This was a mystifying match. For almost the whole of the proceedings Dunstable were matching their Hertfordshire opponents and their seemed little difference between them. The eventual or indeed immediate difference, of course, was the vital one – finishing. It was a game where both defences could have played tighter, but it was also a game that saw plenty of opportunities that exposed Dunstable as diffident in front of goal. Kings Langley had a keen eye for the finish and for a while it was like the Redditch game – except the opening goal came just two minutes after the referee had signalled the start.
After the heavy defeat at Redditch United, this first home game was seen as an even bigger test, and with a slightly changed line-up for the hosts. Manager Tony McCool had secured both Justin Koeries and Lanre Ladipo – the latter being registered just today. He also put Scott Betts into the heart of the defence and played Arel Amu up front. Amu had missed the match as his registration was not finalised in time for selection at Redditch.
Kings Langley officials arrived early and were chatting to me about their creditable draw against Hereford (who incidentally drew 2424 spectators tonight). Langley had led 2-0 until the Herefordshire side scored three goals in four minutes leaving Langley to scramble an injury-time equaliser. They were full of praise for the Bulls, who in their earlier incarnation concluded their history as Hereford United with a 1-1 draw at Creasey Park in front of just 168 spectators. That programme became a collector’s item but was rather poor in comparison to the splendid new look one tonight masterminded by Scottie, who in former seasons produced an award winning product.
Our visitors tonight weary of the comments made about their modest home and it is as well to remind everyone that they are where they are today on sheer merit. Some described it as a derby but few felt it was that and in any case there is no manufactured rivalry as there was once with Hemel Hempstead Town who are much senior to us these days. In the Langley team was former dunstable youth team player, Dean Hitchcock, and it was a landmark 200th appearance for Callum Adebiyi.
We were met with encouraging and much appreciated comments on our present ‘state of affairs’ in which even our shoestrings have no budget. Indeed one of the top clubs in the division emailed me with encouraging comments that echo what we believe. Our players are raw and inexperienced but they are already growing into their task and every game will seem a heroic struggle. The club referred to had been on the brink of extinction but found a way back and success followed. This reminds me of a line from Dryden, where ‘each brave foe is a friend in the flesh.’
When Dunstable scored their only goal, they celebrated as if they had gone ahead rather than simply reduce the arrears to 1-3. This says a good deal but mostly that they are very much a team in spirit. They are not merely putting in a shift and playing at this level and playing for Dunstable Town means something to them. So it should I hear you say, but in the past we have had our fair share of mercenaries who were quickly moving sideways for a tenner. It is all about individual and team improvement and we know that it will take time and maybe a goodly number of matches.
Whilst it is not entirely pleasant to lose and indeed concede nine goals in two matches, we can draw positives insofar as the effort did not slacken throughout the game. The attitude was Corinthian – with the important exception of two cautions which indicate a degree of frustration but is a broad hint that discipline needs to be tightened.
Kings Langley won this game by playing good, sporting football and by converting the inviting opportunities simply and effectively – and as early as the second minute. In both games Dunstable conceded a very early opener and thus made matters much more difficult. Man of the match, Gareth Price scored the first of his two goals capitalising on a statuesque defence, and was saluted by the sizeable number of visiting supporters.
But in the time between this and the second away goal, some ten minutes later, Dunstable tried valiantly to get back on equal terms, but successive efforts did not test Kyle Forster as much as the decent chaps who went to recover the over hit ball from the car park. There was some good stuff from Brandy Makuendi and Ryan Young. One whipped in cross invited an accurate header but this could only be glanced over the line for a goal kick. Quite simply, the Langley defence was a good deal more solid than the hosts who conceded a goal when Mitchell Weiss made the most of his free header that afforded Garry Malone little chance.
It looked easy and perhaps it was, underlining as it did defensive shortcomings. Dunstable went back to their task gamely and with enthusiasm and new boy Lanre Lapido had a decent shot well saved, after some good preparatory work – notably from Aaron Hudson. The end product was indeed lacking and marksmanship needs improving. Leaving aside the goals, which realistically is rather difficult, we had a very even game – and, as on Saturday, a much better second half where improvement was noticeable – in all but the vital skill of tucking away chances or even having a bit of luck with the half chances.
At the latter end of last season, where results were notably poor, then, as now we became accustomed to generous remarks about the team’s cohesion, spirit and endeavour and this generosity extends only as far as that. On the pitch no-one is sentimental or empathetic. Opponents will be ruthless just as we would and have been. I remember a game at Hertford (who had one John Sonuga in their team) where despite the bon accord with rival supporters, Dunstable twisted the knife to win by five clear goals.
All we seem to ask for now is to start a game without conceding a very early opener, which is always unsettling. Another aspect is the still unclarified aspect of ‘best’ team selection. The managerial trio has begun its task from scratch with only limited time to acquire players and fully test their abilities in training. It is customary to see a ‘rollover’ of players who had proved themselves the previous season. Only two regulars remained which is why the manager’s blog was headlined as ‘our very first game’. This is a new team and the demands on them are high. They are blessed with a very caring and protective manager who sees the glass as half full and never half empty. Results do not seem to bear this out but the improvement each game is noticeable.
This is written after the game of course and such sentiments were not emblazoned on my soul when the third goal went in and, as at Redditch we were three down within half an hour and despite every effort could not claw a goal back before the interval. I had little time to discuss matters with my fellow committee members who had been rushing around ( as I am accustomed to do) ensuring everything was in place. Newly elected Vice –chairman Neil Barker took on a turnstile duty, whilst Chairman Alex distributed his largesse in his inimical manner. We, like the team are pulling together and there is the sincere belief that before too long we will see some reward for our efforts, on and off the pitch. I was grateful that former secretary Malcolm Aubrey came along to ensure that I carried out (to the letter) each particular duty properly.
As I had lost my reading glasses (found later by Oily in the office), the Regiment was of the opinion that my report would be even more short-sighted than usual. Some mimicked my limp, which I hope will be remedied by my foot operation on Thursday. Creasey Park is not a place to go for sentimental sympathy. I recall the club’s record 12-0 victory at Welwyn Garden City where the former Dunstable manager was more concerned at defensive errors that might have led to the concession of a goal. So being ruthless on the pitch is almost a pre-requisite and there is always room for further improvement. On that note, the Welwyn captain, when the tenth goal had gone on, ripped off his armband and said ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’, walked off the pitch in full kit, got in to his car and drove off to imagined dramatic music, heedless of the referee who meekly held up as yellow card to the dust of the departing grumpy one. The Regiment sang ‘cheerio, cheerio, cheerio’ feeling little sympathy. But we expect all that. Each performance has its impurities and the next game you start again hoping to emulate a fine performance.
So three down and little realistic chance of a Roy of the Rovers dramatic comeback – but at least a chance to improve and this is what happened – yet spoilt by a referring decision, which, honestly applied by a referee, Andy Humphries, whose integrity was never in question. He overruled an offside flag, and from that the Langley scored their fourth goal. More of that erelong. I want to mention now the Dunstable goal – the first of the season, which was scored after fifty-six minutes by Daniel Trif and was celebrated fulsomely. It was well constructed and superbly finished and did offer a bit of a lifeline. Usually a team that gets a goal back three down, there is just a slightly formal handshake or a pat on the back – but our chaps celebrated with gusto and why not? There was a chance. They were playing as well as they did in the second half at Redditch, where they went entirely unrewarded. This was something. This was a moment.
Then, after seventy minutes came the cruel fourth goal. I say cruel as, before it was converted at the third attempt, an assistant’s flag was held high and lofty. Off-side ref was the call of the home faithful. But the referee made a demonstrative gesture that clearly over-ruled the flag and a shot was fired in that Malone did well to parry with his knee and the follow-up was blazed wide. Langley obtained a throw-in and a slick pass saw Gareth Price make it 4-1. That was a fine example of playing to the whistle or indeed playing to the absence of a whistle. It just seemed a slice of bad luck and a further example of the toast always falling butter side down.
The remaining twenty minutes saw continued efforts from Dunstable that were all adequately contained by Kings Langley. Both teams made substitutes without altering the overall pattern of the game. The cautions for Brandy Makuendi and Gedeon Okito were borne of frustration and I do feel that three cautions on two games is something to be addressed, especially as our opponents in both games received none.
So, some defensive frailty, and diffidence in front of goal replicated the first game and we cannot be entirely blamed for the view that it is going to be a long, hard season. As at Redditch, the team had to cope with more accurate passing and uncompromising finishing. Some of the Dunstable team showed the kind of individual flair that will contribute to an eventual victory, home or away and however hard-earned. We cannot fault the work rate and references to bad luck are unproductive. We need more moves like the one that brought our solitary goal which at the very least shows that the potential is there to be realised.
It does not, of course, get any easier (it would be dull if it did). Coming to Creasey Park on Saturday is a team that has always been a hard nut to crack- Merthyr Town, and there is a trip to newly promoted Royston Town the week after. I could say that, psychologically, each game is like a cup final to us – but what we want and need are points and points come largely from goals inspired by cohesive preparation and execution on the field of play. The team is emerging and learning lessons from each game. None of us expected this current team to put successive opponents to the sword at the outset and it was pleasing to hear our visiting officials to praise effort and attitude – and this includes the officials – with the referee saying to me that those lads are perhaps better than they think.
It is said that time is a healer and in this case time will probably bring a few notable reverses but I predict that one good win will stoke the confidence – and, as I have said, there is a rich potential there. Importantly, players have no illusions – they are aware if the magnitude of their task but there is an underbelly of self-belief and they know that all we ask if that they give their best – and the best is yet to come.
Garry Malone, Gedeon Okito, cautioned, John Sonuga, captain, Scott Betts, Ryan Young, (Nimmy Aji, 71), Arel Amu, Brandy Makuendi, cautioned, Aaron Hudson (Justin Koeries, 63), Lanre Ladipo, Michael Adeyemi,(Ben Collins, 45), Daniel Trif, GOAL, 56 minutes. Other substitutes- Sam Odusoga and Kelvin Igweani.
Kyle Forster, Gary Connolly, Sam Tring, Callum Adeyibi (200th game), Jorrell Johnson, captain, Dean Hitchcock, Lee Stubbs, Steve ward, (Ollie Cox), Mitchell Weiss, GOAL, 12 minutes, (Matt Bateman), Gareth Price, man of the match, TWO GOALS, 2 and 70 minutes, (Brendan Ocran), Kieron Turner GOAL 27 minutes, other substitutes- Louis Bircham and Josh Coldicott-Stevens.
Referee, Andy Humphries, assisted by Luke Scott and Wyndham Trusler.