Dunstable earned their precious first point of the season and were good value for it in what was their best performance so far and the improvements were manifold and satisfying. On a splendid pitch at Garden Walk, the visitors were defensively sound and tenacious throughout and their travelling supporters and officials can indeed be proud of an unyielding display. In short , it was a comprehensive performance.
The Crows were promoted last season and I welcomed their presence in the Premier Division, since all recent encounters between these two clubs haVE been entertaining and quite exciting. Today was no exception, with neither team content to play for a point; we enjoyed end to end football that contained enterprising play – but overall a point apiece was acceptable; and the frantic last period could well have seen either side snatch a late winner.
With the success of Dunstable’s development squad, first team manager Tony McCool was keen to promote one or two to first team duty, and they did not disappoint. For me, the Dunstable man of the match was goal keeper Garry Malone, whose surefooted performance and vital saves were inspirational to the team and the support he received from his defence was notable. If the team have boosted their confidence, I feel that Garry Malone may feel more than pleased and indeed the goal he did concede smacked a little of misfortune and he was beaten by an untidy scuffed close- range shot.
Oddly, both teams began almost nervously, feeling their way in to the game. Ben Collins almost matched Vinnie Jones for the fastest caution - with barely two minutes played. He fell on a player and then hauled him down. The Crows looked eager but Scott Bridges early shot wide was indicative of a number of missed opportunities. They were keen to get in the crosses but it was soon apparent that the Dunstable defence coped exceedingly well, with Scott Betts imposing himself with authority. A long ball forward from Dunstable had distinct possibilities and needed keeper Joe Welch to run from his line to cut out the chance. Interestingly, Royston tried this on a number of occasions and, pleasingly for the visitors there was always someone to cover,
Gedeon Okito, playing wide on the left was able to cause problems and one of his crosses needed careful defending from Gus Scott-Morris. Royston utilised play well on both flanks and after one foray had seen Malone save well, a following cross seemed to be covered by Malone in the six yard box but a scuffed shot from Sam Ives gave the home side the lead after twelve minutes. It was an untidy goal that emanated from the only real moment of defensive frailty.
Royston had a fair spell after this, with decent crosses from Josh Castiglione and Sam Ives. One could also sense that former Dunstable player Matt Nolan was keen to get himself on the scoresheet – but the best efforts to assist this saw the striker win corners , but get very little change from a focused Dunstable defence. One effort landed on the roof of the net, but later efforts were more notably profligate, clearing the bar by some distance. Scott Morris did pick Nolan out well but Garry Malone read the move superbly and snuffed out the move.
A Dunstable free-kick had suggestions about it but it was well defended and in a short burst of attacking creativity Royston were frustrated by pinpoint defending from both Scott Betts and Keiran Ogden, the latter making his full (and impressive) first team debut. Ives fired in another and Malone pushed out for a corner – one of several to be conceded – but better a corner than a goal and as these sallied in it was always a Dunstable player there to clear well.
Maybe, that given Dunstable’s results so far, the hosts were expecting to increase their lead but the resistance to it was so intense, it may well have affected their accuracy in finishing. There was one loose ball out of defence that gave Scott bridges a decent chance of a free shot but he put the ball into the crowd. Ogden exuded confidence in his spoiling tactics and there was a little scare when a cross from the wily Nolan was deflected towards goal with pace by, I think Lanre Ladipo – but it would have been a cruel and undeserved moment. After Scott –Morris had wasted another opportunity; a Royston player was heard to shout ‘get your shape’. He had a point and one could not say that Dunstable lost theirs.
As we approached half-time, a spectator near me said ‘your lads are battling well’, and I agreed, adding that the defensive display was one that exuded confidence. Dunstable may have gone to the interval a goal down but it was clear that the players were doggedly sticking to their allotted tasks and I felt confident that the equaliser was a probability rather than a mere possibility. I had the feeling that the team was unconsciously intent on showing how well they could defend first and then – with that settled they could go looking for the goal. In recent matches they have created plenty of chances but the finish had been lacking. If keeping a team from scoring again was a tonic – I could envisage that a goal from open play would boost levels of confidence. They had matched Royston well in what was, overall a pleasing first half.
Tony McCool made a couple of tactical ( and as it turned out) inspired substitutions. The feisty, combative Ben Collins, already cautioned was replaced by the pace of Ryan Young and Michael Adeyemi gave way to Sam Odusoga. Justin Koeries came on for the industrious Arel Amu for what was a frantic period of added time and he caused a few problems .
But it was the hosts who asked the first important question when Sam Ives’ shot rebounded off the cross-bar, and I privately thought, well, we deserve just a little bit of luck and if we used it up it did not matter as this second half proved a distinct pleasure to the travelling contingent. Counter play was good to the point of being exuberant, passing was better and zonal possession was good. Defensive tackles were well-timed by both teams, with the usual exceptions – but nothing could detract from the fact that this was a sporting and competitive encounter.
Ryan Young’s persistence is always pleasing but his delivery of an excellent cross saw fans’ favourite Gedeon Okito convert for a well taken and deserved equaliser. We had played an hour and the hesitancy and perceived waywardness of opening games was obliterated. That bit of play was as stylish as one could wish for and Okito had his reward for his excellent contribution to this game. It may well have surprised the hosts who turned it up a notch or two, winning successive corners, but seeing them defended with aplomb. Ives did get in a fierce shot, held by Malone, as he did a couple of free-kicks from dangerous areas.
An almost delightful moment came when a Ryan Young cross fell invitingly in the area but before the trigger could be pulled the off-side flag waved obdurately. I did not mind as it was yet another example of the positive play today. Another chance came when a long clearance from Malone saw Amu with a chance but in the end the final pass turned out to be the wrong one – and it led indirectly to a long ball forward from Royston that was pursued with intent but covered by the Dunstable defence.
Royston opted for a couple of high crosses – the sort that can cause mayhem, but Malone was there both times to claim the ball, Brandy Makuendi combined with Arel Amu in another positive forward move for Dunstable but again the pass just lacked the desired accuracy, with Welch showing he could match Malone for alertness. Young had his chance for glory but he fired straight at Welch. The rhythm of the game was interrupted with a number of stoppages for injuries and this was the main reason for the eternal added on time which proved to be edge of the seat stuff.
Since the majority of the Dunstable players are new to this level of football, one might be forgiven that they might have been forced into errors as the hosts made determined efforts to regain the lead in the late stages. Yes, there were some awkward moments, but some heroic ones as well, with Malone saving late with an outstretched leg and when the ball did get beyond him with another high cross there was always someone on the line to cover – and the ball out was not a hoof but a controlled pass that brought an active counter attack. It is no exaggeration to say that Dunstable might just have nicked a late, late winner – but fairness compels me to say that the same went for Royston. It is great stuff when both teams are playing in the belief that they should be the winners. It was, in a sense, an old-fashioned style of game, where the commitment in the end was to attack and I am delighted to say that this was another example of the always enjoyable games when Royston play Dunstable.
I hope I can be forgiven for recalling that marvellous 4-3 by Dunstable in the very last minute in far off Spartan days. That season we had a right battle for top spot with Royston who, in the end were promoted with Dunstable as runners up – and that led to the famous invincible season when Dunstable were promoted without losing a single league game. That day brought a win but today was a fighting draw and it felt like a win, since it meant that the first point had been gained and thoroughly deserved at that.
‘Make no mistake’ said Tony McCool, ‘this was a massive point today and a performance we have been building up to and where everyone played his part.’ This was no grab an equaliser and hold on, this was get the goal back and look for a winner. Yes, it could have gone awry but the positive style of play was something to be celebrated given the disappointing start.
No-one so getting carried away, though, since we still look for the first win and in facing league leaders Banbury United, on Bank Holiday Monday the young squad will have their work really cut out for them. Curiously, last season, Banbury were heading the league and succumbed to their first defeat at the hands of Dunstable and later in the season, Dunstable completed an unlikely double over the Oxfordshire side – who have won all four of their league games so far.
Then, of course, we all know that today’s game was a rehearsal for the FA Cup game at Garden Walk next Saturday (2 September). That match also has a bit of a cash incentive with prize money and today’s game has given both managers plenty of scope for their planning for the eliminating encounter. I hope it is as good a game, but for now the focus will be on Banbury United who will be itching to make amends for last season. This promises to be a real test but one I know the players and their manager will relish.
Joe Welch, Gus Scott-Morriss, Lee Chappell, Scott Bridges, captain, Ed Asafu-Asjaye, Daniel Braithwaite, Sam Ives, GOAL, 12 minutes, (Rod Orlando-Young), Stuart Bridges, Matt Nolan,( Martell Powell), James Potton, Josh Castiglione (Ryan ingrey), Other substitutes- Jack Vasey and Romelle Alomenu.
Garry Malone, this reporter’s man of the match, Ben Collins, cautioned, (Ryan Young 45 minutes), Gedeon Okito, GOAL, 60 minutes, Daniel Trif, John Sonuga, captain, Scott Betts,( mentioned in despatches), Lanre Ladipo, Michael Adeyemi (Sam Odusoga 45 minutes), Arel Amu, (Justin Koeries, 90 minutes), Brandy Makuendi, Keiran Ogden. Other substitutes – Claudio Silva, Nimmy Aji.
Referee – Ricky Adams, assisted by Thomas Nicholls and Jordan Whitworth – all had good games and I liked the way that one of the assistants consistently shouted out his reason for a decision – which players seemed to respect.