GULLS GRAB IT WITH LATE PENALTY GOAL
Dunstable conceded two penalties in this game, (that makes three in the last two games) and Jack Smith saved the first, but the second turned out to be the match winner for Canvey Island, who deserved to win this match owing to a meek submission from Dunstable, especially in a desultory second half.
But first a bit of consolatory history. We have been to Park Lane before, in 2008, and in the same illustrious competition. We trailed 0-1 at the interval and then came back to win against our then senior opponents by scoring five goals without reply. Oh happy day. Today there was parity, with our opponents in the Ryman Premier and we are in the Southern Premier. We led at the interval and that was as good as it got since an abysmal second half performance saw us almost predictably beaten, even if it was by a penalty.
We were obviously not a big draw as in 2008 there were 306 spectators but today only 238 turned up to see a match that was remarkably low key , given the occasion. Park Lane is in transition, with, probably a sponsored name for the stadium (I never use these, just to be a bit awkward), but the high open terracing was still there affording its view of the Thames estuary with the sorrowful Isle of Grain in the distance. The bar is being refurbished and there was a substitute premises located elsewhere in the stadium.
When I received the team list from Tony Fontenelle, I noticed that Jhai Dhillon had been replaced by Joseph Debayo as left back. This meant a distinct lack of pace on the left flank as Joe is more of a central defender, and indeed he went on to have a bit of a hard time since he conceded the first penalty and was replaced at half –time, by David Longe- King.
The weather turned out to be as unsettled as the match, which never seemed to reach the heights of a dramatic cup tie. I never like to report it but we did not rise above the mediocre today and from my point of view a replay might have injected some cup spirit into the game. A swirling wind did its mischievous bit in spoiling the niceties of play, but did not prevent players lofting balls high and mighty that caused more concern for the poor sods who had to retrieve the errant sphericals. As a spectacle of Ryman Premier versus Southern Premier it was a damp squib as if no-one was overly concerned with the near four thousand quid in prize money. For that sort of dosh we did expect a good bit of derring-do, but it seemed just a bit like a pre-season friendly.
Dunstable won the toss and elected to kick towards the Danny Green stand (yes, it was so named, to the smiling recognition to our own Danny Green). It was a bit of a gamble as the wind was determined to favour no-one. Mind you it was a good few minutes before they actually did kick towards that end as the hosts were determined to make an attacking start, notwithstanding the errors that marked their own eagerness. Dunstable were in their brand new away kit, with narrower back and red stripes with a broad black back with white numerals. I did not care for it myself and the goalie’s mild purple seemed to me a bit of a clash. This kit was used as Canvey had blue shorts and socks.
Of the two sides, Canvey looked the more positive in terms of going forward, with Harrison Chatting and Luis Morrison showing some enterprise. Dunstable were a bit lethargic with Jack Hutchinson determined to do something about it. But there was nothing of note, with over-hit passes and elementary interventions. Before we were fully aware of it almost a quarter of an hour of indecisive football had been played, when to the mild surprise of all Canvey were awarded a penalty. Joe Debayo had committed what seemed an innocuous little trip and the referee signalled the spot kick. Canvey supporters nearby were as mystified as us, but no doubt glad of this spark of action.
Martin Touhy took the kick and Jack Smith saved well. The Gulls’ supporters bore no grudge and some told me that the save was a justification for the iffy penalty award. Now it percolated through that the referee was from nearby Benfleet and that got the Regimental conspiracy theorists at work. The referee was a ‘homer’ and we were thus doomed and may as well chuck in the towel. This was exacerbated by the concession of free kicks from the still out of sorts Dunstable. It was all a devious plot, if you believed the dark mutterings from the Dunstable bit of the ground. This, of course was a cover for the unexceptional Dunstable performance hitherto. The fact was that Dunstable went on to take an opportunistic lead and from that moment they were rather up against it.
The main difference was that in previous games, if Dunstable had seized the lead, even if against the flow of play, they did not sit back, but did their best to increase their advantage. Not so today. They felt they could ride the storm and nick it, but that is not the best way to deal with matters. There were positives, with Hutchinson having a decent shot that required a good save from the huge Canvey goalie who could have tucked our Jack in his shorts. O’Leary and Sheehan had brief moments for the hosts and Chatting was thereabouts enough for him to be eventually awarded man of the match.
For Dunstable we waited for Cathline to impose himself as he has tended to do at the vital moment in recent games. He did not receive the best of service today and had, by his standards, an unremarkable game. He shot just wide after twenty minutes, as did Chatting for the home side. They also had Joey May in an enterprising but ultimately inconclusive role in this first half. Jack Simmons had some lively touches as well. Cathline in one chance for a forward run did well to force a corner and from this Dunstable scored their only goal. It was a little scrappy but persistence was rewarded. Talbot had already seen one or two corners go beyond his intentions, but this was a good one and Shane Bush hustled enough to provide David Keenleyside with the opportunity to finish, which he did well. Thirty-two minutes and Dunstable were ahead, a penalty had been saved and maybe the omens looked good.
But it was not the case as after Canvey Island conceded this goal, they set about the restoration of parity with a grim determination. Apres moi le deluge. They had the greater share of possession, the better chances and we despaired at the meekness of Dunstable for the rest of the game. High balls were sprayed across the Dunstable goal, there was some edgy and not too effective defending and, uncharacteristically they sought to hold their lead rather than seek to increase it, which was their downfall. Canvey pushed and exerted pressure, but in truth they were a bit mediocre themselves and we stuttered to the end of an unexceptional first half.
The absence of Dhillon was keenly felt as his attacking instincts as a wing back would have been welcome. Debayo was substituted by David Longe-King, but it was not until the energetic bola was brought on, oh too late that Dunstable looked like adding to their score. But that is just it, they did not seem to want to and, yes, they have held on to a slender lead before but it is a dangerous game to play.
I am not alone in describing the Dunstable second half performance as somewhat dire. It was rather remiss of them to reserve their poorest showing for what could have been an enthralling cup tie. They were not so much outplayed by the hosts as outfought. They struggled to get possession and when they got it could not retain it with haphazard clearances going to a man in a yellow shirt. Forays on goal were pitifully rare, and it seemed inevitable that an equaliser would come sooner rather than later. Yet it did seem for quite a long time that the game might go to a second showing at Creasey Park, which as the game went on we would have gladly taken. It might have made for a memorable cup-tie instead of this rather downbeat game we saw today.
Man of the match Chatting was in like Flynn, with one going over the bar and one just wide. Jack Smith was again showing he can deal with pressure. But he was beaten at last from a shot just within the area from Touhy , who was no doubt relieved to atone for his bad penalty miss. (That assumes one can agree with Danny Blanchflower who said, imperiously, that no player should miss a penalty and, by way of example he never did). This was a good low shot and the hosts were level, inevitably so, given Dunstable’s decision to defend the lead rather than increase it.
We had played sixty-three minutes and the situation now clearly favoured the hosts. More high crosses came in and there was more nervous and at times unexceptional defending. Corners were generally good, with some narrow misses. But Canvey were not that impressive nonetheless. The fact that they needed a late penalty to win the game says much. And it was late, but it was a much better example of a spot kick that their first penalty. Sonuga was the culprit for a handball. Had he avoided that we would almost certainly have been contesting the whole thing again at Creasey Park. It might have been a mercy, since only isolated Dunstable attacks were in evidence and mostly inspired by the zesty Vences Bola who came on as a substitute, a bit too late for my liking.
With ten minutes to go Canvey got their penalty and converted with much relief, substitute Tony Stokes was the man who got it. Cathline shot wide, Reynolds had a half decent shot but it lacked real punch and in the end the final whistle was just an end to the Dunstable misery. They had been beaten by a team who had not played as well as any of our recent league opponents, but they were better than Dunstable on the day. Tony Fontenelle was gracious and realistic in defeat. ‘There was only one team that was going to win it,’ he told me. ‘We were poor in the second half……’ but I did not need him to elaborate. This was the least impressive performance of the season so far and with a bit more aggression and belief Dunstable could have done so much better.
After all cups run of just one game is a bit of an anti-climax, yet we obtained what we deserved and that was nothing. We rode our luck after the first penalty, the goal was welcome but the lack of positive play from the half hour mark was finger-waggingly poor. All the more so since it was uncharacteristic- we did not want ‘to concentrate on the league’ as early as this. I confess to being a bit glum over this meek surrender, and perhaps listening to a Dostoyevsky audio book on the way home in the rain was none too advisable, since I was not in the mood for ethical philosophy or spiritual crises. But it is all relative – what a week. My daughter sent me a text to ask me to be prepared as she had dyed her natural blonde hair. It was purple forsooth. No it is not she said, it is African Violet. At least she has no tattoos or skin piercings. My son was not as fleet of foot as normal and then I noticed that my whisky bottle was at a low level I do not remember. But I had a snifter before commencing this report. I think I needed it. My lad clinked my glass and said, ‘you lost dad, take it on the chin’. I will, but this was not the best game to watch and my team were far from their best.
So it is back to league action on Saturday 10 September and it marks a return to the Forest of Dean, up that big hill I have cycled to Cinderford Town, who allegedly had promotion forced upon them. I look forward to a more entertaining game at the very least.
Connor Gough, Luis Morrison, Ashley Dumas, Joey May, Ryan O’Rawe, Steve Sheehan, Jack Simmons, Lee O’Leary, George Sykes, Martin Touhy, GOAL, 63 minutes, (Tony Stokes, PENALTY GOAL, 82 minutes ), Harrison Chatting, man of the match, (Mitch Gilbey) – other substitutes- Omar Lawson, Jack Pitty, and Kojo Awotwi.
Jack Smith, this reporter’s Dunstable man of the match, Zack Reynolds, Joseph Debayo, (David Longe-King, 45 mins), Danny Talbot, (Adam Moussi, 81 mins), John Sonuga, Adam Pepera, captain, David Keenleyside, GOAL 32 mins, (Vences Bola, 74 mins, Danny Green, Alexander Cathline, cautioned, Shane Bush, Jack Hutchinson – other substitutes, Wilson Ferreira and Jamie Head, GK.
Referee – Thomas Hancock, assisted by Joseph Karram and Richard May.