather. Buchanan, who had been a stalwart at the back tried his luck with a neat hook that was cleared, and the central defender was later injured with Stephenson seeing a deserved yellow card. The free kick was wasted, as were a couple more even though it began to have the feel that a goal would come from a set piece.
Stephenson’s shot from a short reverse pass was wide and Berko wasted a good quota of their free-kicks, whilst mead sent in two crosses that were way too ambitious. Roache, intent on playing his usual game must have thought that by the law of averages he would have one clear run at least. In this he was thwarted but of course it did remain a possibility, given his canny skills. On one occasion he was forced back and wide but still got the short cross in that was robustly cleared. A later effort saw Roache head the ball firmly, but straight at Tasker.
A worrying moment was when roache headed the ball away from a corner but it sailed just a little too close to the cross bar and with some relief, another corner. Cooper was still battling to give the right assisted pass, and in one short run he fired one off only to see Tasker gather confidently. Time was running short and with the news that Aylesbury were beating Jets there were computations about what this would all mean, as it did seem that this game was going to be a fighting draw. Francis was winning the ball with his characteristic application and was looking to break into the box but thwarted at each effort. A Mills free kick from the left was not at all bad but defended well and close attention had to be given to Berko breaks, with Wood, Buchanan and Mead intervening stoutly.
There were two minutes of normal time to go when ills shaped up to take a free kick, this time wide on the right. In it came and it was Damen Pickering who rose to the occasion and put the ball beyond Tasker with what seemed a combination of head and shoulder. His reaction was one of understandable elation, it being his second goal of the season and a vital one for the Blues.
When you have snatched a late lead it always seems that stoppage time is of that held in copyright by Manchester United – it went on and on and in that time either team could have scored but Berko came very, very close. In one attack, it seemed to be beaten away but the referee awarded an indirect free kick right on the eighteen yard line in a central position ideal for a strike on goal. This was a buttocks clenching moment for home supporters and it turned to relief when the free kick was cleared by the defensive wall – and went up the other end as well.
Yet Berko brought it back and fought to the last kick for an equaliser that in fairness they probably deserved. They had pushed Dunstable to the limit. I had negative thoughts, remembering how Tring had grabbed a stoppage time equaliser they did not deserve and this in many ways was adequate compensation for the sacrifice of those two points at Cow Lane. The game was in its last throes with Dunstable inn possession and trying for a cheeky second, but the whistle sounded and the three points were Dunstable’s. The importance was underlined when we heard that Oxhey Jets had forced an eightieth minute equaliser against Aylesbury United and thus earned a draw.
With the Ducks coming to Creasey Park on Saturday and no doubt intent on avenging their 3-1 defeat to the blues at Bell Close, this real top of the table clash ought to be a real corker of a game and could be of monumental significance in the contest for the league championship. Both teams have shown good form and share the incentive for ultimate honours – but we all know that there are many, many games to go yet.
This narrow victory by the Duns keeps them at the top of the table, now three points clear of Aylesbury and with a game in hand, and they are still unbeaten with twelve wins and three draws from their fifteen games. Dunstable have six successive league wins behind the now and an additional two wins in cup competitions. But tonight it was hard, no-one would deny that and Berkhamsted deserve credit for their attacking style in what was a really fine game of football.
I apologise in advance for the lack of topicality for Saturday’s programme but my trip tomorrow to Hamburg means that both tonight’s and Saturday’s programme had to be printed today.
My man of the match was none other than goal keeper Paul Taylor and after I had informed of this in a text he replied thanking me and mentioned that he had enjoyed the game. Taylor’s saves, his anticipation and his sense of the game’s vital nature were all important. But I share the joy of Damen Pickering and his late winner that brought the points following Mills’ fine free-kick. Whatever else happens I can predict that the return game at Broadwater will be another tempestuous affair – and I hope as good a game of football as we were privileged to see tonight.
PAUL TAYLOR, this reporter’s man of the match, Wayne Mills, Daniel Mead, Graeme Buchanan, Shane Wood, captain, Daniel Hutchins,(Moses Olaleye), Tony Burnett, Newman Carney, (Chris Francis), Lee Roache, Nathan Frater,(Damen Pickering, goal, 88 minutes), Jonathan Cooper, cautioned.
Substitutes not used – Fabio Bufano, Jonathan Barnett.
Carl Tasker, Daniel Power, cautioned, Russ Miller, Bekim Culaj, Craig Preston, Dave Sears, cautioned, Frank Jowle, Daniel Griggs, Myles Stephenson, cautioned, Glenn Thompson, Lewis Pritchard, cautioned.
Substitutes- Jordan Frederick, Jamie Gavin, Harry Sedgeley, Josh Chamberlain, Hugo Figureido.
Referee- Peter Parkins, Letchworth, assisted by Ryan Dix and Dave Brennan, both Milton Keynes.