Being of a literary disposition, I always associate Dorchester with novelist Thomas Hardy, and if you favoured the Magpies today, the conclusion of the game was as unhappy as a Hardy novel, where characters do their best, do things with the right intentions but ultimately the ending is morose and gloomy and fate does not favour them.
How different from last season was this gritty encounter from the corresponding game last season at Creasey Park where the ‘thieving’ Magpies walked away with a handsome 5-3 victory after being 2-1 down.
At the beginning of the season, at the Avenue Stadium, Dunstable secured a hard earned point in a goal-less draw, with both teams having a goal disallowed. Today’s match was just as tight, but honours were uneven. If I could put on my neutral hat I would say that the visitors today, like Hungerford probably deserved a draw – but at the very least I can add that Zack Reynolds eighth minute strike was a peach of a goal, which caught Magpies’ keeper Alan Walker-Harris slightly off-guard.
From a ‘strategic’ point of view, it does seem that the hosts’ clean sheet bonus is something of a master stroke as it has an apparent effect of keeping players nervously, but entirely focused on this for the whole match. But, by Jove, it was a close run thing today, as it was against Hungerford where the score line replicated today’s. The ‘bonus’ for the spectators was a fine match between two evenly matched teams who held the unspoken view that their side would win whatever. Once Dunstable had gone in front, the visitors reacted in the best way by exerting full pressure and in Hardyesque manner they were denied by the woodwork when an equaliser seemed to be secured. Add to this two late but vital saves by Jamie Head and you have the main story.
Jamie Head? Yes – team news revealed that Jamie Head was back in the colours after a brief spell at Biggleswade Town. A further irony, worthy of Thomas Hardy, was that Jamie Head was holding up the entire visiting team by parking his car where they wanted to put the coach. I sorted this out by waving my arms like those chaps do on aircraft carriers, except I did not have the table- tennis racquets. I did hear one Dorchester player express the prediction that they would return to the coach with three points- which was the right kind of confidence – but they went off without the one they all felt they deserved.
On the bench for Dunstable was a new signing – Gedeon Okito, who, if I am not mistaken, played for Truro city against us on one occasion.
With the temperature a good deal higher than Tuesday where our game against Stratford Town was postponed – the pitch was soft but entirely playable and from the kick-off we witnessed a fast and purposeful pace from both sides. There were, reportedly, scouts from a number of League clubs, apparently tracking the progress of Dorchester’s talented winger Jonah Ayunga. His performance today fully justified the interest. I had joked with our Football Secretary, Malcolm Aubrey that ‘they had a Jonah in their side’ and the retort from him was ‘ I wonder if he is related to Steve Wales?’
Far from being a Jonah in the biblical sense, this outstanding player came within an ace of making a big difference in the score, but he was ultimately subdued by a Dunstable defence that deserves a special mention today.
Both teams went forward with a sense of urgency and it was pleasing to see Danny Talbot popping up as an eager front runner – and he told me later that he was enjoying that role until he felt he was running out of steam – but his contribution was outstanding in all areas of the pitch. Early crosses from Dunstable seemed to assume that Connor Calcutt or Chris Vardy were about seven feet three inches tall, but it showed pugnacity.
All players needed to be alert since the counter moves from both sides were swift and penetrating, and after five minutes it suggested that the first goal would be of vital importance. It came after eight minutes, when the already notable David Keenleyside chased down a loose ball and a quick pass to Zack Reynolds proved a deft move. Reynolds elected to have a go at some range from the right side. The ball was cleanly struck and found the top corner with Walker-Harris misjudging the height and the power.
As welcome as the goal was, it seemed inevitable that the same script of recent games would be enacted. I was reminded of the early strike against Poole Town where Dunstable held onto the lead until stoppage time when a late equaliser was conceded. The only goal of the Hungerford game came in stoppage time as well – but once they had secured the lead today, Dunstable needed to defend with precision and indeed they did so, albeit with some anxiety. This is not to say that they merely sought to protect their lead – but they were forced back under some pressure, yet there were a number of occasions where the classic quick counter might have rubbed salt into Dorchester’s wounds.
A corner from Talbot saw the ball strike the underside of the bar and bounce down invitingly, but there was an infringement. A more ‘legitimate ‘ striking of the woodwork occurred when, after a delightful move involving Neil Martin and Nathan Walker saw the latter head the ball for what seemed an equaliser within two minutes but Dunstable scrambled it clear.
With Adam Watkins fouled, there was a free kick, centrally just outside the area for Dunstable and Keenleyside’s shot was deflected to Walker-Harris. The Magpies began to harass the Dunstable defence and forced a number of corners, with the best chance providing a shot for Ben Watson that went wide. Ayunga also had a pop and his effort was deflected for another corner that was beaten away in not the most convincing manner. Neil Marin had another shot blocked and we noted the excellent work of James Kaloczi (described as ‘immense’ today by his manager). A nervous attempted clearance from head needed a bit of resourceful defending, but it was clear that Dorchester wanted to even matters as soon as possible.
The fact that Dunstable conceded free-kicks in strategic areas underlined the pressure they were under. But this unwittingly showed to full effect the pleasing competence of Adam Pepera, Zack Reynolds and Howard Hall. Keenleyside had hitherto showed his keen side and his first half performance deserves a mention in despatches. Adam Watkins was, as usual in the heart of the matter and his combative nature ‘earned’ him a caution later. Maybe he was exerting himself as when the Magpies were last here, their supporters had singled our midfielder out for comments of a homophobic nature as well as insulting his mum. Today Charlie Davis appeared to be a bit hot under the collar about one or two decisions, which takes little away from his solid performance. I will also add that visiting supporters conducted themselves very well and showed undiminishing vocal support for their team.
To go to the interval with their lead intact was perhaps slightly fortuitous for the hosts – but they had impressed with confident defending and assisting in the opportunities for the quick break. It had been a superb half, being skilful, entertaining, with firm but fair refereeing.
The affable Dorchester committee members, all splendidly suited and booted, were diplomatic in their comments. The unspoken view was that they had deserved an equaliser but that Dunstable had defended well and the sole strike so far was a decent goal. Yesterday I had looked on their web site at the video of their Great Clash with rivals Weymouth. That ended 2-2 in front of the division’s best attendance of 1,808. (Ours that day was 291 and we were all rather pleased at that). What struck me was apart from being a great derby was the Dorchester players’ reaction when they scored their late equaliser. They ran to their supporters to celebrate, which is officially frowned on, but I rather enjoyed the spectacle as it exhibited just how much the players value their supporters and vice versa. Some of my readers may remember when Stuart Strange scored a late, late equaliser against Staines in the FA Cup and he ran to hug the faithful few of the travelling support who shared his glee with pride.
During the interval I had a chat with a chap who was telling me how the place has changed since the old railway line was still in use, before the Beeching axe fell. He used to work on the line he told me. He had always wanted to be a gentleman of leisure but instead of hunting and shooting he had ended up shunting and hooting. That is another bit of Thomas Hardy irony.
There were no substitutions for the resumption, but as the half wore on both managers employed the permitted lot. Chris Vardy had a few lively moments and on one excursion forward shot wide, but his positional sense was proving to be a worry for the visitors who soon placed a man to scupper that tactic. Connor Calcutt seized on one chance to evade his marker but that was well defended. Calcutt’s consistent contributions may be overlooked in the general overview but if you press the red button on him you will see a work rate of grand proportions. The visitors had a fine chance when the ubiquitous Kayunga was unceremoniously upended (with a yellow card for Kaloczi). Jake Smeeton’s firm free kick was deflected off the defensive wall. A high cross from Vardy was defelcted for a Dunstbale corner, and a bit of jiggling from Reynolds and Watkins saw the latter shoot, but straight at the keeper. Steve Wales came on for Chris Vardy and yet again I referred to Wales as Chris Wales who was replacing Steve Vardy. Our commercial director said the fault in my announcing on the tannoy was due to the shot of whisky he had supplied me with before the game.
Zack Reynolds had a great run that brought an equally fine save from the pink clad goalie, ( he would never get away with that outfit on the Hackney Marshes pitches in my day, where goalies wore green , green and green). That was perhaps the closest Dunstable got to number two – and I feel had that one been successful, the fight might have gone out of the Magpies a bit. As it was they plugged away, creating good chances and bringing, as I have said, two vital and classy saves from Jamie Head, who had a fine return to the club in his second debut.
Roache replaced Calcutt to generally good effect, and he had a couple of chances of outwitting a final defender but was thwarted. Reynolds deflected another Dorchester free kick for a corner, and it was from corners from both sides that it looked as if a goal might be the outcome, but defenders were supreme on the day. Watkins blazed one over the bar, Steven Gregory started a move that had almost alarming implications as he looked as if he might do it on his own, but he was thwarted smartly. Head saved at the foot of the post and was there again when it seemed the ball might be squeezed beyond his grasp.
Ayunga continued to be a real threat, and Wales shot wide when a square pass to the waiting Roache might have been the better option. A spirited run by the impressive Keenleyside was also charged down and, being as pessimistic as Thomas Hardy, I felt that the Magpies might feather their nest with a late goal, probably in the last minute of stoppage time. Gary Wharton had come on and he scampered willingly forward, but not always with the ball. He made a useful contribution to the vital keeping of possession as the seconds ticked, and there was of course the usual farting about by the corner flag, with players asking ‘how long ref?’
But for all their endeavour and enterprising play, Dorchester were denied. They are a good team, well organised and creative, but they were contained by a well marshalled Dunstable defence and just a bit of luck. But as Malcolm Aubrey sharply reminded me – Dunstable had also played well and had kept another clean sheet – and that is three in a row. I must add that the last three results have produced two narrow 1-0 victories and the bruising 0-0 against Hitchin Town. So we could do with a few more goals, but each game is proving a hard one and manager Tony Fontenelle offered up the usual comments about ‘grinding out results.’ But he is justifiably proud of the commitment of his squad.
So, Dunstable stay sixth on goal difference to Hitchin town who lost today, but have a game in hand. If the weather is kind, we might, finally, get to meet Stratford Town (who might consider calling themselves Stratford –on Avon in order to avoid confusion with the London borough). They come from Shakespeare’s county don’t you know…..
The game is scheduled for Tuesday 26 January and we have another home game on Saturday 30 January where we play the return game with Cambridge City. So three hard earned points and indeed a game to savour and maybe it augurs well for another good run in the League.
Jamie Head, Zack Reynolds, GOAL, 8 minutes, Howard Hall, Danny Talbot, (Gary Wharton, 81 minutes), James Kaloczi, captain, cautioned, Adam Pepera, Adam Watkins, cautioned, David Keenleyside, Connor Calcutt, (Lee Roache, 70 minutes), Steven Gregory, Chris Vardy, (Steve Wales, 65 minutes), substitute not used – Gedeon Okito.
Alan Walker-Harris, Oakley Hanger, (Liam Sayers, 71 minutes), Jake Smeeton, Franklin Clarke, Matt Oldring, (Mark Jermyn), Charlie Davis, Neil Martin, Nathan Walker, Ben Watson, (Luke Holmes, 63 minutes). Other substitutes – Nick Crittenden and Jason Brookes.
Referee – Paul Evans, assisted by David Jarrett and James Wetherall