DUNSTABLE COME FROM BEHIND FOR OPENING WIN
What a pleasure it was to see such a fine game of attacking football punctuated by three goals of illustrious quality, as well as notable saves and the cross bar struck by both teams, in what was an honest sporting contest on the sunny opening day of the season.
There was the eager anticipation as to what would be the Dunstable starting eleven, given that we knew that Zack Reynolds was injured and David Keenleyside serving the first of his two game suspension for his ‘taking one for the team’ at Poole Town for a great save that would have been applauded more had he been the goal keeper.
So today we had the full back debutants Joseph Debayo and Jai Dhillon who both impressed. Many eyes were on Alex Cathline, whose pre-season performances were highly suggestive of success, and he did not disappoint, neither did the team as a whole on this vital day. Pre-season finished with a stylish win over Oxford City and coincidentally our guests today came from the other great University town, which I am beginning to know well, as I have a daughter who is a student there.
Cambridge City themselves have had a great change of personnel and again are ground sharing with Huntingdonshire side St Ives Town, now promoted to the Premier Division. So, in some respects it was a leap in the dark, which would reveal much about the strengths and possible weaknesses.
Bathed in the sunshine we got off to a cracking start on the lush pitch, but it was the visitors who looked the sharper in the opening stages (and, as it turned out, the closing ones as well). Sam Alderson had a blocked shot (one of many for the visitors this afternoon) and skipper John Kaye saw his header tipped over the bar by Jack Smith. Corners though were strangely over-hit today by both sides.
An early blow for Dunstable was the loss, after seven minutes of pace man Gary Wharton, whose injury was deemed serious enough to put on former youth team player Taishan Griffith, who went on to perform with a maturity of style and attitude. With smith saving well from a free-kick, his opposite number, Enol Ordonez (who played out of his skin against us in a recent match between the sides), punched clear from one shot and then held a decent effort from Jack Hutchinson, another home player who has attracted many favourable observations from the Regiment. Shortly after this there was a sublime free-kick from the evergreen Danny Talbot which was met powerfully by centre-half John Sonuga whose header reverberated against the cross bar.
It became a feature of this game that following a goal chance at one end we saw one at the other, which meant that there was never a dull moment in this thrilling opening match. Dunstable had recovered from their slightly nervous start and Alex Cathline looked likely to open the scoring but, alas, his close range effort was but an air shot, followed a little later by a scuffed effort, but his power and sense of position are those of the natural striker.
City’s response was a scamper along the left flank where Cooper, the visitors’ right back was showing his versatility, aided strongly by Sam Alderson. City forced a corner from a clinical move but the ball sailed across the face of the goal. Shane Bush shot wide for Dunstable and then we witnessed a goal of spectacular quality from Cooper. He had seized on a loosely defended ball and he then unleashed a real blaster from range that looked to be going slightly wide but it found the net, and merited the generous applause received.
We had been playing for just over half an hour and it had been enthralling. It was clear, of course, that the visitors had no intention on simply defending this lead and even when they finally lost the lead they pushed their hosts to the last and were quite unfortunate not to secure an equaliser. By the same token Dunstable sought redress and made every effort, with Cathline testing Ordonez and Tunde Alewunti giving Jack Smith a similar task.
Cooper had a good run in possession on the right and his cross was thankfully plucked by Smith, and then another searching free-kick from Talbot saw Bush’s header saved by the secure Ordonez. The battling Cathline forced a corner and this, from Talbot was robustly headed clear and the visitors took their lead to the interval.
It had been an even match with Cooper’s magnificent goal being the major difference and we reflected on Sonuga’s header that hit the cross bar and Cathline’s air shot. Some supporters may not know that our substitute goal keeper, Jamie Head, who replaced the injured Jack Smith, with ten minutes to go, had a spell with our opponents and indeed played in the game against his current team. I remember that for the penalty scored against him by Ben Herd, who exultant behaviour on converting the spot kick was an explosive manifestation of relief. I also recalled our last visit to St Ives to play Cambridge where we were diverted on our way to the ground because a combine harvester had capsized in our path. Games between the clubs have always been close and notable for the quality of the goals – in particular the one scored by Scott Davies, who had appeared here with Oxford City in our last pre-season game.
Dunstable manager Tony Fontanelle had made no further changes for the second half, showing that he was reasonably content, but he had a moment I shall call the Yella Yell when he berated the referee on not granting an offside decision; such was his protest that the referee came across and politely told him to put a sock in it. It behoves me here to mention the very good standard of the officials today. Even when Cambridge’s James Tricks lived up to his name with a sly kick out at Jai Dhillon, referee Andy Humphries spoke to him with the soft answer that turneth away wrath. Tricks went on to provide a good few opportunities before he was finally substituted.
The second period resumed with an immediate Cambridge attack. This emanated from the new rule where a player can kick off without that little tap to what used to be the inside forward. From this thwarted effort we saw the ball routinely passed back to Smith who surveyed the field in a leisurely manner and then Dunstable equalised without the ball touching the ground. The lusty punt forward was flicked on in admirable fashion by Shane Bush to the irresistible force that is Alex Cathline who flicked the ball up and volleyed into the bottom corner. The half was but two minutes old. It was a delightful goal that had a quality that matched Cooper’s of the first half.
Cooper then took a corner that was headed no fewer than three times with the last of them, by Alderson, just clearing the cross bar. Cambridge went on to have what seemed to me, an inordinate or unusual number of blocked shots which says a lot for the Dunstable defenders like Pepera and Dhillon, whose commitment was commendable. Alewunti tried a nice little overhead that literally fell on stony ground and then he had a half chance that almost deceived Smith. Cambridge were well up for restoring their lead, but at the other end Cathline prowled and headed just wide and Dhillon persisted in a run and a cross that needed careful treatment to clear. After Tricks had seen his effort blocked Cathline engineered the optimum position to score and looked like doing so, and after all his foxy cunning his shot went inexplicably wide when it looked certain that he would score. It was exciting stuff indeed and it did not relent.
Erkan Okay was not just okay but quite tricky and his shot looked good until deflected for an Alderson corner, which was cleared albeit a little untidily. Hutchinson who had drifted in and out finally had the chance of a decent run in possession and this he did like a man possessed until brought down. The free-kick went naturally to Talbot, who had time to survey the Cambridge defensive wall. The position was central and just over twenty yards from goal. I can only say that Talbot’s finish was trademark – a superb strike, technically perfect from a set piece to give Dunstable the lead for the first time in the game. Talbot spoke to me afterwards and said jokingly that we would now expect him to repeat that every game. I said that nine out of ten would do.
But the visitors were not fazed – in fact immediately afterwards they launched an attack which culminated in Alderson’s strike that hit the cross bar. That was fair warning for the laudable efforts from the visitors, right to the last whistle to bag the equaliser that they and their supporters felt they deserved. Indeed it would not have been an injustice had they achieved this and they tested Dunstable right to the final whistle.
Dunstable had their moments with Sonuga having a decent crack at goal from range, but Jack Uttridge, the game’s only booking, for dissent, headed over the bar for city, as did their useful substitute Charlie Woolfe. Dunstable held on to their lead like a climber clinging to the ledge, but they did it despite the late pressure. With ten minutes to go Jack Smith received a leg injury and he was replaced by Jamie Head, who had a heroic ten minutes of vital saves of commendable quality.
One of these was a fingertip over the bar from the determined Alderson, and then he replicated this feat when Woolfe was knocking at the door. Perhaps the best save was the one from substitute David Femiola, where the equaliser was prevented by those overworked fingers. Femiola was also in with a chance at close range but Head was equal to it. The fellow had put in ninety minutes’ worth in ten. Cathline had been replaced by Connor Calcutt who contrived to make a nuisance of himself whilst Cambridge surged for the equaliser. There was an appreciable bit of added on time which caused our Chairman to tell the referee and the world that the sandwiches were curling at the corners, but when you are ahead and under pressure extra time seems inordinate and if you are trailing you feel cheated by the rapid clock’s ticking.
So Dunstable prevailed and won the points in a game that was a delight to watch right the way through. It was not easy and Cambridge City were a useful looking side with the right attacking notions. Their smart committee all with club ties were gracious in defeat and we all know there is a very long way to go.
Dunstable travel to newly promoted Kings Langley on Tuesday (9 Aug) and then we embark on European football when we go to Merthyr Tydfil on Saturday (13 Aug). Today’s win was laudable but had a nervous edge to it. It was ever thus. Who said it would be easy? Tony Fontenelle was cautious in praise but nevertheless pleased with the performance and attitude of his players. The Regiment won the flag battle by four to two and managed some lethargic chants before they went for their gin and tonics. They would agree that it was a positive start but very much a work in progress.
The new season is here and we wonder if we were ever away.
Jack Smith (Jamie Head, 80 mins), Joseph Debayo, Jai Dhillon, Danny Talbot, GOAL, 68 minutes, John Sonuga, Adam Pepera, captain, Gary Wharton, (Taishan Griffith, 7 minutes), David Longe-King, Alex Cathline, GOAL, 47 minutes, MAN OF THE MATCH, (Connor Calcutt, 75 minutes), Shane Bush, Jack Hutchinson. Subs not used – Adam Moussi and Luis Fernandes.
Enol Ornadez, Paul Cooper, GOAL, 31 minutes, Charlie Day, Harry Norman, Jordan Williams, Jack Uttridge, cautioned, James Tricks, (Charlie Woolfe), John Kaye, captain, Tunde Alewunti, (David Femiola), Erkan Okay, Sam Alderson. Sub not used – Giani Ashley.
Referee- Andy Humphries assisted by Stuart wade and David Jarrett, who had exemplary games.