Hertford Town 2-5 Dunstable Town (HT 2-2)
Dunstable Town have extended their unbeaten league run to twenty games now and retain top spot, despite their nearest rivals also winning today. On a heavy and muddy pitch, credit goes to the ground staff for making it playable and also to the two teams who constructed an entertaining game that had many exciting moments. Particular credit goes to the magnificent vocal support from the ‘Hertford Massive’ who provided real atmosphere with their humorous chants throughout the game.
With the midweek game against Biggleswade United postponed the Duns, playing in red today looked a little off-colour as they initially fell prey to Hertford’s game plan of defending in depth and attacking swiftly on the counter. Dunstable were without the services of key midfielder Moses Olalaye and defender Graeme Buchanan, and also from the recovering Jonathan Barnett. Hertford were introducing some new players and there was indeed a good deal of optimism from all home followers in Hertingfordbury Park. They had a notable win at Takely in the FA Vase and face Ampthill Town in the next round.
It was indeed a very cold day, but the rain had ceased and did not trouble us today, and it was glad news that the game could go ahead. I often wonder why we never get paired with Hertford on a sunny day – it is always a wintry fixture and once or twice in the evening. The Dunstable team, as supporter Vince Ball pointed out, did have a 4-2-4 look about it, with four recognised strikers in Tony Burnett, Lee Roache, Nathan Frater and Chris Francis. There did seem some gaps at the back as well in what was from Dunstable a mediocre first half performance. Yes, they did begin with good intent, with the likes of Francis and Burnett eager to take on all-comers.
The influence of Jonathan Cooper became apparent, as he played his way to a third successive man of the match. His selection today was a unanimous and insistent one from the joint managers and the director of football in case you feel I may be biased. Cooper looks ponderous but not only does he retain possession under pressure he can select the optimum moment for a telling pass. It was Newman Carney though who got away the first shot and it was a good ‘un, as it struck the bar and could have easily supplied an early lead. Wayne Mills was as engrossed as usual in providing for and being involved in attacks and at this stage put in a number of useful through balls.
Hertford has a useful man in Arafat Kabuye and some good pace from Larry Asare-Bediako. With subs named as Dajour Buffonge and Jahbez Essoo- Snowdon, and a new goalie called Cameron Baker-Owers, the Hertford side easily outclassed us in the interesting names department. But in skipper mike Elliott and Sebastian Evans they also had two defenders of note, they also had a useful box of tricks in the personage of Marvin Samuel.
But a pattern was soon formed. Dunstable loped forward on the hunt and were rebuffed by feet and heads of defenders, who also had some classy interventions in their repertoire. Ampthill had eschewed the defensive model last match and matched Dunstable well in all departments, but Hertford were looking for the killer touch on the break and this was realised. When they did get forward there were possibilities, but they absorbed the Dunstable attacks with some élan. The referee was remarkably fastidious and did caution some five players during the game and possibly this was a tad too zealous as the game was generally free of any hostility.
Roache was as expected watched carefully, yet he was able to turn and evade his marker more than once but there were replacements on hand which may be one of the reasons that our top scorer failed to get on the score-sheet today, but he was a provider for two of the goals. Evans and Elliott were adept at heading clear and in this they judged well. Nevertheless I liked the patient build-up from Dunstable, if I did feel the pace was a little lacking in this first half. Cooper was in the wars being shrugged off the ball in some attacks. Some passes were ill-judged, but the pitch was unforgiving. Roache won a free kick taken by Mills, and the former danced his stuff in the penalty area aided by Frater but Hertford reined in well.
Cooper was immense, in one move he picked out Frater who was thwarted, but needed to grow in to this game, as he did later on. Mills was also alert in covering and working well with the likes of Mead and Wood. Hertford had sounded matters out, but still Frater was able to get in a shot, albeit ineffective. I was distracted a little when Vince Ball was reporting on the progress of QPR, but even more so at his assumption that I was a Spurs’ fan. Arsenal, I corrected him and would have had a pull on my hip flask had it been there. And then Crewe Alexandra I mentioned, but the both of us were mostly concerned with Dunstable Town as Roache won a free kick just outside the ‘D’. The free kick cannoned off a defender, not for the first or last time this afternoon.
Cooper tried again, utilising Roache and Frater. Roache’s low pass caused consternation among both defenders and attackers in the box as no-one seemed to take responsibility for it, and as it happened, admittedly untidily, Burnett’s boot was the telling factor and the Duns were one –up. It even had the feel of an own goal, but I heard Tony Burnett’s claim that he got the last touch. Seventeen minutes had been played and one could argue that on the balance of play this was about right.
There was no relaxing, but what happened was a spirited response from Hertford, buoyed by the magnificent support willingly bestowed by their supporters who had been seen as the legendary twelfth man in their fine win over Takeley in the Vase. They had already launched into the refrain of ‘top of the league, you’re having a laugh.’ That is all in order subjectively speaking, but a trifle premature. Mind you, they did have something of a point, as following their plan of counter-attack, they provided a magnificent equaliser, which was, without doubt the goal of the game. A smart move along the right, a diagonal shot of herculean proportions, a rattled cross bar and the ball in the net with Taylor unable to intercede effectively. The scorer was Sean Stock who had heroically scored the seventy-fifth minute winner at Takeley. It was a memorable goal and suitably celebrated by Hertford. This one came after twenty-two minutes and the ‘Hertford Massive’ was cock-a-hoop.
I was besieged at this time by Scottie’s son who is demanding a pound with menaces for retrieving balls at Creasey Park and his friend, who wanted a similar payment for merely being associated with Scottie junior. I was my usual diplomatic self and told them to sod off. In this they took their time, but I am known for my forbearance. I was a bit concerned at the conceding of this goal, though. I felt, accurately, as it turned out that it would give some resurgence to the home side. At the expense of entertainment I would gladly accept every team falling on their swords to afford us promotion, but the bounders do not pay heed to such a script. There were moments when if Dunstable got the ball forward the striker was a lone figure waiting for support that did arrive but the white heat of the moment had gone. That chap in the Hertford goal matched his double-barrelled name with some fine saves. My notes said ‘Roache denied’ and in general he was today, not that his contribution was minimal and it goes to show he is a much better team player than some people give him credit for. But it was 1-1 and nothing magnificent in the offing at present.
The Dunstable team was working hard. The interventions of Wood, Mead and Pickering being what we have come to expect; and add to this the vision of Carney and Cooper we did seem to expect more. Burnett and Francis worked like Trojans – with Francis lurking on the line at corners to snap up unconsidered trifles. Cooper shot disappointingly wide after some good work.
There was good work generally but it was imprecise and this failure to fire on all pistons was brought to account when the home side snatched a lead three minutes before the interval. Roache had indulged in an extra touch in a chance that only brought a corner, a near post one that came back to carney who turned it back in but a goal-kick was the sparse bounty. Kabuye sent it forward for Hertford and after some jousting there were two free kicks for Hertford. The second of these picked out Marvin Samuels who had a free header and it was maximised. Two-one to Hertford accompanied by loud cheers of the home contingent. We have been accustomed to Dunstable recovering from a setback but this was much earlier than possibly expected as Jonathan Cooper equalised in the last minute of the half, and we went to our cuppas with at least the knowledge that this had been a fine game so far. Hertford officials were content as ‘we are doing better than we thought.’ The problem with being the league leaders and unbeaten, is that you always wonder if the present game will be the ‘inevitable’ banana skin, or is that earnest hope of rivals. I would concede that this first half from Dunstable had not been a vintage one. But doubtless the managerial triumvirate, already irked by the chants of ‘top of the league, you’re ‘avin a laugh’, would do the metaphorical throwing of cups etc and impress upon their charges to get their bleedin’ fingers out.
It was a good half of honest endeavour and the home support could not have asked too much more of their team, even if the lead was very short-lived.
What transpired was a far more explicit showing by Dunstable in the second half which led to the win being as comprehensive as it ultimately became. Roache blasted a shot over the bar after forty-six minutes but Taylor had to save a fine shot for Hertford. The gaps in defence were eradicated and Cooper became even more influential in midfield. I did note that a headed clearance by Cooper form defence led to a snap attack that brought a corner. Hertford were presumably instructed that they could go forward as the game could be there for the taking, which is not bad advice. The chap with the vuvuzela seemed to agree and kept his tootling up for an admirable amount of time. You cannot knock enthusiasm, except small boys badgering you for a pound coin, which had now become two to allow for compound interest.
A far post corner almost presented a clean chance for Cooper but it was beaten away. Frater had a blocked shot and won a corner. Carney sent it in to the far post and Roache headed just wide. Frater blazed one across the face of goal when a direct shot would have been the better option. But it was Dunstable definitely edging this half. That lethargy had been shaken off and it needed to be.
Tony Francis battled into the area, passed it to Frater, who was dispossessed. Both sides made substitutions, and for Dunstable we saw Danny Hutchins and George Brinkman enrolled for duty for Wood and Francis. Hutchins almost immediately had a blocked shot for a corner. But the normal corner taker, carney was the one who regained the lead for Dunstable on sixty-nine minutes, with a deceptively simple finish. Immediately after this goal there was an urgent appeal from one of the assistants and it led to speculation that the goal might be disallowed and what for who could say. It was an extraneous matter, if you excuse the expression as the lino had drawn the referee’s attention to some vandalism and theft involving cars parked outside the ground.
It is important to state that this vandalism, which involved Dunstable players and supporters was nothing at all to do with Herford Town supporters, indeed one of the Hertford committee was also a victim. It was an opportunist crime and unheard of at Hertingfordbury Park hitherto. No Dunstable supporter, official or player directed any blame whatsoever at anyone connected with Hertford Town. Indeed the Hertford supporters had been busily engaged in contributing the best support I have seen for any club for a long while. You could never imagine such people lowering themselves to vandalism. It tarnished the day, no doubt and the police were called to the scene of the various crimes which I believe amounted to four vehicles damaged and one stolen. It is hard to feel anything but revulsion for the perpetrators of such wanton vandalism and I have every sympathy for those affected – being fortunate enough to have one of the cars that escaped the unwanted attention. Mention must be made of Hertford Town officials’ embarrassment and concern and I reiterate that no blame can be rationally attached to them at all.
So, back to the match then, with Newman Carney’s goal giving Dunstable the lead again. The vuvuzela continued as did the general exhortation that ‘we’re gonna win four-three.’ But Hertford appeared to lose their essential shape. They made their forays forward and had a decent chance or two but this was sporadic as Dunstable were indeed imposing themselves. This was underlined by an exuberant goal scored by Wayne Mills. This full back has quite a history with different Dunstable teams, but in my experience he has never played better. When the managers select the players for the team sheet Mills has deservedly been an automatic choice. To see what he did today was gratifying – a long run along the flank, a pass to Roache and then a Mills run for the optimum position, a pass from Roache and a lobbed goal from Mills. Simples, as the meerkat would say and do not tell me that Roache never passes – that was the second goal he made today.
Yes the Hertford Massive declared ‘we’re gonna win five-four’ and then announced in song ‘we’ve got more fans than you.’ Life is often about compensation. Their abundant optimism was undiminished when Nathan Frater wrapped matters up with a seventy-ninth minute goal. But the vandalism news had permeated onto the pitch and players were rightfully concerned about their vehicles, and to or three of them were dismayed later to find that they had been victims of the outrage. It was regrettable of course and a source of great embarrassment to Hertford Town, who, as I said did not escape attention of the vandals. I have not seen the like of it before, except when some yob once smashed a rear window of our minibus.
Back to the football, we also had news of our closest rivals also gaining maximum points which keeps up the pressure in what is, really a very close contest. I conclude by reminding supporters that, weather permitting, the home game against Biggleswade United in the Bedfordshire Senior Cup is scheduled for Tuesday, 4 December, at Creasey Park and that the reserves are home on Thursday against Leverstock Green. Oh and there is also the small matter of the FA Vase away to Enfield 1893 on Saturday 8 December. That will be a really hard game since our opponents are flying high in the Essex Senior League.
To many of us this is the most exciting season for a while and we hope that many of you get along to the games in this cup week. We wish Hertford well in their Vase game, but since they are playing a Spartan side (Ampthill) it requires a diplomatic ‘may the better team win’ comment. Please note too, that the Aylesbury United Premier Division Cup game has been moved again to Tuesday December 18. That one is at Creasey Park.
Cameron Baker-Owers, Kardan Campbell, Sebastian Evans, Mike Elliott, captain, cautioned, James Cutler, Max McGann, Marvin Samuel, goal, 42 minutes, cautioned, Danny Charles, Sean Stock, goal 22 minutes, cautioned, Arafat Kabuye, Larry Asare- Bediako.
Substitutes- Dajour Buffonge, Joe Pearce and Jahbez Essoo-Snowdon.
Paul Taylor, Wayne Mills, goal, 75 minutes, Daniel Mead, Shane Wood, captain, Damen Pickering, Newman Carney, goal, 68 minutes, JONATHAN COOPER, DT man of the match, goal, 45 minutes, cautioned, Tony Burnett, goal, 17 minutes, Lee Roache, Nathan Frater, goal, 79 minutes, Chris Francis.
Substitutes used – Danny Hutchins and George Brinkman, not used, Mark Boyce.
Referee- Mike Heavey, assisted by Bill Savill and Raddius Reynolds.