It has been a decade since Merthyr Town have come to Creasey Park and once more it proved not to be a happy hunting ground for them. They have visited eleven times since 1965/66 and have drawn three and won only once. In the corresponding fixture this season at Pennydarren Park, Dunstable had a fairly comfortable 3-1 win, but today’s win was devoid of that luxury but made up for it with dramatic occurrences.
All three goals came from set pieces and during the match we saw two penalties, a disallowed goal, and an almost indecent number of cautions, as well as one dismissal. Yet the game was feisty rather than nasty and in the opening stages the Martyrs lived up to their nickname.
In the very first minute – indeed after about fifteen seconds, replacement referee Kevin Howick awarded a free-kick to Dunstable following a definitely controlled back pass – right inside the Merthyr penalty area. So cometh the minute, cometh the man and Danny Talbot’s notable strike saw him open the scoring when his free-kick found the top left corner. The ongoing effect of this startling early goal was unsettled play from the visitors whose disputatious conduct earned them five cautions within half an hour.
They were still struggling to get some effective pattern into their play when they went further behind – and after nine minutes. The goal-keeper, Glyn Garner had donned his kamikaze shirt and his robust challenge on the willowy Lee Roache left our player in an undignified heap, but not before he got his shot away. This was cleared off the line in notable style by Scott Tancock but the whistle had gone for a penalty and Garner received the first booking of five for the Martyrs (all in the space of half an hour). Garner was not dismissed as the referee explained afterwards, that the fact that the ball was cleared from the line anyway, it was deemed not to be a goal scoring opportunity, which seems a little contradictory but there you are.
Talbot placed the ball on the spot and would brook no interference and his text book penalty gave what we hoped was some comfort and breathing space, but it proved not to be the case. Talbot was evidently in heroic mode as not only did he come close to bagging a hat-trick he also went on to clear off the goal line following a swift Merthyr attack.
Adam Watkins had his customary go at goal, with his best effort landing rather forlornly on the roof of the net and Talbot’s next effort was not that far wide of the post. Merthyr were clearly rattled and had not yet found the rhythm in their play that came relatively close to forcing a draw against the hosts who were reduced to ten men after seventy minutes. More of this erelong.
With the faces of the Merthyr players at times becoming as red as their away strip in anger, this was plainly working against them. Each booking made them appear to be more vulnerable but to their enormous credit, when they settled they played some good attacking football, but were errant in their finishing and they also tended to waste what free-kicks they were awarded.
Corey Jenkins had the best answer – that is to get on with it all and his run on the left flank was inspirational and needed a fine save from Jamie Head. But perhaps the best effort was the blistering shot from Jarkat Wright that looked goal bound but Head was equal to it again. There was some excellent defending from Zack Reynolds as well – his interception close to the goal line was vital – or so it seemed until the whistle had gone for an infringement.
But this served to remind us that the two goal lead was not unassailable and Dunstable had been thwarted in their attempts to score from open play so far. Merthyr’s early sacrificial tendencies had been abolished from their minds and they now looked a purposeful side.
Opinions on the game were of course varied, and during the interval I pondered on how different perspectives on the game emerge. WE often only choose to see what we want to see. This morning I was wandering around dreamily and my partner told me I was wearing odd socks. I then told her that they were not odd as I had another pair just like these. I had commiserated with Tony Fontenelle and Danny Talbot on the narrow loss against Leamington, which, I concluded was a game we deserved to draw. Others agreed with me, including opposing supporters, but our manager and his deputy were of the opinion that ‘we were battered throughout’. The only goal had come from a Howard Hall deflection and it was one of few goal attempts. Perhaps my perspective was altered by the last few minutes when Dunstable threatened to score an equaliser. A ‘tweet’ from Leamington said ‘hanging on’ and another posted view was that they ‘had just about deserved to win’. Maybe I am just naïve – after all, for years I thought Les Dennis was French for ‘fire engines’.
My perspective on this first half was that after their kamikaze first ten minutes the Martyrs began to play with more co-ordination and this was improved further when they reduced the Dunstable goals to a mere aberration on their part. Certainly in the second half they had periods of sustained pressure and were adept at the counter attack. They clawed back a goal from a penalty with twenty minutes to go and tried to make matters count against the ten men of Dunstable, following David Keenleyside’s own bit of martyrdom of handling on the goal line following a corner.
Merthyr had a corner which was cleared by Talbot. At the other end a combination of Roache and Wharton (overseen by Hall) saw a corner conceded and Talbot’s cross eventually came out to Wharton who ballooned it into the car park. Two free kicks for both sides were wasted and by now substitutions were being made.
Then came the dramatic moment following another Martyr’s corner, and a goal looked certain until, not the hand of God, (‘Yella’ was not playing), but the hand of David Keenleyside. It was blatant and our man began his walk of shame before the red card was held aloft. I say walk of shame, but there is perhaps a smidgeon of vindication in what is termed ‘taking one for the team’. Keenleyside, hovering almost illegally by the players’ entrance told me that there was little he could do about it and that it was, honestly, ball to hand. Perspective again – as it looked to most as a deliberate act.
In any case it meant little to Ian Traylor who converted the penalty with apparent ease and it made matters rather intriguing as Dunstable would have to face a rejuvenated Martyrs side that one could sense would be making the most to equalise as quickly as possible and maybe even win. The penalty had, in a sense emotionally vindicated them and they no longer railed at the referee’s decisions. They were better for that and we had a last period of frenetic activity in the best ‘end to end’ tradition. But for all the huff and puff we still did not see a goal from open play which might well cause both managers a little twinge of anxiety.
To add to the repertoire of incidents we had a goal ruled off side for Dunstable. This came from a rather sweet move involving Roache and Wharton with the former finding the net just as he heard the prolonged blast of the referee’s whistle and the assistant’s flag was held aloft. We could have done with more moves like that but there were some vital interceptions for both sides, spirited runs from individuals. Roache put another over the bar, but his best work today was in the tackle and the ‘lay off’. He gave way to Connor Calcutt for the last ten minutes.
Traylor messed one chance completely. He had time to control the ball, which he did, and more time to take accurate aim, which he did not, and the ball sailed into the Regimental flags on Chav Hill. Wright had an even better chance to snatch an equaliser and his header was only inches wide.
Dunstable coped adequately with the last bouts of Martyr pressure, with gutsy interventions by the ever reliable Adam Watkins and James Kaloczi, but a performance of note was witnessed in David Longe-king who has surely staked a claim for possible automatic selection in future games.
There was quite a bit of time added on as the referee (who was being assessed) enforced a rule regarding Danny Talbot’s presence in the technical area, as his name was not entered in the list of officials, but instead, quite properly as a player. This delay caused some temporary incandescence from a martyr or two, whose existential advice to the referee was to get on with the blanking game. Anyhow time’s foot was lazy and it was a nervous last few minutes that called upon the ten men to see it thought without conceding. They did so, and I will replicate the view of the Leamington supporter in our last match. Dunstable had done enough to win, but those early goals were, of course, of great importance.
Perhaps Dunstable’s anxiety is reflected in the fact that they succumbed to two bookings, (as well as the dismissal), both straight cautions coming late in the game. I do confess my own anxiety as when the Martyrs were last here – some eleven years ago, they forced a 2-2 draw, and in the corresponding match Dunstable held out for a 0-0 draw, with former goalkeeper and hero, Paul Taylor, playing the game of his life. But now in 2016, Dunstable achieved a league double over the Welsh side and when all the hoo-ha dies down it will just be a statistic.
Importantly it brings to a welcome end the unwanted run of three straight league defeats. Given the circumstances it was acceptable and no doubt welcomed by the home faithful. The games will not become any easier with an away trip against Slough Town and then the long trek to Bideford. As well as that there will be evening games against Kettering Town (which was postponed last Saturday) and Redditch United.
No doubt the Martyrs will have returned to the Principality nursing a grievance or two, as they came close to forcing a draw in that frenetic last spell, with Dunstable shoring up the defences with their ten men. They will also feel a bit sore at shipping two goals within ten minutes. I bet that one of their officials who won a bottle of booze on the Tombola and twenty quid on the football card would gladly trade them for points today.
Jamie Head, Howard Hall, Zack Reynolds, Danny Talbot, GOAL, one minute and penalty GOAL, nine minutes, (Steve Wales, 75), James Kaloczi, captain, cautioned, Adam Pepera, Adam Watkins, David Longe-King, this reporter’s man of the match, cautioned,Lee Roache (Connor Calcutt, 86 minutes), David Keenleyside, dismissed, straight red card, Gary Wharton. Other substitutes – Chris Vardy and Stephen Wake.
Glyn Garner, cautioned, Adam Davies (Jaye Bowen), James Bloom, Ashley Evans, Scott Tancock, Rhys Baggridge, cautioned, Corey Jenkins, Jarkat Wright, cautioned, Kayne McGlaggon, cautioned, Keyon Refell, Ian Traylor, penalty goal, 70 minutes, cautioned. Other substitutes- Gethin Jones, Cameron Clarke, Chris Hugh, Jon Brown.
Referee, Kevin Howick, assisted by Samuel Harris, and Daniel Todd.