Slough Town completed a league double this season over Dunstable in an uninspiring match that seemed destined for an honourable draw until David Longe-King manhandled man of the match Guy Hollis to concede a penalty that led to the only goal of the game, converted by Ed Smith.
If you were a home supporter you might say it was a ground out result and if a visiting fan you could claim without bias that Dunstable deserved a point from this somewhat dour encounter in changeable weather. The light dusting of snow had given way to chilly sleet and some optimistic sunshine was replaced by floodlights as clouds gathered again.
Before the teams emerged I was chatting with some home fans who told me of Slough’s new stadium which, by all accounts will have an artificial pitch, and the whole thing should be ready for next season, so this would be the last league game we would play Slough at this venue.
When the teams emerged one of my acquaintances turned to me and said, whilst exhaling from a cheroot, ‘I don’t like your ‘oops.’ By this he meant Dunstable’s QPR/Reading type hooped strip. I apologised but said it was just a little too late to call the game off.’ Fair enough’ was the response but they still look like a rugby team. Well the only relation to rugby was Longe-Kinge’s embrace that conceded the penalty and thus the points. ‘Longe- King opined my home supporter, ’sounds like a packet of fags’. He later transferred his attention to Gary Wharton’s repeated efforts to gain a free kick or at least some sympathy from the referee, since there was, naturally, none forthcoming from the home faithful.
Dunstable fielded an unchanged side from the Merthyr victory, and play commenced on a rather ragged looking and bumpy pitch – but at least the game was on – as postponements at this stage means a lot of cramming in of games already.
Slough had won at Creasey Park and had been the better side on the day, and were probable favourites, but they had an indifferent start to the game as Dunstable had some sprightly moments of attack. But in doing so they confounded intention with execution and direct goal attempts were found wanting.
This game brought together two notable marksmen who had crossed swords in the old Spartan Premier days – namely Lewis Putman and Lee Roache, who between them had netted about 130 goals that season. Putman, allegedly includes in his match prep a pint and a fag, showed early touches of promise but faded a little in the second half. Roache again suffered ill-fortune, when a sly off the ball slap round the face from an opponent in the first half and a later groin strain ended his contribution. My heart bleeds for Roachy, and when manager Fontenelle dictates the team to me, there is a pregnant pause before he gets to ‘number nine, Lee Roache’; it is as if he is granting me a personal favour. But I will say this, if it were not for Roachy, we would not be in the division we are today.
After some probing forward moves, Dunstable found themselves having to defend against Putman’s intuitive forward moves. He put a couple in the box that were headed clear by James Kaloczi and Adam Pepera as if it were an unwarranted intrusion and a lob by Warren Harris was held by Head, who stood firm today and a sliced clearance or two was deemed permissible.
A nice move involving Longe-King and Wharton led to a cross to Danny Talbot who was unable to steady himself and his shot sailed over the cross bar. A determined run from Watkins was cut short by Slough’s keeper Mark Scott, who, like Head, was not unduly overworked today. The locked-in midfield meant that players resorted to long forward passes and thus we had a more than usual number of off-side decisions – and very importantly when Slough managed to find the net (via a Dunstable defender), the flag was raised imperiously.
Guy Hollis employed a favoured tactic of mine, namely the long throw, and it caused some anxious moments. Hollis also had a pop or two at goal, which if not cleanly struck, they were on target. Hollis was in fact ubiquitous and influential, matching Talbot’s steadiness of play and steely interventions. Talbot essayed a thirty-yard free-kick that had lost momentum before Mark Scott gathered it to his chest.
Head came out to launch a free-kick up field and aimed at Roache. All very well, but a sly wallop from an opponent, off the ball, had Roache fall to ground nursing his bonce with a suitably aggrieved expression. Sympathy from the home contingent was not forthcoming and the remark ‘get up, you poof,’ may be added to the list of politically incorrect but oft repeated exhortations. Roache went off erelong nursing his groin and home scathes were directed at Gary Wharton. Now I am a real supporter of the gentlemanly Wharton who is a modest and wholehearted player, but his variety of falling with style and ‘Hoddesdons’ was not endearing to any but the twenty visiting supporters. A Hoddesdon, according to the book ‘The Meaning of Liff,’ (humorous definitions derived from place names) is when a player falls, as if scythed to the bone, grimaces for a while, then limps back bravely into play but is fooling nobody.
The closest we got to a goal, and it was close was Ed Smith’s thundering shot that shook the underside of the bar and bounced into Jamie Head’s hands, almost as if he expected it. Smith then had a bobbly shot that had no hope of beating the Dunstable goalie. Roache and Watkins constructed a move that culminated in a Wharton header that bounced off the clubhouse roof. Wharton had been having an interesting duel with Jhai Dhillon, and not always getting the best of it, whilst James Kaloczi played a real skipper’s role, shoring up the centre of defence.
A Watkins shot was deflected for a corner and it was about this stage that I began to think that it was from one of these that held Dunstable’s best chance of scoring. Howard Hall headed wide from this one, as did Dhillon from a similar move. Hall sent in a cross that was alarmingly deflected by a defender towards his own goal but it cleared the bar. I would have taken an own goal from Slough at this stage. Before the interval it was clear that the unfortunate Roache could not continue and Connor Calcutt came on with a jutted jaw that suggested that he would put matters right with a decent bit of service.
So, with no goals, we reached half-time and the eagerly awaited result of the raffle, which was predictably won by our football secretary, Malcolm Aubrey.
He wins so often we call him Goldenballs. I do not mind him winning the wine and the chocolates but what I object to is his ear to ear smile as he shows me his winning ticket before he collects his prize. He won on the tombola last week and chortled as I put my tickets in the recycling.
It did take away the feeling that the match was not in any way a thriller. What I saw was both teams working hard and doing their jobs well. Slough had created marginally more but we still awaited a central shot on goal to bulge the net or sting the keeper’s hands.
As we were closing the first half the sun shone but after we emerged for the second period, the floodlights were on and the clouds were darker. Both teams set to their tasks in a belief that they would penetrate without reply, but it was not the case. Technically it was good but it was more like a careful tactical game reminding me of the careful but dull play of the Russian chess master Petrosian, who was famous for exploiting the merest of positional mistakes to his own advantage.
Wharton employed a full repertoire of falling with style and struck a pose of wounded innocence. The wags in the stand did not let opportunities for criticism pass them by. They suggested Wharton had ice skates on instead of boots, and at one time accused him of being a ballerina. Original, I thought, blowing through my pipe before recharging. As if in recognition that Wharton’s repertoire was exhausted, he was substituted, but it was a bit unkind as our Gary is among the most honest of players, but it was Talbot who received the next upending, which the referee did not choose to act upon.
Watkins stuck at it, with a blocked shot and one wide. Keenleyside suggested that he might create the final bit of magic to contribute to a goal, but there was a general falling off of real opportunities. The Harris brothers had done well (and here I add apropos of nothing that Slough once had three sets of brothers on their staff). Calcutt stuck at his task resolutely, Slough hit the side-netting, after a penalty area melee and Talbot had a blocked shot, but here was little to excite in real terms. A Keenleyside corner was cleared, Pepera had a bit of banter with the opposing fans (which was amusing for all), and when Hollis had a long throw there was an air of expectancy.
By now I was privately concluding that a draw was fair enough and was thinking of a headline that would avoid the cliché word of ‘stalemate’ Any chess player will tell you how rare a stalemate is since it is, in real terms, a blunder.
We had barely ten minutes to go when Longe –King committed the foul that led to the penalty, which was heralded like Shackleton’s relief of the marooned souls on Elephant Island. Ed Smith thumped it home when we of the blue contingent willed Jamie head to save heroically, punt the ball up the other end and Dunstable score the winner themselves. Not so.
Significantly there were a lot more goal chances in the last ten minutes than in the whole game. Barney, a slough sub tested head with a low shot whilst Calicutt’s header was not directed well enough for the equaliser. Dunstable threatened from corners but these were defended and then there was a good ‘time wasting ‘breakaway from the hosts, who at no time messed around by the corner flag. They were looking for a second and only good defending prevented this on two late occasions. A missed chance or two from Dunstable and that was it. Well, a draw would have been the ‘proper’ result and Slough officials expressed that view, even if it was done sotto voce.
I will say that Dunstable looked quite solid and organised today but just lacked that little bit of flair that has prevented them scoring from open play for a match or two. Saturday 12 March brings the long trek to Bideford and no doubt the irrepressible high jinks from the travelling Regimentals whose language today behind the goal was as blue as their scarves and hats. Put it down to frustration at their team’s inability, despite honest effort to produce the bit of class that brings a goal or two. It will come but we hope sooner than later.
Mark Scott, Sean Fraser, Jhai Dhillon, Guy Hollis, man of the match, Dan Hicks, captain, Ryan Hope, Lewis Putman, Nathan Webb, Scott Harris (Lee Barney), Ed Smith, penalty GOAL, 82 minutes, Warren Harris. Other substitutes – Jake Parsons and Gurkan Gokmen.
Jamie Head, Howard Hall, Zack Reynolds, Daniel Talbot, James Kaloczi, Adam Pepera, Adam Watkins, Daniel Longe-King, Lee Roache, (Connor Calcutt), David Keenleyside, (Steve Wales), Gary Wharton, (Chris Vardy). Other substitutes – Stephen Wake and Tony Fontenelle.
Referee – Benjamin Knight, assisted by Dave cotton and Robert Ablitt, who controlled the game fairly and efficiently.