DUNSTABLE LOSE THRILLER IN STOPPAGE TIME
In a heartbreaking period of stoppage time, Dunstable saw their 3-2 lead cancelled when Merthyr rallied to score two devastating goals, which dramatically robbed their visitors of what would have been a heroic victory, or by way of compensation a fighting draw.
But first things first – the match was preceded by a respectful minutes’ silence to honour the memory of a long standing Merthyr supporter and also for Ethan Houghton, a Dunstable Town youth player who tragically died along with other members of his family in a road traffic incident. We wish to thank those home supporters for their kind words of condolence.
Pennydarren Park is now looking a good deal posher now their ground development has been completed and we were given a very cordial welcome after our coach trip. Along the way we stopped at Membury services and co-incidentally we moored alongside the St Albans City coach which was as resplendent as ours was modest. That did not stop us from nonchalantly suggesting with body language that a coach for us is a regular occurrence.
The sunny weather was welcome and the team had been out to acclimatise to the artificial surface. Merthyr Town like Dunstable were unbeaten in their two opening games and we looked forward to a decent match. The opening quarter of an hour sent a feeling of alarm through Dunstable’s modest travelling support whose chants would have benefited from musical accompaniment, but our photographer informed me he had left his glockenspiel behind. There was little to sing about as it is no exaggeration to report that the hosts ought to have been ahead by about four goals.
Kayon Refell ran onto a neat forward pass and his shot all but grazed the post. Dunstable had no answer as yet to the sweeping long passes as the hosts threatened to overwhelm. Jhai Dhillon stretched to cut out a searching cross but there was no respite. Merthyr’s vivacious play was strongly indicative of an early goal, with the pace of Kayne Mclaggon and Scott Barrow having a confident exuberance. Dunstable Jamie Head was causing some concern as his nagging groin injury meant that goal kicks needed to be taken by skipper Adam Pepera. Denied possession, Dunstable found it hard to get into the opposing half and Merthyr had enough chances to fill a bucket. An Ashley Evans cross hit the junction of cross bar and post and Scott Barrow shot narrowly wide from range, whilst Head saved well from McLaggon’s firm header from Refell’s cross. Shortly after there was disbelief when Ian Traylor’s shot looked a certain goal but it struck the underside of the bar.
Dunstable’s good fortune lasted only to the twelfth minute when the inevitable opener was scored, with McLaggon tapping in a cross from close range. But from this period of embarrassing dominance Dunstable reacted positively with Jack Hutchinson latching onto a loose ball and after a typical run in possession he shot on target drawing a good save from Glyn Garner. The youthful Martyrs again employed the effective long pass, often picking out an unmarked player. They forced successive corners and from one of these, Barrow’s cross was met with a header that McLaggon sent just wide. There was a moment of weak optimism when Cathline lobbed the ball into the Merthyr net after the whistle, earning him a lenient reprimand. The Regiment was no doubt thinking at this stage that this would be the only occasion that their team would see the ball cross the Merthyr goal-line.
David Keenleyside, back in the team after his suspension, saw his corner pushed out by Garner and within seconds this led to another home chance when Gethin Jones tested Jamie Head with a headed effort. Notwithstanding their efforts, there was no noticeable rhythm to Dunstable’s ‘play and the hosts continued to impress with their flowing moves. Traylor’s next attempt needed a god save and got it, but in what was really a good show of character under pressure Dunstable drew level with a goal greeted by a deafening silence from the 513 spectators.
Merthyr’s contribution was a moment’s inattention in defence when the resolute Keenleyside ran onto a loose ball and he chipped this to Shane Bush who finished smartly, and we had played twenty-nine minutes. The feeling was that this was a bit of pluck suitably rewarded before the home onslaught but there was a remarkable change in the game. A Merthyr free kick was defended by Joe Debayo and more corners followed, but Alex Cathline was but a step away from snatching the lead, bustling through the defence but his last touch was just too heavy and the goal keeper was able to thwart the chance.
Danny Talbot, known for scoring from range had a ‘practice’ attempt but his next shot is already a candidate for goal of the season. After thirty-eight minutes he blasted in from a full thirty-five yards and to general disbelief, Dunstable had gained the lead for the first time. It was suitably celebrated amidst the polite home applause. Fortune favours the bold and Dunstable had overcome the sustained early pressure and took the lead to the interval. It was remarkable since the opening spell had seen the initiative firmly with the hosts. Such a slender lead also suggested that Dunstable might be forced into a half of strained defence as we had seen at Kings Langley – but it was not the case and the second half was as thrilling as the first but this time Dunstable attacked as often as their hosts. This ensured we had a thrilling half had a storming finish as well as an unsuccessful penalty appeal from Dunstable.
Predictably the Martyrs made a zestful start looking to erase the deficit as early as possible, but Keenleyside caused a concern when he cut in, with a neat pass to Hutchinson whop all but fell over. Shane Bush had been replaced by Daniel Green, and it was not too long before Merthyr made the maximum number of substitutions themselves. Some see this as a sign of worry and dissatisfaction but tactically it made a difference, with one of them, Jarrad Wright, scoring a vital late equaliser.
With Merthyr spraying the ball about and forging many goal attempts, Dunstable defended with a degree of precision and there was enough precision about their play to suggest they still had a goal within them. The home side’s high crosses suited the tall Dunstable defenders, but one vital interception was made by the industrious Jhai Dhillon. Chances fell to Dunstable with set pieces and one Keenleyside free kick, from twenty-five yards was met with a glancing header from Cathline who despaired to see it go wide.
Then came the home substitutions with Wright, Jenkins and Prosser replacing Jones, Brown and McLaggon. It added a good deal of power to the Merthyr attack, but Dunstable were eking out chances with Cathline having a half chance with an awkwardly bouncing ball. The only caution of the game came when Green was fouled and Ashley Evans had his name taken, A cross from Keenleyside strained the home keeper who finger tipped the ball away and once again Cathline took a step too many in his solo effort. Scott Barrow, who was later to score the dramatic winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time will remember his goal rather than his effort that saw the ball sail over the bar on the direction of the Brecon Beacons. Shortly after this attempt, in the sixty-eighth minute, Merthyr bagged their equaliser after a nifty piece of possession football that culminated in an unstoppable header from Kayon Refell. It was greeted with relief as well as joy.
Dunstable then found themselves once again under pressure as a close to the goal-line clearance suggested, and Danny Talbot was happily in the way to block another effort.
But the game then took another twist as Dunstable who had looked like conceding then took the lead for the second time when Cathline seized possession, and heedless of defenders he advanced to score in the bottom corner after seventy-three minutes. Had that goal been nicked a good ten minutes later Dunstable might well have held out successfully. As it was they were again forced to defend and this they did successfully (albeit nervously) right up to the last minute of normal time.
To concede one goal in stoppage time is unfortunate but to let in two does smack of carelessness, but this would be to deny the home side’s urgency and self-belief. Regimental members were indignant that Cathline was denied a penalty – and there was no doubt he was brought down in the area but the referee was not to be persuaded that a spot-kick was required. I consoled myself with the thought that these thongs even out in the course of a season, and am still of the opinion that Dunstable deserved at least a draw at Pennydarren Park today.
Pepera on a run weon a free-kick, and this one, by Talbot saw Cathline try to head in vain, with the defender beating him to it. Barrow’s low shot looked good but Head held it. Wilson Ferreira replaced the impressive Keenleyside for the last five minutes of normal time but we had a good five minutes of stoppage time and therein was the damage done.
Jarrad Wright’s header drew the Martyr’s level on ninety minutes and I would hazard a guess that all and sundry would have taken a 3-3 draw at that point and go off with heary handshakes all round. Alas there was a sting in the tail and a conceded free kick four minutes into stoppage time saw Scott Barrow fire in the winner from a beautifully executed free kick from just outside the penalty area. For Dunstable players and supporters it was as heartbreaking as it was a joyful climax for the home side.
It had been an entirely thrilling match full of surprises, twists and turns with the lead changing hands a number of times. The Regiment applauded their team after the game and they deserved it and somehow a last minute defeat rankles more than a sound thrashing. There was praise from the Merthyr officials and the match officials also told me how much they had enjoyed it and praised the attitude of the Dunstable team. If all the games are like that we are in for, at the very least, a thoroughly entertaining season.
Merthyr’s hospitality and sportsmanship were exemplary and suited their excellent new facilities. Dunstable look forward to the visit of Banbury United on Tuesday (16 Aug) and Chesham United on Saturday (20 August).
Glyn Garner, Adam Davies, Curtis McDonald, Ashley Evans, captain, cautioned, Gethin Jones, (Jarrad Wright, GOAL:90 minutes), Rhys Baggridge, Jon Brown (Corey Jenkins), Scott Barrow, GOAL – 90+4 minutes, Kayne McLaggon, GOAL, 12 minutes, (Ryan Prosser), Keyon Refell, GOAL, 68 minutes, Ian Traylor.
Other substitutes- Elliott Scotcher and Jaye Bowen.
Jamie Head, Joe Debayo, (Adam Moussi), Jhai Dhillon, Daniel Talbot, GOAL, 38 minutes, John Sonuga, Adam Pepera, captain, David Keenleyside, this reporter’s Dunstable man of the match, (Wilson Ferreira), David Longe-King, Alex Cathline, GOAL, 73 minutes, Shane Bush, GOAL, 29 minutes, (Daniel Green), Jack Hutchinson.
Other substitiutes- Ashton Grant and Taishan Griffiths.
Referee – Alan Berrow, Lydney, Gloucesdtershire, assisted by Alan Overhtrow, and Darren McMillan, both from Gloucester. All had good games.