SAINTS SUCCUMB AFTER BRIGHT START
It is said that if you open a bottle of red wine, it improves in overall flavour if you leave it for half an hour. Well, Dunstable were relatively similar tonight, but their play in the opening spell was as abject as St Ives was scintillating. But the Saints suffered as is considered normal for their holy counterparts. Quite simply, Dunstable maximised their chances and St Ives, for all their creative energy failed to penetrate after their startling opening goal that came from swift counter play.
The hosts’ perplexingly poor start was, I suggest, the result of mini-bus lag after the long trip to Cinderford on Saturday. This, in jest, is my best excuse. The team tonight was at full strength, with the return of Jack Hutchinson and Zack Reynolds. There was a degree of confidence, since the most recent results against St Ives, in the former Central Division, saw Dunstable win away 4-1 and secure a 2-1 home win. There was also the distinct possibility that if results went well – then Dunstable could actually top the table – which they did for a brief while in the ‘as it stands’ table, until Slough Town scored a last minute winner at Weymouth. I will add that Dunstable are level on points and have an inferior goal difference to Slough despite their highest scoring win of the season so far.
Playing in an all-orange strip, the visitors were soon peeling away from Dunstable challenges and making early assaults on goal. Their earliest effort saw a blocked shot and a follow-up effort deflected for a corner, which Pepera headed clear. David Keenleyside sent a cross over the bar, but the smarter play came definitely from the Saints who were winning all the challenges, maintaining or seizing possession and indeed looked the business. One of the Saints’ officials told me that their good start was perhaps owing to their playing two up front, rather than the solitary striker.
They took their deserved lead following a neat bit of finishing from Danny Kelly, after fifteen minutes of impressive, flowing play. Dunstable’s reaction was ponderous rather than spontaneous, but it continued to improve. Jack Hutchinson‘s pass to Danny Talbot saw the latter fire just wide. St Ives had a corner that brought a glancing header that went wide – but Shane bush and Jhai Dhillon fared little better, with Dhillon cross sailing into the car park. Intricacy was needed and it proved to be the way through – for the equaliser at least. Cathline won possession in typical style and his short pass and move with Talbot was subtly undone. Dhillon prowled on the flank and had the chance of a couple of decent crosses, but the Saints’ defence was indeed generally sound. Ten minutes before half-time, a bit of intricate work from Hutchinson and Cathline saw the latter snatch the opportunistic equaliser from within the area and through a crowd of players. I spoke to Alex Cathline before the game and told him he was due a goal. He told me that he would score two, so he owes me one as he was substituted before he could fulfil that prophecy.
The major moment came on forty minutes, when Dunstable, whose recovery from mediocrity was pleasingly apparent, had been pressing to gain the lead, did so with a set piece – the Talbot Trade Mark Free-Kick, which was awarded in the promising area, fairly central, just outside the penalty area. He struck it well and the ball took a slight deflection from a defender’s shoulder but that notwithstanding, it was a fine goal. The significance of that strike cannot be underestimated as it caused some crestfallen looks on the faces of the Saints who had gone from the brightest of starts to find themselves chasing the game. Their frustration came in the form of some robust questioning of the officials’ decisions, but in actual play they had become imprecise, losing the crispness that comes from maintaining possession and magisterial distribution. They had won a number of corners that they tended to hit too long and they began to lose out on the challenge for ‘fifty-fifty balls.
All was not lost for them yet, as they had clearly rattled the home side in the opening thrust, and perhaps a change of formation might have brought benefit. Dunstable‘s tendency to gather momentum after surviving a number of incidents of nervous defending was there but not entirely in abundance. There was a lot of hard work from Sonuga and Longe-King, and they were better at set-pieces. Talbot and Keenleyside’s corners were always a threat. Manager Tony Fontenelle was, among others, in the referee’s ear and on one occasion, the young man in the middle had a quiet word with him. This signifies more by the fact that a bit of niggle had crept in and early in the second half we had one of those long delays before a corner could be spirited across. It seems to have percolated through from the professional game where as corner is delayed because of excessive jostling in the penalty box. The dramatic pushing and shoving, feinted moves and subtle shirt grabbing does not escape officials – and then the corner comes in to a general anti-climax.
The second half was but eight minutes old, when Dunstable, from their first meaningful attack, saw the goal of the night, scored by Shane Bush, from range. The striker had his best game in Dunstable colours, and his magnificent lob appeared to be clearing the cross bar and we prepared for the kind of polite applause that says, good effort, worth a punt. Then in what seemed a long time, the ball dipped and dropped behind goalkeeper Tim Trebes, whose look of surprise matched ours. Our applause was raised a good few decibels, since it was another example of making the most of an opportunity.
For the second time in the season (and in successive games) Dunstable had forged a two goal advantage and in a similar manner. Moments of inspiration, aided by just a little good fortune brings goals. It made the Saints task a lot more difficult, especially as the consensus was that they had been creative in the preparatory work but errant and increasingly inefficient in the finish. They clearly did not think that the score reflected the game as a whole and to their credit they pushed as hard as they could to redress the balance. But the niggle was still there, with exasperation at decisions, and some mist-times challenges – but I must keep this in proportion by reporting that the three cautions of the night went to home players.
Interestingly, some of the Barton Rovers committee were at the game and their neutral stance did not prevent them from deriding a number of refereeing decisions. It seems to be a hobby since they revealed to me that they have spent a whole game barracking the referee only to award him a few marks short of a hundred in the club’s assessment mark. But there were delays for injuries caused by one or two rash challenges. A good Dunstable corner from Talbot saw Cathline head the ball over the bar. Keenleyside, a little quitter tonight, had a fair shot on the turn and at the other end Ben Seymour-Shove had a shot saved by Jack Smith, who turned in another sound performance.
The game did not fully escape the insistence of niggle and petty disputes, but at least we saw some concentrated action in the more pleasing sense. Seymour –Shove put in a fine cross that saw Andrew Phillips shoot wide and a fine run from Zack Reynolds saw a neat pass to Keenleyside who could not evade a defensive move. Joe Carden, had come on as a substitute for St Ives, replacing the scorer of their goal, and I was impressed with his creative vitality. Dunstable, in the closing stages brought on Vences bola, and the Green brothers, Danny and Jack. They played with pleasing exuberance and through sheer persistence and again in crowded conditions, Jack scored the fourth Dunstable goal, which again can be labelled opportunistic and very well taken.
He had been on the pitch for just seven minutes and his bold run amidst the traffic saw him fire well and convert. It was pleasing to see his reaction and indeed the appreciation of his colleagues, one of whom hauled young Jack aloft like a fluttering pennant. This was the most expressive goal celebration so far, which is fine. I do remember the entire team of Kingsbury London Tigers, who once took a shock lead at Creasey Park, choreograph a celebration that was like the New Zealand rugby team. Strange that I remember that more than the hatful of goals scored by Dunstable that night.
Andrew Phillips had another chance that he wasted with a lofted shot over the bar, and there was even a speculative lob from, I think, Liam McDevitt that Jack Smith had to concentrate fully in preventing what would have been a remarkable goal. Carden had another go, saved by Smith, but these proved to be but Parthian darts from a team that knew they had been defeated but by a score they and their supporters felt did not fully recognise their contribution and effort.
But again it must be reiterated that if you do not convert your best chances, well, a miss is as good as a mile and overall the Saints cannot complain with justification. Dunstable deserved the win, as they kept their team discipline and stuck rigidly to their allotted roles. This reporter’s man of the match, ratified by the manager was Danny Talbot, since his free-kick changed the course of the game late in the first half. The late substitutions made the team more vibrant and most importantly the goals were very well taken.
Pleasingly, Dunstable after their nine league games are second in the table on goal difference, and more than one person said that we have been in this position before only to fade without grandeur as the season wore on to conclude the season as a mid-table side. This may be unduly pessimistic, but there is no doubt there are some very challenging fixtures ahead against some of the fancied teams. There is a greater balance in the side and an obviously encouraging team spirit. One thing I learned eavesdropping as I drove the minibus is how much the players are enjoying their games and no one minded the playful ridiculing of one another – and in the midst of all that there is a genuine mutual respect.
The young referee admitted that this was a tough one to oversee in the period that saw a slide into disputatious moments but the game overcame this and one thing is for sure – the return fixture in Huntingdonshire will be a keenly contested fixture.
Dunstable, without a fixture on Saturday, (owing to the FA cup exit against Canvey Island, can enjoy the break, but they then face two tricky away fixtures, Saturday 24 September sees the visit to Burton Park Wanderers’ ground to face Kettering Town and on the following Tuesday there is a trip to Redditch United, wo have installed an artificial surface.
Jack Smith, Zack Reynolds, Jhai Dhillon, cautioned, Danny Talbot, DTFC man of the match, GOAL, 40 minutes, cautioned, John Sonuga, Adam Pepera, captain, cautioned, (Danny Green, 80 minutes), Jack Hutchinson, (Jack Green, 72, GOAL, 78 minutes, David Longe-King, Alexander Cathline, GOAL, 35 minutes, (Vences Bola, 75 minutes), Shane Bush, GOAL, David Keenleyside. Other substitutes – Adam Moussi and Joseph Debayo.
ST IVES TOWN
Tim Trebes, Harry O’Malley, Charlie De’ath, captain, Lee Chaffey, Liam McDevitt, Jack Higgs, Ben Seymour-Shove, Tom McGowen, Andrew Phillips,( Justin Leavers), Danny Kelly, GOAL, 15 minutes, (Joe Carden), Josh Dawkin, Other subs – Scott Sinclair, Jordan Jarrold and Buster Harradfine.
Referee – David Nicholson assisted by Robert Holt and Costa Christoloudou.