The steady improvement continues. Tonight, facing, reportedly, an Oxford City squad containing seventy-five per cent of their first team (who play in the Conference, South), Dunstable had a particularly comfortable first half, but with the multi-substitutions for both teams, the visitors had a much stronger second half and looked very much like at least snatching a draw.

I managed to secure a team sheet of the starting eleven and some of the substitutes used but some information is missing – including details of the opposition, so apologies for anonymous references. One name from Oxford city you will all know is that of Scott Davies, our former player who has been signed for Oxford from Wealdstone. He played the first half that was notable for an untypical free kick in a scoring position that he sent way over the bar and into the adjacent training ground.

After the cautious and dour match against Egham Town, Dunstable’s football was much more enterprising and also entertaining. Once more there were notable performances from Alex Cathline, Jack Hutchinson and Gary Wharton where strength and pace were predominant. Wharton’s willingness to chase the optimistic forward ball saw him send in two early crosses. Cathline was able to hold the ball but he soon had the full attention of his marker. Hutchinson’s work on the flank was always suggestive

A home free kick from twenty-five yards was held by the visiting keeper and his good distribution soon meant that the visitors looked sharp on the left wing and their wing back had an early shot that was just wide. Adept at slick midfield play, the visitors also sought a way through the middle but a disciplined Dunstable defence was up to the task.

One slight negative was the concession of an inordinate number of free-kicks, ranging from Hutchinson aiding and abetting his forward run with a cunning handball to the justified caution of David Longe- King for a challenge that referee Wayne Cartmel could not overlook. Oddly, Oxford made very little of their set pieces regardless of the position of the offence. Their consolation goal did actually come following a free-kick and that was so expertly executed one wondered why that had not been employed beforehand.

Cathline’s admirable shot on the turn lacked volition, but it will be a useful part of his repertoire in future games. What was especially pleasing was the positive play from the hosts against slick, senior opposition, whose central moves were beginning to suggest a breakthrough. They seemed to be waiting to exploit ay unforced errors, but their switching of play from one flank to another was matched by Dunstable who gave substance to their positive play by taking the lead, following a free kick. Wharton’s powerful cross was met well by Cathline who was able first to control the ball, then unleash a powerful low shot that found the bottom left corner, just beyond the reach of the keeper. This came after twenty-one minutes and was an accurate reflection of the flow of the game so far.

It was a singular piece of quality play that augers well. Oxford responded with forays along the left flank - often following a diagonal pass and this begged a good cross, which was the case most of the time. Adam Moussi who had been steady and combative received an ankle injury and he was replaced by Danny Talbot in the second half, and Dunstable, curiously, elected to play the last five minutes of the half without making an immediate substitution. The Oxford manager pointed this out to his troops and although there were a few attempts to maximise the advantage, particularly one fine shot on ther run that went just wide, but Dunstable took the solitary goal lead to the interval. I expect they were all glad to get out of the rain.

Rain. Oh yes. That brings me to my half-time anecdote which concerns our last meeting with Oxford City. The team from the fringes of the city of dreaming spires and lost causes was not as illustrious then as now. This was about ten seasons ago and both teams were in, I think the Southern League South and West Division, (we’ve been everywhere, man).

The original meeting had been postponed, which did not please me as I had travelled in hope, and with no football had to content myself with perusing second-hand books in the city’s shops ( I console myself when possible). The rearranged fixture was on the very last week of the season, on a Tuesday evening and it had poured all day. I arrived at Oxford City’s ground to hear that the referee deemed the pitch unplayable, but since this was the final fixture, he would go ahead if both teams were agreeable. They were, since there was no real practical alternative. In the quagmire, team colours seemed obliterated but Dunstable led 2-0, were pegged back to 2-1 and then, in the last minute, City had a corner. We had a goal keeper called by the Regiment, Nick, ‘The Bat’ Massey, so called because he was a cricketer rather than a footballer. The lumpy corner came in and it seemed routine for the keeper to rise and gather. He did neither and the ball went straight into the net to give City a 2-2 draw. Why did he not rise and gather? Well, the answer was that he was literally stuck in the mud that held him fast to watch the ball go into the net.

There were so many substitutions at the start of the second half (indeed five at once for City), I did think of lingering near the dugouts in the hope I might get the call. It seemed to work more in the favour of the visitors as they had a dominant second period, where they pulled a goal back and looked good for notching up an equaliser. This is not an indirect criticism of Dunstable since they had a close call when Pepera’s header pinged off the top of the cross bar midway through the half.

City had many chances but conspired to be wasteful, thwacking them over the bar on more than one occasion and making little of free-kicks. But they were stylish and dominated possession. Their response to isolated Dunstable chances was to pressurise further . But before this sustained pressure we saw Cathline bag his second goalof ther night following a Dunstable free-kick from the left. The finish was accurate and exuberant in the execution. This goal came after fifty-three minutes and it signalled some serious pressure from the visitors.

A Dunstable free-kick from Hutchinson was nervously defended but an Oxford free-kick on the hour was masterful, it sailed across from the right and left the scorer, Liam Envermaras a simple tap-in to reduce the arrears. After Pepera’s header against the bar, Dunstable found themselves fighting something of a rear guard action, but, although some defending was inelegant at times it was ultimately successful.

For me it was good to see some of the sweeping moves from the Conference South side, where there was anticipation and fine positioning, with great running off there ball. It was so good that an equaliser did look inevitable – but with character and great nerve the Dunstable defence held firm. More than once I notice my notes reading ‘smart move from Oxford, but finishing poor’. We have all seen this before, a team hanging on grimly to the lead, but with great character and confidence to achieve a prestigious result in the end.

The referee did say to me afterwards that he did not expect the game to be so competitive but this it was and I think no team likes to lose to nominally junior opposition, whatever the occasion.

Coincidentally we have the other ‘varsity city visiting for our opening league game. Cambridge City come to Creasey Park on Saturday 6 August and there must be, after tonight a feeling of increased confidence. This is followed by a visit on Tuesday to Premier Division new boys Kings Langley, whose stand has the seats from our old ‘cow shed,’ and we got them from Wembley stadium after its redevelopment. Not a lot of people know that, as Michael Caine never said. Then there is the trip to Merthyr Tydfil, (Sat 13) and there is a coach leaving Creasey Park at 8.45 am. Supporters are very welcome to travel with the team.

The squad tonight was-

Jack Smith, Louis Strafford, Gedeon Okito, Adam Moussi, John Sonuga, Adam Pepera, captain, Gary Wharton, David Longe-king, cautioned, Alex Cathline, TWO GOALS, 21 and 53 minutes, Shane Bush, Jack Hutchinson.

Substitutes – not all listed owing to lack of information supplied,

Jamie Head GK, Taishan Griffith, Danny Talbot, Connor Calcutt, David Keenleyside, Zack Reynolds.

Referee – Wayne Cartmel assisted by Bob trinder and Keith Haywood.

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