Colney Heath 0-3 Dunstable Town (HT 0-2) Attendance 83
It is a melancholy fact that every meeting with Colney Heath brings an above average number of contentious issues, and meetings have seldom been free of dismissals. Both teams have a contrasting style of play but the overtly physical approach of the hosts resulted in five cautions and a double dismissal for one player. Colney full-back Ross Gilbert had received two yellow cards and after receiving the red card he was seen to spit at an opponent and was thus issued with another red card. I noted that even home supporters found this spitting incident as wholly unacceptable.
It is also a curious fact that whilst Dunstable have never lost at the Recreation Ground, (five wins and a draw), they have lost all four games at Creasey Park. Shortly after our arrival, the rain began again with a will and a purpose and the referee and his assistants carried out a prolonged inspection with the assessor. What was noted by the referee and he mentioned it to me afterwards was the sterling work carried out by reserve manager Robin Head (whose game was postponed today) and Grant Carney, who forked the mud spots and swept the goal mouths. Had they not done this it could well have meant an unwanted postponement today. The problem was the sloping pitch and the goalmouth at the far end, where the water seemed to seep towards. Dunstable were more or less at full strength given the absence of Shane Wood and Junior George who are both injured.
It was seen as important to get a game under the belt after the huge disappointment of losing to the mediocre Enfield in the FA Vase at Brimsdown the week before. To face Colney Heath was something of a challenge given the home side’s direct style that has substance if lacking in cultured artistic expression. They were as eager to get the game on and it was with some relief that we eventually kicked off, seven minutes late.
The first significant moment was a shot from Kevin Ashwood that went wide. This player did not last long as before too long he had stretched in vain for a pass and went down in obvious pain and had to be taken from the pitch on a stretcher, his place being taken by Jordan Lumsden. It was singularly unfortunate for Ashwood who had looked lively in these opening stages.
Dunstable were not long in finding their rhythm, with Tony Burnett being particularly energetic along the right flank. It was with one of these runs in possession that led to the opening goal after eight minutes. Burnett’s pace was important as he gained territory in order to best placed for the cross to Roache who steadied before placing the ball into the bottom left corner. That ensured his goal a game average and he struck again late in the second half, with a move that displayed his assured ball control in the penalty box, even under pressure.
Cooper and Olaleye had made their presence felt in midfield and there was another sound performance from Dan Hewitt, playing in his first league game for the Duns. Given the stalwart manner of their comebacks against Dunstable this early lead was vital. Frater followed with a shot that brought a good save by Blackman at the expense of a corner. This brought some confusion in the area resulting in a home free kick. Burnett’s next run involved an infringement and a free kick for Colney. Hewitt cleared up here but in midfield control in the mud was proving a challenging prospect and some passes went astray as well as there being a number of interventions from both teams.
Bufano was sent temporarily from the field of play as he had what seemed like a nosebleed, and it was a good couple of minutes before he was allowed back as the ball had not gone out of play in that time. The quality of football from Dunstable was consistently good in this match, with some confident play at the back and some good preparatory play in possession. Mills and Mead were particularly notable in their roles on either side of the pitch.
Armstrong fired in a decent shot well saved by Taylor with Mead in close attendance clearing up. A corner for Heath went out for another, and this led to a free kick on the right just outside the area, but this went harmlessly for a goal kick. Carney, although looking ponderous, was precise in his play and had good distribution. Mills picked up in one promising move, placing it forward to Roache who played it to Frater who slotted in the second goal after twenty-two minutes. This move adequately exemplified the difference between the sides at this stage. Dunstable, if not quicker on the break, kept possession purposefully and sought to find the best pass, often switching play to gain a further small advantage. The hosts had been good at closing down but were simply outdone by the superior passing of Dunstable.
I do recall one match here when Dunstable had taken a three goal lead and were pegged back to 3-2 in a splendid rally by the Magpies. In another they snatched an injury tie equaliser in a 3-3 score. So, even with this two goal lead, there was a sense of caution, but always with sensible play.
True there were one or two errors where the pass was short and it afforded a chance but the Duns’ defence covered well for one another without any recriminations. The pitch was not conducive to the most elegant play and furthermore another shower had begun. Carney’s in swinging corners were a worry for the home side but Blackman was good in the air and the Heath defence quite sound. There were a number of free kicks conceded by Colney as their play became steeped in aggressive challenges, in keeping with their style. Olaleye, newly installed as Captain, was brought down in one robust move but nothing came of the free kick. Ashwood, chasing a ball on the right overstretched and play was delayed as he was hauled off on a stretcher. His replacement, Lumsden played a full part in the rest of the match.
But Taylor was relatively untroubled in goal and did not have much work as we headed towards the interval, delayed by an appreciable amount of injury time. Frater’s work rate was outstanding, and it was through his persistence that Burnett was able to get in a free header, albeit wide of the target. Roache was doing his best to turn effectively in possession but was, as is usual, closely marked. Some dubious tackles were dutifully punished and Ross Gilbert was among the players cautioned. Burnett’s cross to Roache was well intentioned but anticipated by Blackman. The rain was still falling, but went away more or less by half-time. Mead won a corner after his lone incursion, with Bufano and Hewitt going forward and Nathan Frater fired in a fine shot that rattled the bar.
The Regiment, who had lunched on liver and onions in the nearby Crooked Billet, (part of their ‘away daze’), had found the rain had dampened their normal chanting but they must have been pleased at the way the Blues had been playing.
Grant Carney was amusing with his partisan quips from the touchline, being, as we know, a ’wind-up merchant’, but also a great motivator, as well as a volunteer grounds man today. The chairman had been feeding me the latest scores from his phone and it soon became clear that a win was the only option today. Roache had a deflected shot, Frater was still plugging away and the half ended somewhat upbeat.
I fully expected an improved approach from the hosts after the break and they had a sprightly spell at the resumption.
Cooper had been replaced by Barnett and later we also saw Chris Francis and Damen Pickering enter proceedings. Burnett put one over the bar from a corner. Dunstable re-established their overall dominance in possession and a free kick following Frater being brought down went through only for a goal kick. Roache hooked a pass to the right and the resulting cross was beaten away. Aaron Clarke’s cross went across the face of goal and Bufano cleared up.
Good work from Carney and Roache necessitated a close to the goal line clearance. The blues were playing down the slope in this half and there were one or two log passes over hit. But the goal they were attacking was of quagmire proportions by now. Frater’s low cross in the box was deftly beaten away, and Heath were able to mount one or two effective counter moves, being let down in the final third. The indefatigable Mead was still of an attacking frame of mind; Carney’s next free kick was put over the bar by Hewitt and shortly after there was another booking for a home player, Richard Cooke. Burnett had given way to Francis, a like for like change. Jason Williams received a booking at this time. Colney Heath made little of a free kick, but kept possession, but were again robbed of this as they advanced. A header from Gilbert was saved by Taylor.
There was then an incident on the far side that brought some confusion. Players milled around, yellow and red cards were shown in rapid succession, and two Heath players walked towards the tunnel. But it transpired that Gilbert was sent off, and the other player was shepherding him towards the tunnel. Dunstable had two bookings, Frater and Burnett, but I am not sure if they occurred in this incident. It transpired that Gilbert had spat and that was the reason for one of the two red cards he had received. I did notice in conversations that to a man everyone felt that spitting was actually worse than biffing someone. Such scenes are not isolated in games between these sides, unfortunately.
So, down to ten men, the Heath had to play up the slope, literally and uphill metaphorically. Even so, I felt another goal was needed. Play had become a little scrappy as the pitch deteriorated, but the more lively work was coming from Dunstable. One or two moves were a little rushed and therefore wasted. Roache and Frater were still lurking with intent, and these two players combined and with less than ten minutes remaining Roache scored his second, turning well in the area and finishing with precision. So, thirty-one goals in thirty appearances this season is a record to be proud of. This is in view of Roache’s willingness to work hard for his team mates.
Frater appeared to be brought down, and a dive was suspected and possibly admitted to as there was none of the usual vehement appeals, but Frater was not cautioned, so we presume he just fell over. Grant Carney was still enjoying himself in the dug-out and he even praised an official for ‘great lining’ meaning he agreed with a marginal off-side decision. Frater set up Roache and Blackman made a superb save from this notable effort.
The next chance for Heath saw Taylor gather the cross, and I expect he was well pleased with his clean sheet. Dunstable saw out the last moments and three goals and three points were very welcome in what had been a very hard match under difficult conditions. So, unbeaten at the Recreation Ground we may be but in the return match one hopes that the Duns can bring a halt to the four successive wins that the Hertfordshire side has notched up. On their last visit they held on 2-1 when down to nine men. With Oxhey Jets winning impressively 7-0 at Hertford town and the equally impressive St Margaretsbury winning 5-3 at Ampthill Town, and with Aylesbury also winning 4-0, there is still considerable pressure on Dunstable who reach the half-way point of the league season, unbeaten in twenty-one games.
Tuesday 18 December sees the third meeting with Aylesbury United, this time in the Premier Division Cup. This is also known as the Dudley Latham Memorial Trophy sponsored by S&T Sales and Marketing. Saturday 22 December sees the return of Biggleswade United, and the following week is the big Dunstable Derby. This is all weather permitting of course.
The weather just about permitted today’s game, which was generally good and there is every reason to feel that Dunstable’s performance was satisfactory in every way, and is some consolation for the Enfield game where the blues were just a little below par. I conclude by thanking the management team for the fine drinks and buffet ‘do’ they provided for us at Kitts Inn, a hostelry with historic connections with the club.
Tom Blackman, Ross Gilbert, dismissed two yellow cards, followed by straight red card, Richard Cooke, cautioned, Glen Draper, captain, Glenn Parry, cautioned, Matt Thompson, Jason Williams, cautioned, Josh Humbert, Aaron Clarke, Paul Armstrong, Kevin Ashwood, cautioned.
Substitutes- Jordan Lumsden, Matt Corran.
Paul Taylor, Wayne Mills, Daniel Mead, Fabio Bufano, Daniel Hewitt, Newman Carney, Moses Olaleye, captain, Tony Burnett, cautioned, Lee Roache, two goals, 8 and 82 minutes, NATHAN FRATER, goal, 22 minutes, Blues’ man of the match, Jonathan Cooper.
Substitutes- all used – Jonathan Barnett, Chris Francis and Damen Pickering.
Referee Jeff Aldous assisted by Steve Williams and Mike Richards.