DUNSTABLE DEFEAT LEAGUE LEADERS
Yes, I know we have only played four games but Banbury United came here with three wins from three games and, I was informed, they had not conceded a goal for thirteen games before tonight. There was only one goal but it was one of admirable quality and it did make for a rather testing second half.
But once more, first things first. To honour the memory of Dunstable Town youth team player Ethan Houghton, who died in a road traffic accident, a minute’s silence was observed and this will be followed on Saturday’s game with a further ceremony, with, we hope. all the youth teams present to remember Ethan and the others who lost their lives in such tragic circumstances. As a further mark of respect, the reserve game at Godalming Town, scheduled for Saturday, was postponed so Simon Reilly and his team may be present. We thank the Suburban League for their co-operation.
Banbury United have in recent meetings between the clubs, have been a thorn in Dunstable’s side, conjuring victories however well Dunstable have played.
Not long after I arrived at the ground, I was greeted by our former full-back, David Lynn, who has now returned to the Puritans after a spell with Thame United. He had, unfortunately a caution to mark his return to Creasey Park.
Dunstable were without David Longe-King, who was suspended and also David Keenleyside, who was unavailable. There was also a change to the announced team when Jamie head was injured in the warm-up and, fortuitously, Jack Smith was a substitute and was called to duty, distinguishing himself in the second half Banbury onslaught. The other change from Saturday was a start for Adam Moussi and the return of Zack Reynolds from injury. Shane
Bush and Joe Debayo were on the substitutes’ bench.
The Puritans have been in good form and Dunstable manager Tony Fontenelle was determined to lift the team’s spirits after the heart-breaking stoppage time defeat against Merthyr Town, with Dunstable leading 3-2 in the ninetieth minute. Again it was a hard game and as close as the score suggests.
There was a sense of déjà vu, when Dunstable scored in the same minute as they did against Kings Langley, and had the better of the first half. But just as at Langley , Dunstable had to defend with precision in the second, but, curiously , the Puritans seemed rather mute in front of goal, having few chances for direct shots, despite sumptuous preparatory play.
The game was fraught with tension, particularly in the closing stages, but Dunstable’s dogged play was enough to inflict Banbury’s first defeat of the season, and their first reverse, as I have mentioned, for fourteen games. Talking numbers of games, this was my thousandth game as a Dunstable Town supporter and official, so it was rather satisfying that my personal landmark saw a victory for my club.
Dunstable started confidently, with Jhai Dillon in a wing back kind of role scampering along the left flank looking the business until he ran out of pitch, and Wilson Ferreira trying one, unsuccessfully from range. Reynolds forced a corner and Talbot’s close cross looked good but for the infringement in the crowded area. At the other end, Felipe Barcelas forced a corner, which was adequately defended. Banbury’s preparatory play was impressive, with one move involving so many passes that ended rather softly with a free-kick that was of indifferent quality. It was Dunstable who were getting them on target and one fine shot from Danny green necessitated an equally notable save from Jack Harding, the busier of the two keepers by far.
Jack Hutchinson and Ferreira combined in a decent move, providing Alex Cathline with a chance, but his shot was blocked. This was a positive spell for Dunstable who exploited the lack of direct threats on their own goal. Banbury were undoubtedly smarter in possession, but were weak in the final third.
Dunstable’s direct manner of play was amply rewarded in the twenty-first minute with the game’s only goal, which was well worked and impressively converted. It was Hutchison, in possession who provided the assistance – he approached the bye-line, cut back with a reverse pass to the unmarked Cathline whose finish was laudable. It was the kind of finishing that Banbury were, unexpectedly struggling to emulate.
There was a lot going on, with no quarter asked for or given and this gave the game a bit of a raw edge, and there were two cautions for both teams. It was not a ‘dirty’ match but fiercely competitive, and it was clear that the Puritans were aggrieved at conceding and indeed frustrated by their lack of direct threats on goal in a first half that saw Dunstable look increasingly comfortable, coping well with the stylish Banbury midfield. The visitors made little of their free-kicks, with Duran Martin’s effort providing an easy catch for Smith, who found himself with a lot more to do in the second half. The increasingly truculent Ferreira tried the referee’s patience too much and was cautioned but he was involved in a number of forward moves – one where he flicked neatly on to Cathline whose shot was well blocked – and Duran Martin from a corner spurned the one clear chance laid on for him.
From a Talbot corner, Adam Pepera headed wide and it would have eased matters considerably had he doubled the lead since the game took on an unpredictable nature in the second half. There was little doubt that Dunstable deserved their lead, but the question was as to whether they could sustain their dominance. The consensus was that Banbury had been unexpectedly mediocre in the finish, especially as they worked so hard in providing opportunities. Cleary they had not fulfilled their potential and they needed to improve. This they did, but again, despite their possession, their passing an moving, they became increasingly frustrated that the finishing was found wanting.
Dunstable did not sit on their lead – it was far too slender for that but they were forced into deep defence in a second period that favoured the visitors except in terms of goals. Direct shots were limited and in an inglorious goal mouth melee it wanted just a stabbing foot to score – with Smith heroically diving and blocking – and yet in the best chance, the ball in the net would not have counted as Smith was fouled and there was a bit of shirt pulling that would also have ruled out a goal.
It was close, of course, with the game held up on numerous occasions for players to lick their wounds or to hobble off with many a wince and the customary limp. It became difficult for the officials since more and more spectators contributed to the woeful expedient of berating one decision after another. Tension was the greater cause as well as the frantic pace. Banbury’s aptitude for close passing brought many challenges, but they were not shy of getting stuck in themselves in like manner.
After George Nash’s unsuccessful attempt with a blocked shot, Cathline found himself on a good run, despite his increasing isolation up front. This time he was neatly robbed and Banbury countered again with gusto – but still they struggled for an on target shot. It was like they were dressing in fine suits but could not do their ties up properly. Mark Bell showed creative cunning on a number of occasions, and the Banbury substitutions looked like a good tactical move. But the skills seemed individual and not collective - and a significant lack of cohesion in the final third was working in Dunstable’s favour even if, at times they struggled for possession and cleared poorly to an opponent more than was acceptable. Such was Banbury’s real pressure.
I was mystified by substitute Ricky Johnson entering the fray without a number on his shirt and felt this must contravene Rule number whatever sub section three, paragraph four, but it turned out to be a ‘blood shirt’ as during the half time subs kickabout he had got one right in the mush and literally spilled his blood for the team on his numbered shirt. More than one home spectator had wondered whether a zealous Banbury supporter, with a replica shirt had expressed his dissatisfaction with his team and had elected to show them, by example, what to do by supporting in the most direct manner possible. There were a good many Puritans’ fans present and they were rather vocal and never short of advice for the officials. They added to the bum-clenching drama in Jack Smith’s penalty area and are still wondering how their team could not conspire to get an equaliser that would have been concomitant with their sustained pressure.
Banbury varied their attacking options, sometimes going long – (and this was, curiously, looking more effective. They pumped in free kicks, but found the likes of Dhillon and Reynolds in the way, aided and abetted by the soundness in defence of Sonuga, Talbot and Pepera. Yes, some of it was untidy, some clearances brought only a few seconds of relief, but there was a steadiness about it. I wondered if manager Fontenelle was aware of the irony, when after haranguing the officials over what he saw as an infraction, he then appealed to his players to keep their discipline. When I spoke to him about it he said, with a broad smile, that they were not to do as he did but to do what he says.
What did bring relief were the efforts of Hutchinson to assist Cathline, with Talbot having a sly shot here and there. Banbury‘s substitute Darius Browne proved a feisty player and Callum White showed enterprise as a wing back, with good pace and distribution. One move was broken down by the sheer presence of John Sonuga. There was another bit of irony that one of Dunstable’s best counter moves came after two of their players had fallen to the turf in the build-up. They soon righted themselves when Banbury led a counter attack. But Cathline would not go away and was an obvious target for the forward ball. He had one shot blocked but irritated the opponents since he looked quite capable of the kind of goal he scored at Merthyr despite the attentions of a number of defenders.
If Banbury had circumvented Dunstable’s first half rhythm they had not fully exploited it and with their first league defeat becoming an increasingly likely, imprecisions’ sneaked in. This, coupled with their perceived injustice at the hands of the referee, conspired to aid their impending defeat. One voluminous appeal did little more than delay the game they had injected with a ferocious pace. In pushing forward they had left gaps and Cathline was there to snap up the unconsidered trifles with one move involving Green and Hutchinson threatening to increase the lead for the hosts.
Both teams reacted to injuries received with heartfelt appeals for some compensation, but it bordered on gamesmanship to my mind. It is a bit like a wicket keeper shouting ‘owzat?’ at every ball bowled. We could have had a nasty last ten minutes but the sense of professionalism from both sides prevented this. Banbury sensibly got the ball into the box whenever they could and this brought the required mayhem and but for the heroic performance of Smith they might have got through. Leam Howards had a good go and Bell was still sounding the possibilities and Dunstable made some rather curious substitutions right at the end of normal time.
My eye starts twitching in stoppage time these days and there was the nervous feeling that Banbury would do a Merthyr and net one at the death, which their supporters no doubt felt merited. Indeed a very late corner made home supporters wince until it was cleared. I heard the referee tell the Banbury manager that we had played fifty minutes and the conclusion of this encounter was but thirty seconds away, and this was eaten up by Cathline taking the ball forward and languishing for as long as he could in the proximity of the corner flag. When this was untangled the final whistle went and the points went to Dunstable who reached the dizzy heights of fourth in the table after three wins and a defeat in their four games. I think most of us would have taken nine points from four games at the start of this season.
But upon my word each game has been close, oh so close. But what it does is show the cohesive character of the Dunstable team. I like the way they are playing, and their steadfastness under pressure (the late capitulation against Merthyr being the exception, but in that game they had played under pressure to gain a lead twice in the game). Happily too, I think the standard of football from all teams seen so far, has been notably good. I have thoroughly enjoyed each match and feel this one was a good ‘un for my thousandth game. But just when you feel it might be safe to venture into the warm shallows, the sharks of Chesham United will be coming to Creasey Park on Saturday, (20 August – and not an FA Cup game as erroneously reported elsewhere) and given the real ding-dongs we have had with our Buckinghamshire neighbours, my eye will be twitching again no doubt. We know it will not be easy but I bet it will be as good as the game tonight. It remains for me to say that Banbury officials, and those supporters I spoke to were gracious in defeat and praised the efforts of particular players.
Furthermore, I can say that it was about time that we had a positive result against our Oxfordshire opponents, who, as I have said have had a habit of pipping us at the post.
To conclude, I will say that Nathan Houghton and his family were in our minds and hearts before the game and during it and , as well as expressing our condolences tonight we will also remember him on Saturday, and those of his family who died with him. It cannot bring him back, but we can at the very least, honour his short life. He was one of our own.
DUNSTABLE TOWN Jack Smith, Zack Reynolds, Jhai Dillon, Danny Talbot, (Aston Grant), John Sonuga, Adam Pepera, captain, Wilson Ferreira, cautioned (Taishan Griffith), Danny Green, Alex Cathline, GOAL, 21 minutes, cautioned, Adam Moussi, Jack Hutchinson. Other substitutes – Joe Debayo and Shane Bush.
BANBURY UNITED Jack Harding, Callum White, cautioned, David Lynn, cautioned, George Nash, Jack Westbrook, Andy Gunn, captain, Jack Self, Duran Martin, (Darius Browne), Mark Janes (Leam Howards), Felipe Barcelos (Ricky Johnson), Mark Bell. Other substitutes- Jacob Blackstock, and Michael Hopkins.
Referee – Sam Lewis, assisted by Mark Wetherall and Matthew Lake.