DUNSTABLE SECURE GOOD DERBY WIN AGAINST CANARIES
Now I like Hitchin, both the town and the football club and count a few of their supporters as friends and colleagues, I also saw Hitchin Town play long before I ever saw Dunstable, thanks to my father’s insistence on a cycle ride there from Edmonton, north London, ( we visited a large number of non-league grounds by bicycle). But now, as a Dunstablian for decades, when the clubs meet I always hope that my club will give them a jolly good hiding.
Well, if it was not that it was at the very least a comfortable win for the hosts in what was a real derby game in name and nature. It had all those features you expect – zealous challenges, controversial moments, a penalty (initially saved), plus the normal quota of cautions and even one late dismissal for two yellows.
An above average attendance of 254 had assembled in the sunshine for the one pm kick-off and Dunstable’s eventual victory put them at least temporarily on top of the division, which makes that late, late loss at Merthyr Town a bit more galling. Tony Fontenelle sensibly opted to field the same team that had won 1-0 at Hayes and Yeading United in the last game, the only change was on the substitutes’ bench with John Sonuga coming in for Wilson Ferreira.
We had a starling opening minute when Dunstable’s first foray gained them a free-kick, wide on the right. Danny Talbot obliged and there was a shot at lightning speed that cannoned off goalkeeper Michael Johnson’s knee. This early scare contributed to Hitchin exerting some pressure, but in common with their later attempts it was inconsistent and Dunstable defended then as later with a pleasing cohesion and resolution.
A comment I read from Hayes and Yeading United was that our goalkeeper is ‘an eighteen year old stick insect’ and the tactic that ought to have been used was the spraying of high crosses to unsettle the fellow. Well, the Canaries did just that and found that Jack Smith was entirely safe and comfortable, apart from one fumble under pressure that brought an immediate recovery. The Dunstable defence and midfield were adept at creating counter chances and once again Jhai Dhillon showed the value of an attacking full back. Shane Bush almost put the hosts ahead, when a cross from the left saw his head against the post. Some early niggle was manifest with Hitchin’s Robbie Burns claiming some poetic licence with the injudicious use of a raised arm here and a crafty slap off the ball there. This aspect of the game never did get out of hand but the only rally bad tackle was by Lewis Rolfe on Jhai Dhillon and a less lenient referee might have increased the yellow to red.
With away fans claiming that the hosts were getting the benefit of the decisions it enabled them to give ironic cheers with considerable gusto when their side was awarded a free-kick. Talbot’s free-kick from the edge of the area was easy for Johnson and others were defended soundly by Hitchin, who had been unable to sustain their early pressure. It was Dunstable who looked likelier to score and they had indeed come close twice. There was good stuff on the ball from Jack Hutchinson and Alex Cathline and some notable defending from Zack Reynolds and skipper Adam Pepera. What was evident was Dunstable’s persistence, with players like Dhillon and Keenleyside able to win the ball in challenges and also do something positive with it.
For my money Hitchin did what Benjamin Franklin warned about -namely confusing movement with action. The hustled well but tended to over hit passes and so many moves petered out with a limp finish. It was only much later in the game that they provided any serious threat on goal. I noticed they tended to dispute with the officials overmuch and my notes read ‘Hitchin are bitchin’. It did not improve their overall temperament when Dunstable took an opportunistic lead, and again through sheer persistence. Keenleyside held the ball and shrugged off a challenge before a short pass to Shane Bush who espied Alex Cathline, whose back was towards the goal. Then the big striker turned and shot and scored and we had played twenty-three minutes. He had already tested Johnson with similar shot minutes before and the keeper had saved well. Both shots were made possible through Cathline’s sheer strength in holding and keeping
Indeed we hoped this was not be the only goal scored by the hosts as we were in a little danger of infringing Arsenal’s copyright on the 1-0 score-line. So, before we move on let us have a little chant – ‘one-nil to the Dunstable, one nil.’ Thank you, I feel better for that. My little sing-song deflects me from the fact that including today we have yet to win a goal by more than a one goal margin…but we nearly did today. We could do with a better goal difference as it goes.
Some combinative play between Dhillon and Danny Green availed Hutchinson of an opportunity but he was neatly dispossessed and a decent cross from burns saw Reynolds defend neatly. There was a significant crisis that had to be overcome. Play had been stopped and we on the terraces knew not the reason. All players and officials were standing, no-one anywhere was rolling in simulated agony. The cause was the rather late discovery of (probable) fox excrement on our lush surface. This has happened before and I have had to go on with a dustpan and brush to remove the offending droppings. That was all very well but the players and officials had glared at me as if I had performed the original bowel evacuation. But, manfully, Dunstable midfielder and assistant manager found some tissue from somewhere and removed the poop in one fell scoop. Good show that man.
A Hitchin free-kick of negligible quality was dispersed by Keenleyside and Pepera and Burns followed with a surprisingly timid shot that Smith caught gently. A Dunstable corner saw Bush head over the bar. Matt Lench had the right idea in getting the ball into the area and from one of these Liam Brooks shot wide. Another cross saw a header land on the roof of the net. My man of the match, Adam Pepera, was showing good leadership qualities with constant encouragement to his team mates, exemplary defending and offering his advice to the referee…….and let us face it so many players feel that the officials need ‘educating’, judging by the number of times that Rolfe and the Donnelly brothers voiced their disagreements. It had percolated through to me that the Brothers Donnelly have a very competitive nature and may have set a world record by both being sent off in the very first minute in a recent pre-season friendly (so something of a misnomer there).
But Hitchin finished the half on the up roll, so to speak. They forced a late corner and Callum Donnelly’s effort went tamely out for a goal kick, and the last action of the half was a bit of text book defending by the admirable Jhai Dhillon. Dunstable had deserved the lead and looked comfortable. My special guests from Hitchin, the long-serving Chris and John were magnanimous in their assessment of the game thus far. I was generally feeling pleased with myself until one of our supporters told me he had tried to read my last report but had given up ‘after the first three chapters.’ That was a preamble, was my defence. Never mind, let us concentrate on keeping a clean sheet and, if all goes well we will be top of the division until at least a quarter to five.
The Hitchin manager’s half-time peroration had a positive effect as Hitchin emerged lantern-jawed to a man and resolved to do well. They went forward but again ther final cross or pass were lacking in quality. A Dunstable corner plopped onto the roof of the net, a good run from Lench saw a reasonable cross, well defended. Keenleyside assisted Dhillon who cut in from the left and his strong shot was palmed away for a corner by Johnson. A Burns up and under was always optimistivand landed sdafely in Smith’s waiting arms. Substitutions were made – eventually all three for both teams came on to strut their stuff.
Josh Coley, one of the Hitchin substitutes was eager, with a couple of crosses and a decent shot that brought a good save from Smith. The Dunstable goalkeeper did fumble one cross but, as I have said recovered instantly and apart from the Hitchin penalty his greatest problem came from visiting supporters behind his goal who vented their wrath on Smith’s alleged gamesmanship, ie time-wasting. Well, the referee added a full eight minutes by my watch (he told me four, but possibly he did not include the three minutes allowed for maximum subs by both teams). There was some good work by Callum Donnelly, but again there was no end product. Smith was confident and safe in dealing with the high crosses. On two occasions, Pepera was masterly in defence as last man.
Vences Bola, who had made his debut as a substitute at Hayes and Yeading, came on to replace David Keenleyside and it was his goal that made the task virtually insurmountable for Hitchin, but to be fair they did give it a fair old go in the closing stages. A poor clearance from Johnson fell opportunely for Bola who instinctively headed towards the goal and unleashed a shot that found the top left corner.
Callum Donnelly had a shot deflected for a corner and a superb run from defence by Zack Reynolds saw a deft pass to Cathline in the optimum position but the striker’s judgement was just a shade in error and what should have been a third goal went wide of the target.
Hitchin huffed and puffed, frustrated by the stern defending from their opponents, and in stoppage time they were awarded a penalty. Zack Reynolds received a rather soft yellow card for this and as he had been cautioned earlier he was dismissed. Even this penalty did not go right for Hitchin as Will Wright went wrong and Smith saved well and palmed out – but into the path of Robbie Burns who had an easy job to convert. This goal was timed at 90+4 but there were still four minutes to be played and in that time there was a controversial moment involving Smith and one or two Hitchin players, one of whom appeared to be pushed away and acted as if he had received a mortal wound. Hitchin supporters gnashed their teeth and vented their fury.
Despite this dramatic ending most were in agreement that this had been a deserved win for Dunstable, largely owing to Hitchin’s ineffective work in front of goal. But Dunstable were the better organised, the more creative, and the better disciplined. Danny Green spoke to me afterwards and when I asked him to comment on our fair run of form he tild me that ‘there is a good work ethic and a fine team spirit. There are no big-time charlies and everyone wants to put in a good shift.’ That is gratifying to hear.
So, yes, Dunstable went temporarily to the head of the table but before this report was finished, we had slipped to fourth on goal difference as leaders Chippenham won again and remain unbeaten. Now for a bit of relativity. We had a fair attendance for a derby game but there was a magnificent 1401 at Slough to see their derby opener in the new stadium against Hayes and Yeading, Weymouth drew 1231 versus rivals Dorchester and the biggest crowd of the day was at Hereford who had 3102 through the gates. This is all good and healthy stuff.
Next Saturday, 3 September, Dunstable travel to Canvey Island for a reprise of the 2008 draw, and then there is the league match away to Cinderford Town on 10 September.
Finally there was a wry smile from manager Tony Fontenelle, who was delighted with the win and we recall that he had played with distinction in the past for both clubs in the past.
Jack Smith, Zack Reynolds, dismissed after receiving two yellow cards, Jhai Dhillon, Danny Talbot, (David Longe-King), Joe Debayo, Adam Pepera, this reporter’s man of the match, David Keenleyside,( Vences Bola, GOAL, 74 minutes), Danny Green, Alex Cathline, GOAL, 23 minutes, Shane Bush, Jack Hutchinson(Adam Moussi,) Other substitutes – Jamie Head GK, John Sonuga.
Micheal Johnson, Kane Smith, Josh Bickerstaff, Will Wright, Dan Webb, Lewis Rolfe, cautioned, Matt Lench, Callum Donnelly, cautioned, Brett Donnelly, Liam Brooks, Robbie Burns, GOAL, 90+4. Substitutes used – Kieran Barnes, Charlie Payne and Josh Coley. Other substitutes – Alfie Barker and Callum Riley.
Referee – Mike Heavey assisted by Lior koskas and Hugh Gilroy.