BIT OF A SCRAP AT THE ROVERS’ RETURN
Paulton Rovers must like coming to Creasey Park as they have won here on their last two visits, but they lost at home to Dunstable earlier in the season by the same score as today. They certainly needed the points and welcomed them somewhat jubilantly, given their perilous position in the relegation zone. But from Dunstable’s point of view it does not make good reading as, not only is the poor form an ongoing factor, we saw for the second week in succession that they have plainly struggled against teams at the foot of the division.
The Somerset side deserved their victory for a vastly improved second half performance, where, like Biddeford before them, they belied their lowly status. Dunstable were without the influential Danny Talbot but David Keenleyside returned to action following his suspension, and Lee Roache was available for selection, having recovered from his injury last week. Dunstable’s slim hopes of a play-off place were given another jolt today and there can be little complaint at the final result.
This never was a home banker as the recent history of games between these clubs show even statistics and any victory has been by a single goal margin. As if aware of this the game started at a spanking pace with Dunstable, unusually, settling early and setting up repeated attacks. Rovers dealt with this and countered effectively and the high number of corners in the first quarter of an hour is indicative of the pattern of enthusiastic forward play.
Whilst defending was generally of a high standard today from both teams, it was an error from David Keenleyside who let in Rovers’ skipper, Darren Mullings, who as the new expression is, fluffed his lines by lobbing over the cross bar. Keenleyside was thereabouts flowing a cross from Howard Hall, but this was defended, and Connor Calcutt, back in the starting line, had one shot blocked and was thwarted on at least two more in the course of this somewhat forgettable first half.
At this stage Dunstable were the more enterprising side, with a fine shot from substitute Gary Wharton drawing an equally fine save from Ben John. Wharton was an early replacement for Steve Wales who had been injured in a challenge. Keenleyside was indeed keen and he had a two shot attempt, with the first hitting the defensive wall from a free-kick and could have done a bit better with the second effort. Jordan Ricketts, wearing a number twenty shirt (‘we left the number ten shirt at Kettering’ was the pre-match explanation), had a half chance and an overly optimistic penalty appeal. Now if there is one thing to criticise about the Paulton players it was the wearisome whinging about the referee’s inability to award them uncountable free-kicks and penalties. Quite simply, they did protest too much and for too long. I have known worse but not much.
Jake Mawford, Paulton’s hero in waiting, had a shot that brought a corner and also notable in play was Leon Jeanne, who ultimately faded and was substituted by Tom Knighton. The closest we got to a goal was when Zack Reynolds put in a lob that struck the Paulton cross bar. A Dunstable free kick from Keenleyside, just outside the area, had promise but bore no fruit. But it was from a set piece that the opening goal was achieved.
Dunstable won a free-kick on the right, hotly disputed of course, and Keenleyside sent the ball on its errand, and it fell nicely for Kaloczi to finish succinctly. This goal came in the forty-fifth minute and many claimed it was the only thing worth remembering about the half, which ended a couple of minutes later. The goal was welcomed by the home contingent and was deserved on the balance of play at this stage; it did serve to remind me that it has been a good while since Dunstable have scored a goal from open play.
Being an old geezer, I tend to look askance at the kind of formation we and other teams tend to play. We always seem to be short up front, with Calcutt or Roache ploughing a lonely furrow with support some way away. Having nudged ahead I could understand a bit of caution, but after the goal went in it seemed to signal the end of Dunstable’s ascendancy and we tended to play deeper and deeper in the second half.
The double door entrance to the dressing room had ‘blown shut’ during the unexciting first half and the look of anguish and consternation on the visiting manager’s face at such an erroneously perceived insult was comical. They should have been with us at Hemel Hempstead one game when a steward had misplaced the key and all sorts of unnecessary comments were made before the situation was remedied. We are made of such fickle stuff that we excuse our own misgivings but are intolerant of the assumed faults of others. If I had been consulted about our ground development (and pig’s might fly), I would have insisted that the dugouts be placed far enough apart to preclude the unseemly verbal jousting that occurs from rival managers when they are in close proximity.
But Dunstable were ahead and seemingly in control. Wrong words, really. They had edged it with a set piece, had hit the bar, but had not looked majestic at all, but fragile. I did reflect on the inordinate length of time it has been since Dunstable have scored a goal from a flowing movement in open play. Paulton Rovers had played well, despite their constant appeals against the alleged injustice doled out by the referee (who had refrained from issuing cautions in favour of appeals for common sense and fair play), but they were far more penetrative in the second half where they took on the role as the more enterprising team.
They matched their pre-match optimism, where one of their players informed me that their supporters coach would be ten minutes behind the players’ coach and was crammed with fifty eager fans. A bit of wishful thinking that and, had it been true, we would have reached our average attendance. Before the game I had playfully asked our stewards to go out and throw some people in.
I had arranged for the floodlights to be activated almost as if it would brighten up the game, but it descended into a niggly, scrappy affair, with some dubious tackles that had players indulging in a bit of a stare-out and other ingredients of bravado. Some clearances were so emphatic that John Bell in the dugout reflected that he had only one ball left, which was the popular notion regarding a notorious German Chancellor, celebrated in a song that was a jibe.
As the second half progressed I noticed that officials from both sides could only find ready agreement that it was rather cold for the time of year, what with the clocks going back next week. The unspoken comments were that Dunstable were not getting as grip on the game and from the Paulton side that they were overdue and equaliser, given the perceptible improvement in their play.
There was a header from Steve Williams that Jamie Head initially fumbled but recovered instantly. A Keenleyside cross to Calcutt saw the latter fouled and home supporters naturally wanted the player cautioned or quietly lynched away from the public gaze. Jonathan Edwards, in possession passed to Calcutt whose effort was nullified by the goalie. Calcutt turned provider for Keenleyside who was neatly dispossessed but apart from these bleak moments of hope it was clear that it was the rovers who were getting to grips with the game and they bagged an equaliser after fifty-nine minutes.
It is no exaggeration to say it came from a defensive error. Kaloczi, who had been his usual reliable presence, attempted a clearance, but in doing so he merely sliced at air and this let in Mawford, who with a striker’s instinct made the most of the error. I reflected that Kaloczi had, in a sense, scored for both sides, but this was the true turning point of the game.
One moment of drama came when Calcutt was chasing a through ball and Ben john, the keeper came out and in clattering Calcutt , took one for his team and was cautioned. He then made a fine save from the resulting free-kick. It is no good criticising gamesmanship as all teams do it and are perhaps expected to. But one wonders if Calcutt had connected properly and sneaked a second goal, it might have been hugely significant.
Dunstable deployed their two remaining permitted substitutions, Lee Roache and Chris Vardy but it was to little avail, since ideas were limited as was their execution. Conversely, Paulton had a better shape and distribution and gave the Dunstable defence some testing moments, particularly in the penalty area – but for all that it did seem that we were drifting towards an unsatisfactory draw. A Keeno corner was punched clear by John, and repeated efforts from Adam Watkins to weave through were thwarted. A bad sign was the internal criticism from Dunstable players to their own team mates for diverse moments of unsophisticated play. This contrasted with the moans at the referee from the lads from Somerset and the withering comments of their manager aimed at home supporters close to the dugout. It was a veritable ping-pong of unimaginative insults, the best of which was the visiting manger declaring that the referee did not ‘have a scoobydoo.’ I took this to be Somerset rhyming slang for a clue, but in any case it was inaccurate as the referee did well to tolerate what he did.
You might have gleaned from all this that this match was no classic, being stuttering prose rather than inspired poetry, yet the game was won, in stoppage time with an inspirational moment that capitalised on a lack of awareness from the home team. A late thrust from midfield, two minutes into stoppage time saw Jake Mawford run onto the ball and finish rather well. His celebration was worthy of a Wembley wonder winner. He turned from scoring and sprinted to the dugout to hug his manager before accepting the embraces of his colleagues. Well, you can understand the lads for whooping it up a bit as it does give their Premier Division survival a lot more credibility. You may call me a party pooper but I do feel that Rovers deserved the win. Dunstable manager Tony Fontenelle disguised his deep disappointment afterwards by telling me had had felt better. The censored consensus from departing home supporters was that they too had felt better and principally before this latest defeat.
As someone interested in linguistics I despaired to hear the same adjective applied to a multi-meaning noun of one syllable largely related to a bowel movement. But a word here in defence of our oft maligned Regiment – I witnessed several congratulating the Paulton players as they left the field – and they stayed to applaud their own team. Good show, chaps and I feel your pain.
Fontenelle and his team have some stern challenges ahead with some consecutive away games being crammed into just over a week coming very soon. The vital one is to restore some of the flagging confidence, as the last win was a bit of a hanging- on job at home to Merthyr Town almost a month ago.
Dunstable travel to Hungerford next Saturday, 26 March and face Chesham United on Bank holiday Monday (and they sure as eggs are eggs need to pay the Generals back for that unseemly walloping they gave -us at the Meadow). But we do need to reflect on the bit of ill-fortune today, with the bar struck and one possible successful goal attempt illegitimately scuppered by the goalie. But Dunstable do need to recreate the kind of fluidity and exuberance in passing football that has brought some notable goals and deserved victories. I would pick out Kaloczi, Reynolds and Keenleyside today, with Watkins mentioned in despatches - and I look forward to a rejuvenated performance which, I hope, will begin at Hungerford.
Jamie Head, Howard Hall, Zack Reynolds, David Longe-King, James Kaloczi, captain, GOAL, 45 minutes, Adam Pepera, Adam Watkins, Steven Wales, (Gary Wharton), Connor Calcutt, (Lee Roache), Jonathan Edwards, David Keenleyside (Chris Vardy). Other subs – Mark Reilly and Tony Fontenelle.
Ben John, cautioned, Steve Williams, Nuno Felix, Alex Grimshaw. Craig allan, David O’Hare, Leon Jeanne. (Tom Knighton), Darren Mullings, captain, Jake Mawford, man of the match, TWO GOALS, 59 and 90+2 minutes, Jordan Ricketts, Mario Mateus,(Kelvin Douglas). Other subs – Josh Read, joe Chandler and Lamar Powell.
Referee, David Avent, assisted by Mark Wetherall and Samuel Brough, all of whom had sound games.
THE EVO-STIK SOUTHERN LEAGUE – PREMIER DIVISION 19 March 2016
DUNSTABLE TOWN 1 PAULTON ROVERS 2 HT 1-0 ATTENDANCE 101