In a somewhat unspectacular game at a very chilly New Windmill Stadium, Dunstable will doubtless feel that they had deserved a draw, but the points went to the Brakes following a deflected goal fifteen minutes before the end.
The Brakes thus achieved a league double over their visitors, following their 2-0 win earlier in the season at Creasey Park. It also brings the unwanted statistic of a third consecutive defeat, with perhaps this latest loss being the most painful, since the lead had almost been seized following a corner where the ball was just squeezed from the goal-line with half of it just needing a mere touch more. The sharp intake of breath from the few Regimentals behind the goal was also to no avail.
The tem changes from the last outing included starts for Howard Hall and Gary Wharton, both of whom gave notable performances. But the team as a whole was determined to improve following the recent losses and after a worryingly nervous start they settled well and had a reasonable first half that produced goal chances, mostly from corners, it must be said.
As the hardy band of Dunstable supporters trooped towards the ‘open’ end, we had not achieved our goal before the hosts almost scored one of their own from an unforced error. A move involving Sam Austin and Rob Ogelby was seemingly defended well, with the ball just needing to be cleared up field. Dunstable defenders left this to one another and this was seen as an invitation for a home shot which was, fortuitously, inaccurate. One of the central problems for Dunstable tonight was that, following some precise defending, the clearances often went to an opponent and thus they had to defend again. Time and time again this occurred and it did make for some precarious moments.
Dunstable’s first meaningful attack provided a direct shot for Connor Calcutt but it lacked oomph and was easy for Tony Breeden, who, on several occasions left his line to tidy up as well as dealing with what seemed an inordinate number of back passes. Leamington were keen to get forward and this they achieved, spraying in crosses that were dealt with adequately with James Kaloczi outstanding.
When Dunstable did get forward they were purposeful to a degree but seemed to have limited resources – yet in one good spell they forced two successive corners and one of these, from Talbot, caused sufficient alarm and some scrambled moves- and as I have said, the ball was just cleared from the line. Calcutt looked the business in a following move but he had strayed off-side.
The problem of retaining possession in preparatory play was a factor and it unwittingly provided a number of smart counter moves from the hosts. Jack Edwards tested Jamie Head with an on target strike. Steve Wales fired straight at Breeden when the better option was to square the ball to the unmarked Wharton. Clearly the home side were not having it their own way and the first half was very evenly contested. Austin’s next chance permitted as free shot but he sent this over the cross bar. Then a long throw from Leamington brought a corner which was cleared in an imperious manner from Kaloczi.
A Dunstable free-kick, some thirty-odd yards out was sent in by Hall and Adam Watkins had both a run and a shot, which was blocked, and Talbot turned and shot, unaware that he was adjudged off-side.
But there was something about Dunstable’s play that engendered a greater sense of confidence of late – they were closing down well, holding their own in midfield, but needed to retain possession to maximise their opportunities. But they were not tilting at windmills in a quixotic fashion – they had created enough to snatch the lead from a set piece and they went to the interval reasonably satisfied with their performance so far.
Leamington, for their part could argue that they had been possibly the more creative – especially from the flanks where Richard Taundry and Sam Austin had looked good, but Jamie Head, who was not severely tested, had every expectation of keeping a clean sheet.
It did seem, as the game progressed into the second period that a goal-less draw might well be the ultimate outcome, as attacks from both sides were met with some stiff resistance and in the latter stages, some fine goal keeping from Breeden who reflected his team’s determination to protect their slender and hard won lead.
No substitutes took the field at the resumption and it was the Brakes who looked the hungrier for a goal, with Lee Moore putting in some excellent crosses. Taundry set up a decent chance, but his cross asked too much of the front runners, but Head was called upon to make two decent saves in as many minutes. Dunstable then had their own bit off pressure with a Talbot cross bringing a corner, which was partially cleared but provided Watkins with a chance, with a blocked shot and then an infringement brought this to a close. Hall and Watkins had another go but this was defended well.
Lee Moore had pace and purpose but shot wide and Breeden had to leave his line to cut off the advance of Calcutt. A clean shot from Watkins was saved, and shortly after this we witnessed the only goal of the game – in which the cross was met by Jack Edwards whose shot took a deflection which deceived Head. The goal was timed at seventy-five minutes and although Dunstable did respond and search for an equaliser, their attempts were sporadic.
Leamington players had celebrated with a mixture of joy and relief since they had not proved to be the better side by any estimation – but Dunstable were still finding it hard to retain possession whilst playing out of defence. They tried some long diagonal crosses to sub David Keenleyside, who along with Wharton gave the team some extra width, but the best effort arrived when Keenleyside’s cross eventually found Wharton who cut in but fired straight at the keeper. Breeden was confident in the air and he managed to gather the most dangerous crosses, but Dunstable made creditable efforts to equalise despite the fact that time was very nearly up.
In another spirited attack, Wharton forced another corner and this sailed in from Keenleyside only to be cleared. Steve Gregory hit the post in a late effort but this was after the referee had blown for an infringement. Time inevitably ran out but although the result was keenly disappointing, Dunstable had made a spirited attempt to get the draw that had they done so, would not have caused many raised eyebrows.
This apparent slump in form will no doubt cause some anxiety, and forthcoming fixtures are very challenging, with Merthyr Town the visitors on Saturday 27 February. The match against Kettering Town last week was postponed shortly after the referee arrived and the team was changed and the club officials were in place. This necessitates a still to be finalised midweek game and may be scheduled at a time when the team may face a debilitating three games in a week. Other clubs face this problem as well but growl you may but go you must.
Tonight’s result meant that Leamington leap-frogged Dunstable, who slip to eighth place, but both have fifty-two points. One reassuring point about tonight’s game was the earnestness of the three Dunstable substitutes, whose presence injected some meaningful pressure in the closing stages.
There was no element of luck for Leamington who will see this as a ‘ground out result and they were always aware that Dunstable might just get the chance to equalise – and if that early effort had been stabbed fully over the line we might have seen a very different game indeed. Mention must also be made that the game was officiated accurately and there were no cautions, which is a bonus for both teams and does reflect the good spirit in which the game was played. After their consolatory ‘huddle’ after the game, the Dunstable team turned to applaud their small band of travelling supporters who have good cause to feel both pride and disappointment tonight.
In closing I am reminding all Dunstable supporters of the club’s fund-raising event at Creasey Park after the game against Merthyr, namely the Race Night.
Tony Breeden, captain, Richard Taundry, Connor Gudger, Joe Magunda, Jamie Tank, James Mace, Lee Moore,(Ross Oulton), Jack Edwards, GOAL, 75 minutes, Rob Ogleby, (Ben Mackey), Courtney Baker-Richardson, (James Fry), Sam Austin. Other substitutes- Ben George and Eddie Caviezel- Cox.
Jamie Head, Zack Reynolds, Howard Hall, Danny Talbot (Lee Roache), James Kaloczi, captain, Adam Pepera, Adam Watkins, Steve Wales, (David Keenleyside), Connor Calcutt, (Chris Vardy), Steve Gregory, Gary Wharton.
Other substitute – David Longe-King.
Referee, Andy Handley, assisted by Kevin Caroll and Daniel Pattison, - all three having sound games.