DUNSTABLE TOWN 1-0 BARTON ROVERS (HT 0-0) ATTENDANCE 85
If you were wondering where many of last season’s team went, well the answer was partly answered today as the visiting Barton Rovers squad contained a large number of ex Dunstable Town players – as well as the manager and his assistant. Being the closest club to us, geographically, it may not come as a complete surprise. Others of our former squad have reportedly signed for Chesham United.
Mark Boyce and Anthony Fontenelle, both ex favourites at Creasey Park named the following ‘old boys’ – David Longe-King, Jordan Odofin, Jetmir Esso, Adam Moussi, Nathan Olukanmi, Josh Oyinsan and Curtis Shaw. It is perhaps understandable that Yella would give ‘Boycey’ the heads-up with these players who were, by some accounts, unclear of the progress and the situation at Creasey Park in the close season.
Barton Rovers, are, of course, stalwarts of the Southern League Central Division, and were in the headlines recently following an armed robbery at their Sharpenhoe Road stadium. They, like their hosts have undergone a significant change of personnel, which is far from uncommon with any club.
It was thus of great interest to see how Tony McCool’s developing team would do against players who have had a significant experience of Southern Premier division football. Well, it was very tight with just the one goal, scored with about five minutes of normal time remaining. It was a cracking twenty-five yarder from Arel Amu that looked unstoppable.
This was not a game embellished with flamboyance but instead proved to be a most useful preparatory/training game where players could once again be scrutinised. It was not immediately fast-flowing either as we saw an almost immediate delay when the Dunstable bench had to sort their balls out, if you will pardon the expression. Conditions were not ideal since rain had persisted but held off for most of the game, which saw Rovers having more of the possession and an inordinate number of corners, some more enterprising than others but most notable for Garry Malone’s perception and agility in the Dunstable goal.
Crosses from Nathan Olukanmi and Ryan Haugh looked good for the visitors and there was a fair headed effort from Adam Moussi, followed by a half chance for Dunstable’s Kelvin Igweani, neatly foiled by Lewis Todd. Josh Oyinsan looked the most dangerous from the proliferation of corners and on a better day he might have bagged a goal or two.
Steady and prosaic the game continued with only gentle reprimands from referee Paul Forrester as tackles were made to appear all the more zealous on the soaked surface. But it was Barton who had shown the more flair in combinational play, turning possession into probing forward moves. Yet the Dunstable defence looked the best we have seen it so far. It was like an unspoken acknowledgement that with the league games approaching, they will be centre-stage and somewhat busy. Maybe I underline that since there were, to be fair, very few chances created for Dunstable as a direct goal threat. It is as if the team is still in self-discovery mode before it can introduce a bit of swagger – and there was a good deal of swagger and class about that late winning goal.
Onlooking Dunstable supporters took the view that this game so far had the hallmarks of a gritty league game and that their team had contained threats, competed well but had not yet produced a zesty move forward that begged the perfect cross and the exuberant finish.
Our new chairman was busy weaving through the spectators selling raffle tickets. He reminded me of that cloth-capped artisan who, sinuous as an eel, slipped through the Highbury hordes with a monotonous call of ‘peanuts’. He often made a sale as a tribute to his artistry. Being of a noble disposition, our chairman asked their chairman to make the draw – and of course, to make the story what you would expect, their chairman, Darren Whiley, picked his own winning ticket.
Our chairman smiled at the irony but showed the Chairman wince. That is to say his face adopted that agonised look as he parted with the money. The Barton chairman, fresh from repairing the stands at Sharpenhoe Road, made an expansive gesture with his hand and said ‘return the prize to club funds’. This was a generous gesture and, as if on elastic the £20 snapped back into the home chairman’s wallet, but not without a sincere show of gratitude. I wish to report that no chairman was hurt in the reporting of this anecdote.
We were all generally complimentary about the first half, but in a way that a theatre audience puts up with a rather wordy exchange by the principal actors before they start slicing each other up with a sense of enduring nobility. Barton had come closer to scoring but they had rather messed up one or two free kicks and had been profligate with corners.
Dunstable still had the title ‘work in progress’ hovering about them, but what progress they have made in these last few weeks has indeed been remarkable. They are keen as mustard as well, with substitutes champing at the bit waiting to come on and give it a go. Barton also made the customary changes, but it was again Oyinsan who came closest to scoring, heading in from a corner prompting a fine save from Malone. Scott Betts received a bit of a finger-wagging reprimand for an ‘industrial’ challenge. Bart Koprowski was also reminded that his earnestness in the tackle on one occasion bordered on the ungentlemanly.
Jetmir Esso, who will be remembered for scoring the late winner for Dunstable last season, - and the only goal of the game at King’s Lynn, had a double effort saved when his free kick was beaten away by Malone and the follow-up shot was pushed against the bar by the home keeper’s fingertips. Things were livening up and also produced more corners for the visitors.
One smart Barton pass forward had Gedeon Okito rush to meet the challenge and appear to get a bit of his opponent’s boot in his mush. Okito, thus felled and then treated gave me time to reflect just how much he is held in esteem by the Dunstable faithful. In the uncertainty of the close season and the thwarted take-over bid, it was Gedeon who kept phoning and telling us ‘I want to stay at Dunstable, even if it means playing for nothing.’ He obtained his wish but unconsciously elevated himself to hero status.
His mop was browed, I mean his brow was mopped and he carried on to good effect. Dunstable were more in it and playing with improved fluidity. It is clear that their training and the managerial exhortations are paying off. It is if they are shaking off the implied pessimism of The Club With No Budget, to the realisation that they are recognised players in their own right and do not need a Cause to prove it. ‘Your players are a lot better than they perhaps realise’, were the words of an observer from the FA.
But it was still 0-0 and looked like remaining so. ‘Someone will sneak one’ said Darren Whiley and it was so – but it was not sneaked. It was a worthy match winner from range by Arel Amu. I announced it as per the shirt number – Dami Salami. I was quickly corrected by a spectator and made the apologetic announcement on the echoing public address system. There were five minutes plus stoppage time left and Barton came very close to equalising and that gave our defence some highly concentrated work to do, which is no bad thing.
Rain fell as the final whistle went and Tony McCool was well pleased with this win. ‘We won against what will probably be a typical team we will be up against. I was pleased with the performance – but the Aldershot game will be very different.’ Aldershot Town will bring a squad to Creasey Park on Thursday 3 August, kick-off 7.15 pm.
Tony Fontenelle looked exactly the same, with his track suit and optimistic smile, the only difference being the badge of his new allegiance. He and Mark Boyce thought that the game had revealed much that needed work, but that it had been a fair and competitive game. It was tacitly implied that each team had done the other a favour. Yella did say earlier that he always found pre-season games never really revealed the full reality of what was to come. In his last season with us we had a dreadful pre-season and then went on to have a short spell right at the top of the table.
I was glad it was over since I was feeling a trifle fatigued, having arrived back from the Isle of Man at 4 am this morning, after a week’s break with my family. I had received updates of the Luton game from the Chairman and quietly applauded the optimism they contained. We move closer to the reality of the Fixture List yet have two home pre-season games to go before the first game at Redditch.
Home supporters applauded their new team off the pitch and the players responded with smiles of appreciation and a high five or two. Such a bonding is important and I do understand why both Tony McCool and Gareth Jackson are so protective of their players and encourage positive comments. It is a big stage out there and the players bear a big responsibility. I conclude by making an indirect observation. I was on my way to Castletown in the south of the Isle of Man and I was reading a Victorian view of the place which was very negative and made only a grudging compliment here and there. When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised that it was a whole lot better than that earlier view. I wanted it to be better – and it was.
Garry Malone, Siyah Ndebele, Gedeon Okito, Bart Koprowski, John Sonuga, captain, Scott Betts, Ryan Young, Brandy Makuendi, Kelvin Igweani, Michael Adeyemi, Aaron Hudson.
Ben Collins, Arel Amu, GOAL 85 minutes, Joseph Chidyausiku, Dami Salami, Oluwanimilo Ajigbolamu, Samuel Odsuga.
Lewis Todd, Jack Mace, Ryan Haugh, Salem Amoako, David Longe-king, Jordan Ododfin, Jetmir Esso, Adam Moussi, Josh Oyinsan, Curtis Donaldson, Nathan Olukanmi.
Gerado Smalldone, Rhys Aldridge, Andrew Whorms, Sean Beesley, Ziahn Waggs, Kieran Barnes, Curtis Shaw.
Referee – Paul Forrester assisted by John Nettleton and James Rhys.