Hadley O-2 Dunstable Town (HT 0-1) Attendance 40
Earlier in the season Dunstable’s 4-1 home win over Hadley was unusual insofar as it was the first time either side has won by more than a goal margin and each game but that one had been very tight. Normal service may be said to have resumed as this game was a little touch and go since the Blues led by a solitary goal until the last thirteen minutes. The Duns had also been forced to play with ten men for nearly half an hour following debut man Junior George’s dismissal for a second caution.
George, a big and strong centre-half was a surprise signing from AFC, came straight into the team, following his appearance for AFC reserves against Biggleswade United last week. There were other changes, with top marksman Lee Roache ruled out with a rib injury, and captain Shane Wood unavailable. Danny Hutchins, technically on loan from Hemel Hempstead has made the move permanent, and the captain’s arm band was worn by the in-form Damen Pickering.
Chris Francis was selected as strike partner for Nathan Frater and he again showed that he was a player to make the difference. Parkfield was not overburdened with home support and the Regiment were pleased to greet ‘118’, one of our London supporters who had cycled in from Crouch End. ‘This will be tough’ I told 118, but for the first ten minutes it seemed that the Blues might get a hatful as they indeed called the tune with some slick passing and confident, sweeping moves. Wayne Mills, still reprising his happy role as an attacking full back, was putting in the crosses, and the only scare from the home side was an early free-kick from the edge of the area which was, lamentably, put deep into the foliage. Wayne Mills then sent a fine long through ball that gave Chris Francis and a home defender a fair chance to contest the issue, but the defender’s lack of judgement meant that Francis was free on goal and his shot found the bottom corner with just five minutes on the clock. It was a swift incisive move, well executed.
Three minutes later, from a corner Francis was on target again, but the referee spotted the flag for off-side. Had that one counted I think there may well have been more. But creditably, Hadley pulled their socks up and got on with it and there followed a good bit of jousting in midfield. What was pleasing was the anticipation from the Blues. They read moves well and constructed attacks utilising the width of the pitch and went forward steadily. The laconic Jonathan Cooper played with assurance in a midfield role and was well placed occasionally to release one of those long range efforts that have been known to deceive goalkeepers. It was Cooper with the assistance of Hutchins that led to the second Francis effort. Tony Burnett and Chris Francis were showing a god turn of speed and a neat flick from the latter almost deceived a momentarily hesitant Russell Garland, who like Taylor, in the Dunstable goal had a generally sound game.
The hosts looked lively on some forward moves which presented Brad Harrison with a chance or two but he was forced into early crosses that were beaten away. The sound Pickering was harried into one or two errors of short passing but the cover was there. Burnett battled to regain possession, and he met a cross from Francis with a good shot on goal that Garland was pleased to gather. Carney sent a free kick wide from twenty-five yards, but there is no doubt that he has settled well and this has not been too easy with his father Grant casting a critical eye, but essentially supportive at the same time. There were two bookings in two minutes, one for either side, and another free kick from Carney was punched away by Garland. Sermat Karagozlu, much I the Mills mode was thereabouts with crosses and Dan Qauatromini was foiled by the rejuvenated Taylor who kept another clean sheet today and is still as reliable and committed as he has been over his six hundred plus appearances. Tays still teased the Regiment on occasions with a couple of ‘iffy ‘clearances but, there is no doubt that he is a vital part of the team.
Mills continued to mix it, often getting forward for fun and in one return pass he tried a run and was only just dispossessed. He saw a cross deflected, just for a corner as the Blues pressed to double their lead. Pickering did likewise, revelling in the skipper’s role and his next cross found the unlikely figure of George whose effort was sadly just a token one.
Dunstable had a more than usual number of corners and they tried the short one the near post one and the far post variety but without increasing their goal tally. The best that came was a firm, testing shot from Francis. It was after three successive corners that the half-time whistle went, and there was a distinct feeling that the Blues ought, really, to have had more than the one goal to their credit. That was the view of our chairman, just back from the USA and complaining of the cold.
The interval saw an illuminating point of view put by the assessor, who deflected questions with consummate ease in the board room, but I felt he was right in defending the referee’s cautions so far. I am now apprised in the mandatory caution. I was even more when Junior George received his dismissal in the second period. He affected the usual innocent and aggrieved posture but the Regiment accepted it as junior ‘taking one for the team.’ In their view had George not intervened then we might have been looking at an equaliser, but for me the chance was not that clear cut. It meant a good deal of tactical reorganisation from Dunstable from a defensive point of view. The Director of Football had shed his coat of office, literally, telling me ‘ look after this I am a physio today.’ But the joint managers, one jet-lagged but still irrepressibly cheerful, and the other with a Clint Eastwood stubble, but narrowly focused on seeing things through successfully. They employed a defensive strategy with Junior’s exit, bringing on the stylish Fabio Bufano and sacrificing Nathan Frater, leaving the tiring, hard-working Francis on his own up front, which was still a threat as his pace was still there, sporadically.
There was only sixty-two minutes gone and we were down to ten men and Hadley set about their task in a hardy manner. They had a fair share of the play and looked as if an equaliser might just be on the cards. Taylor was called into increased action but was as sound as a bell. Mead, Pickering and Mills were in a denying mood, ad Carney and Cooper had some stylish moments where they caused immediate relief to the defence. Danny Mead, because of his diminutive size seems to generate an idea that he will be rolled over but he is a precise and influential defender, with a clean and honest style. Pickering was also there to pick the pockets of attackers and has effectively shed the notion that a moment of hot-headedness will be his undoing. Cooper, to my mind, was a revelation in midfield, with his deceptively lazy style. He has the cool to hold off for the optimum moment and I liked all he did today.
It is often said that ten men perform like twelve and so it did seem but Hadley hardly had a real look in. they were creative and earnest, but their final assault lacked conviction. It did not see that they had a numerical advantage at all. I find nothing arrogant about Dunstable’s play, as if they know each game is a severe test of their abilities. They knew Hadley would be pushing them, particularly as there was just the one goal in it, but they stuck to the enforced caution of being a man down and employing an extra defender at the cost of a front runner. Francis toiled heroically, holding up the clearances to await support and I did agree with the chairman, that ‘the lad looks knackered.’ But the lead was sustained and more than that, added to after seventy-three minutes.
The provider was indeed Francis who set up Tony Burnett who smashed his shot into the roof of the net, ad was promptly substituted as another tactical move. Indeed as well as Buchanan, Barnett was brought on and it was clear that for once the lads would shut up shot and see it home.
It was an important second goal as it made matters a degree easier, and the threat from Hadley was indeed limited. This does not fall into the category of a ground out win entirely, but a question of making the precious points safe from harm. There were in fact a number of chances for both sides, but the Dunstable attacks were restricted to the counter move, which was understandable.
Those ten men were disciplined and maintained the correct focus. We had the usual scramble from corners, some fine intervening tackles, but the solidity was never really in question. As it happens the win was crucial as both Aylesbury United and Oxhey Jets kept up the pressure by winning today by a healthy margin.
Dunstable thus remain unbeaten, remarkably so after seventeen league games, with thirteen wins and four draws, and I noticed in the programme that we were tipped as favourites for the title, pre-season, which I would contest. But wearily I remind myself that seventeen is a long way from forty-two and nothing, absolutely nothing is taken as granted. If we do win the league it will be on merit and consistency. I will remind myself and others that the last two games, Berko and the Ducks, have been testing in every area.
Tuesday there is a home game against Holmer Green, already beaten 5-3 at Airedale Park and there is a chance for a second successive double should we prevail. It is unlikely that Roache will be fit, but it will give more of a chance for Chris Francis to add to his growing reputation with the Regiment. Following that league fixture is the embarkation to Peterborough Northern Star in the FA Vase. That will be of great interest insofar as it will be if great interest I showing how the Spartan League matches the United Counties League.
So, job done today with one or two anxious moments, but importantly the points were secured and the team itself was a lot more secure, and the goals from Francis and Burnett were top drawer.
Russell Garland, captain, Sermat Karagozlu, Jake Panayitou, cautioned, Winston Taylor, Dominic Sidoli, Rob Quattromini, Alan Murray, cautioned, Nick Chysantnthou, Dan Quattromini, Alexis Nocolas, Brad Harrison, cautioned.
Substitutes – Dan Bishop, Dave O’Sullivan, Rafio Bettemer, Tinoi Christie, Josh Noyes.
Paul Taylor, Wayne Mills, Daniel Mead, DAMEN PICKERING, captain, Blues man of the match, Junior George, dismissed after two cautions, Newman Carney, Jonathan Cooper, Tony Burnett, goal, 73 minutes, Chris Francis, goal, 5 minutes, Nathan Frater, cautioned, Danny Hutchins.
Substitutes used – Fabio Bufano, Jonathan Barnett and Graeme Buchanan. Not used – Mark Boyce and George Brinkman.
Officials- referee J Bloxham assisted by M Spencer and T George.