A plucky second-half revival from Dunstable was not enough, but manager Tony McCool may feel proud of his team today, who played a large portion of the match with ten men after Brandy Makuendi was dismissed with a straight red card. In time-honoured tradition, the ten men played noticeably better than when they had a full complement and came close to securing an equaliser before the game was killed off with a breakaway second goal from the hosts, with eight minutes to go.
The two teams had played out an entertaining 1-1 draw at Garden Walk seven days previously which gained Dunstable their first league point of the season and the visitors were anxious to dispel the memory of their recent defeat against league leaders Banbury United. Of interest to travelling Dunstable supporters was the inclusion in the Crows’ squad of former DTFC players Matt Nolan and John Frendo.
Royston, perhaps aggrieved at dropping points at home against their opponents, began in a purposeful manner, which once again tested the Dunstable defence. Once again, goalkeeper Garry Malone was severely tested and performed as heroically as he did in the last meeting. The hosts forced successive corners and very nearly took the lead when a miss-timed pass from Lanre Ladipo led to a fine shot from Ryan Ingrey, well saved by Malone. Crows’ skipper Scott Bridges blasted a thirty yard free-kick over the bar and this was not the last time he would be off-target in the game, with one later miss being categorised as a sitter. Both sides strayed off-side before James Potton brought a fine save from Malone following another corner.
Keiran Ogden and skipper John Sonuga managed timely defensive interventions and like the Banbury game, Dunstable were under pressure but coping. The pace of the Crows’ Ed Asafu-Adjaye and Gus Scott-Morriss was noticeable and they needed close monitoring. Gedeon Okito was able to skip past a defender before sending in a cross aimed at Brandy Makuendi but this was comfortably cut out. The eager Nimmy Aji was foiled on an attempted run on goal, yet his pass allowed a shot from Arel Amu, which was robustly blocked. Although Dunstable’s play began to show a tigerish aspect it lacked real bite and after twenty –five minutes the Crowes took the lead. Scott-Morriss sent in an inviting cross and Adam Marriott’s successful effort found the bottom left corner. It was with the flow of play and before Dunstable could react positively the hosts forced two more corners, looking for a second goal.
Braithwaite did get a header into the Dunstable net but this effort was dismissed for off-side, bringing the customary scornful response from some of the home contingent. More attacks were met with competent defending but in the thirty-sixth minute Makuendi’s late challenge on Braithwaite was deemed serious enough to warrant a straight red card. Some thought the dismissal harsh, but the referee was well-placed and his decision was instantaneous.
Of course, this made Dunstable’s task much more difficult – yet the irony was that the dismissal was the catalyst of much better play and the second goal for the hosts did not come until eight minutes before the end of normal time. But Royston had their chances to increase their lead before the interval with two blocked shots and a header, from Potton that cannoned off the crossbar. Royston had enjoyed greater possession and had forced Dunstable to defend deeply but with just the one goal difference meant that this match was far from easy to predict.
The half did end with a little bit of handbags, principally involving both those wearing the number four shirts– Bridges and Ladipo. Officials and players swarmed around and the whole thing was diffused in seconds, looking a lot worse than it actually was. If anything it did betray the tension felt by both sides in a game that might have changed dramatically.
Dunstable replaced Ben Collins with Claudio Silva at half time, who turned out to be the day’s surprise package and indeed he came very close to scoring the equaliser. But before this Scott-Morris had a shot saved for the hosts and Bridges shot wastefully wide. Not that long after the resumption there was a double chance for Dunstable involving Nimmy Aji and Arel Amu. Aji had evaded the off-side and stormed towards goal – his effort was beaten away but only as far as Amu whose shot lacked the required venom or cunning and Joe Welch made his first important save of the match.
Another Dunstable attack was ruled off-side and from Royston’s tenth and eleventh corners of the game, one went over the bar and substitute John Castiglione saw his effort blocked. John Frendo came on to face his former club but failed to get a shot on target. Perhaps the best chance for a Dunstable equaliser came when Aji combined with Silva and Welch was forced to save. Like many, I seemed to forget that Dunstable were a man short, such was their overall improvement.
It was pleasing to see Dunstable committed to attack, with Justin Koeries and Aaron Hudson completing the substitutions – but, as so often happens the brave hunt for the equaliser was dealt the blow of the breakaway goal from a long ball up field. The defence was stranded and all Crows’ substitute Jack Vasey had to do was keep his cool with only Malone to beat. He did and that late second goal confirmed Dunstable’s elimination from the famous Trophy at the first hurdle. The goal was timed at eighty-two minutes but we still had an action packed last period, with five minutes of added time that brought its own little bit of drama.
First, Frendo missed a golden chance and Bridges baffled all by failing to score from what I have already described as a sitter. It was so late on that one might argue that it did not matter – but it must do to the player concerned. We had reached the very last minute of stoppage time when Frendo ‘routinely’ kicked the ball away, heedless perhaps of the inevitable yellow card. But the referee, after producing the yellow, rapidly produced a red card, which left us temporarily mystified. After Frendo’s angry reaction it was not surprising when the referee informed me that he (Frendo) had used abusive language and thus had to go. It is surprising that a player of his experience should have even placed himself in this situation. It was virtually the last kick of the game and his team had won, so how pointless was that?
Long standing Dunstable fans did not need reminding that Mr Frendo had also committed breaches of discipline whilst wearing the colours of that club, but Frendo’s dismissal had no bearing on the game as the whistle went within a minute after his walk of shame to a not so early bath.
Be assured that Dunstable gave this one a good go and with just a slither of luck might well have clawed the equaliser and maybe even earned a replay. We may praise the manner of Dunstable’s defeat insofar as when the odds seemed stacked against them they played positively and with commendable fairness and spirit.
The return to the league programme sees the club away at Slough Town on their synthetic pitch, and it would have been welcome had they been able to go to this match on the back of a positive result in the FA Cup. But as Tony McCool said in his interview with Puritans’’ Radio, run by Banbury supporters his team are learning and improving with each match experience and they were closer to a positive result. Finally, we wish Royston Town all the best in the next round and thank them for their usual excellent hospitality.
Joe Welch, Ed Asafu-Adjaye, Lee Chappell, Scott Bridges, captain, Adam Murray, Daniel Braithwaite, (Josh Castiglione), Gus Scott-Morriss, Stuart Bridges, Ryan Ingrey, (Jack Vasey, GOAL, 82 minutes), Adam Marriott, GOAL, 25 minutes, (John Frendo, dismissed, 90+5 minutes), James Potton.
Garry Malone, Ben Collins (Claudio Silva, 45 minutes), Gedeon Okito, Lanre Ladipo, John Sonuga, captain, Scott Betts, Ryan Young, (Aaron Hudson, 83 minutes), Brandy Makuendi, dismissed, 36 minutes, Oluwanimilo Ajigbolamu, (Justin Koeries, 73 minutes), Arel Amu, Keiran Ogden.
Referee- Joel Mannix, assisted by Stuart Smith and Panos Fellas.