AFC Dunstable 1-3 Dunstable Town (HT 0-2) Attendance 263
The League’s highest attendance so far saw Town take advantage of a muted start by the nominal hosts. Wayne Cartmel, the referee had been inspecting the pitch as the rain became heavier, and although there was some standing water, it drained quickly and by the kick-off the sky had cleared and the rain did not return. It was just as well as this was a much anticipated game and a potential banana skin for the Duns, given the derby incentive that can affect later results dramatically.
Last season honours were even with each side winning their home game by a single goal. But the tension of those two games was lessened to some degree with an attendance that fell way short of the 565 and 359 of the earlier meetings. The weather had a lot to do with it, but there was a steady trickle of neutrals whose own clubs had games called off. There were a number of visiting officials and also among the spectators was Dunstable Town’s former manager, Kerry Dixon, ex Chelsea and England.
Dunstable Town had called the team to Kitts Inn for a breakfast meet which was a cordial affair, and of course, entirely alcohol free. Both clubs were aware of the need for good mental preparation for what is indeed a prestigious match. I had to remember to pack the away kit and ensure it was placed in the away dressing room, an action that still seems alien to me, but there you are. The announcer ensured he mentioned Creasey Park as ‘home of AFC’ and a glowering Regiment were responding with their ‘cuckoo’ comments.
A few neutrals were unclear which was the team in red and who was playing in blue, but for the committed a win was the only option. Dunstable were defending their unbeaten run and AFC would consider it a feather in their cap to be the first team to defeat them in a league game. The Duns had secured the re-signing of former central defender Stuart Deaton, who was last playing at troubled Leighton Town. The Regiment were delighted at this signing, ad there was a reprise of the old chant from Darren Feighery days ‘No-one beats the Deats.’ Leon Cashman was in the squad, taking time off from defending the Empire at the Falklands, but he did not play.
Players of both sides know one another well and a number have played for both sides. AFC had Dale Turney, Danny Ryan and Lee Burgoyne and for Town, Buchanan, Olaleye, Mills and Burnett had faced Town for AFC last season. I will mention that Newman Carney turned down a trip to Tenerife with his father as he particularly wanted to play in this match – a commendable attitude.
With the spectators full of anticipation the game commenced and AFC immediately surrendered the initiative as Town mounted early attacks. This bright beginning from those in their red away strip was pivotal. Dunstable Town were a goal up within three minutes. Nathan Frater had turned in possession and was in a good position to strike, which he did. Ryan Darby was able to parry, but it rebounded to the incoming Lee Roache who converted easily, making his personal tally thirty-three goals. Such an early lead can be viewed as a harbinger of many more goals or indeed a renewed effort from the opposition, but, in truth, the first twenty-five minutes suggested that this would be a very comfortable win for Town.
Response from AFC continued to be muted – surprisingly so, and although they steadied the helm eventually and gave a much better account of themselves this was not to manifest itself until they were two down. And it was to Roache again. Before this next strike there was almost a repeat of the parry and it involved Frater again. This time his shot was again saved by Darby who recovered in time to prevent Tony Burnett from maximising the opportunity. Olalaye in an inspired moment saw his shot saved by Darby and the best move from AFC, on the counter was from B J Christie, ringing Taylor into the action for the first time. The veteran keeper had a much busier second half, but was not troubled with too many direct shots.
With twelve minutes of dominating play it was not a great surprise to see the AFC defence breached again with Frater holding off in possession and with a telling pass to Roache who again made it look very simple. But it really was inconceivable that an AFC team would surrender so meekly – as up to this point and some way beyond a rout could have been on the cards. To their credit, AFC steadied and began to match the passing play of Dunstable, but provided no telling threats in front of goal. It was as if they needed time to recuperate from a disastrous start by consolidating in midfield and defending with more precision. The defending bit was done well, with notable performances from Courtney Massey and Danny Ryan.
Massey was superb as a marker and in the tackle, and Ryan was peerless in the middle of defence with numerous headed clearances as well as some zealous challenges that on one occasion gained him a yellow card. But the game was general free of any hostility and there was a high level of sensible refereeing – allowing the game to flow, but with the harsher challenges never escaping from being penalised. The pace of the game was ostensibly slower given the heavy pitch, but the quality of play was generally good and tight. The midfield saw the usual gaining and sudden loss of possession, and it was clear that players of both sides were exhorting the best efforts from their colleagues.
Clearly AFC had opted for a man for man marking and Frater and Roache often had two or more bearing down on them, restricting their movement. The hosts were making some amends for the freedom the two strikers had gained in that devastating opening period. The work rate was high from players such as Cooper and Mills, and both Buchanan and Mead were tested for any possible defensive frailties.
Tony Burnett, meanwhile was carving a greater degree of freedom of movement, often assisted by Olaleye whose reluctance to lose the ball brought great benefit. AFC did their best to break, but their best work was to come after the interval. It is worth pointing out that there was no falling off from Dunstable but a distinct improvement from AFC, whose half-time talk was effectively translated into more promising moves. Deaton, no stranger to such grim struggles, slotted in well, and his placing was timely given the injuries to Junior George and Kyle Lincoln.
A bright bit came after Ryan conceded a corner, quickly taken by Carney to Mills and resulted in another. Crosses were bringing some chances – Roache’s next shot was saved by Darby with his legs, but the keeper had some heroic moments with some crosses. Ryan’s booking reminded me of the tension that was mounting – Buchanan bustled into a scoring position, and was off-side as well as wide. But the initiative was still very much with Town.
Burnett was working well with Mills and Carney utilising the liberate build up with plenty of passes to tease defenders out of position, but AFC were rarely fooled in this respect. They were clearing well, but not yet constructing the best of moves. It was to this point largely containment which was clearly not enough when you are trailing by two goals. The pace sometimes appeared casual but that was deceptive as moves were anticipated and dealt with accordingly.
The interval, for AFC could not come quick enough, and they would apply the lessons learned in the first period. Craig Butler had given effective advice as within three minutes of the restart, AFC pulled a goal back. The impressive Massey had overlapped and hooked in a cross that was put beyond Taylor by Steve Hawes. It was a vital time to score as it left ample time for further progress and it was their best period of the match. They enjoyed good possession, a greater fluency of passing moves and resurgence in attacking play.
I had drifted to behind the Chav Hill goal and in passing a cluster of young AFC fans was given unsolicited advice as to where I could stick my pipe. My greater concern was the relative ineffectiveness of Dunstable in getting forward. Making was still as tight, but with just the one goal in now, precision was the one thing needful. With Frater and Roache working hard to break free of their perpetual shadows, there was the thought that this could be of benefit to Cooper or Burnett. The latter was often in a good wide position but in coming forward he found it hard to pick out the two strikers and Ryan was totally unyielding.
But given their improvement, AFC still came up against the equally resistant Mead, Mills, Deaton and Burnett. I did not see who it was who effectively cleared from the goal line from an AFC attack, but the Duns defence was largely effective and if broached there was Taylor to utilise his enormous experience. Olaleye had a shot courtesy of a Cooper pass but it was wide. Carney also shot wide after good work from the increasingly bullish Cooper, who was indeed a little unfortunate in seeing his late shot clear the bar. Christie tried a shot but it had no sting and was gathered by Taylor.
But 2-1 was not good enough under the circumstances and what was needed was what happened – a slow regaining of territory and goal bound attempts from Dunstable. There were no really blistering shots from AFC as their forwards found themselves under close attention from the likes of Buchanan and Mills. Mead tried a Shane Wood type long throw, headed away by Ryan – who else?
A little untidy period saw the concession of a few free kicks to AFC who did what they could with them but they were losing some momentum, despite frantic efforts, especially along the flanks. Christie rushed a shot when a pause would have been of benefit, and I noticed some polished pay from Hayden Wills and some good reading of positions by Gareth Harnaman. But passes were becoming a little wayward and were intercepted. Roache and Frater continued to hold in possession awaiting the optimum pass. A free kick from Carney was aimed well at Frater who was dispossessed.
AFC had brought on Step Tracy, Graham Clark who relished the inclusion with some pleasing play. Olaleye was tireless in effort, picking out players and regaining possession which kept the ball from the danger area. Taylor made sure of each routine save, and Darby in the AFC goal had taken a knock in smothering a Town attack. He was also exhibiting great sportsmanship in his banter with the Regiment. His finest save was one he tipped just over the bar, late in the game.
He was beaten for a crucial third time when the relatively unmarked Tony Burnett found the bottom corner. The bustling Frater and Mead had a part in this. One could argue that this was the Duns first clear cut chance of the half but that would not be fair as they had been steadily more creative but incessantly denied by the AFC defence. Burnett’s move had been incisive and exploited what might be seen as a weakness as most attention was given to stifling Roache and Frater. It also had the effect on AFC that they had gained little for their repeated efforts. But they were not finished yet and Taylor was called upon to do what he does best in the closing stages. A one handed save was rendered superfluous as AFC had been awarded a free kick and Taylor then saved well from this. Burnett’s goal came with seventy-one minutes gone and there was a good piece of stoppage time to be added.
No players relaxed or could afford to. Pickering came on for Buchanan, and Roache saw a shot saved by Darby. One of the rare goalmouth scrambles saw a clearance by Dunstable. Christie shot wide as did Carney. Then, almost imperceptibly the game reverted to an earlier pattern with Dunstable again dominating possession with careful passing play. They perceived of course that AFC were having to do all the chasing now. Burnett again came forward but was thwarted by Massey. Carney and Mead looked for the square pass and the sure-footed move forward. Roache was impeded and a free kick from a promising position sailed towards the AFC goal – and it was Deaton of all players who forced the keeper to tip the ball out for a corner. This Carney sent in but Darby was there and quickly created a counter move but the weak shot was barely on target.
League officials who were making their way to the clubhouse said to me’ three more points in the bag’ and I was so absorbed I was unaware that we were in stoppage time and thus, moments later the third Dunstable derby went in favour, deservedly so, to Town. But AFC are to be commended for the way they refused to be dispirited for their poor showing in the first half that leaked two goals so very cheaply. Cooper’s shot over the bar was the last meaningful piece of work and in many ways it did symbolise the overall superiority of Town. But we readily conceded it had been an edgy derby, and it also maintains the unbeaten league run to twenty-two games – putting Dunstable seven points ahead of their nearest rivals – there being precious few games played today owing to postponements.
Mention must be made of the AFC officials’ graciousness in defeat and they made a number of objective comments on the various crucial stages of the game. Roache’s opportunism had again been of priceless value, but the team’s focus and resilience had been notable. Home league games against Hillingdon Borough and Tring Athletic follow… weather permitting. It was a great relief that the Creasey Park pitch was not adversely affected by the recent downpours and a pleasant atmosphere pervaded in this third Dunstable derby. The teams meet again in April.
Ryan Darby, Courtney Massey, Kev Ayolede, James Baldry, Danny Ryan, captain, cautioned, Steve Hawes, goal, 48 minutes, Hayden Wills, Gareth Harnaman, BJ Christie, cautioned, Jason Blackett, Lee Burgoyne.
Substitutes- Step Tracy, Graham Clark, Craig Butler, Jack Walker and Dale Turney.
Paul Taylor, Wayne Mills, Daniel Mead, Stuart Deaton, Graeme Buchanan, cautioned Newman Carney, Moses Olaleye, captain, Jonathan Cooper, LEE ROACHE, DTFC star man, two goals, 3 and 12 minutes, Nathan Frater, Tony Burnett, goal, 71 minutes.
Substitutes – Damen Pickering, Chris Francis, Jonathan Barnett, Dan Hewitt, Daniel Hutchins.
Referee – Wayne Cartmel, assisted by Liam Walshe and Peter Panayiotou. All three had very good games.