This was Dunstable Town’s second visit to the very impressive Arbour Stadium, now fully completed, but it was a return that they might want to forget. The stark reality of football is that matters may change instantaneously and at the interval it would be fair to say that Dunstable had responded well to the hosts’ opening goal to equalise a minute before half-time. They had battled well, defended stoutly and it wanted just the same sort of stuff in the second period.
At that stage it could not be foreseen that they would concede a further seven goals. Slough officials are justifiably proud of the Arbour, which, like Creasey Park is owned by the local council, but it is obvious that considerable thought had gone into its design which anticipates football at a more senior level in terms of the infrastructure – and the artificial pitch means that it may be used intensively. The excellent attendance of 786 meant that all but the foolhardy could be accommodated under cover of what turned out to be an afternoon of intermittent showers.
Of considerable interest was the debut of the youthful Will Henry in the Dunstable goal. He is on loan from Swindon Town and was one of two new signings – the other being Joseph Chidyausiku, who will be annoyed with himself for failing to pull back a goal in a one –on one that clearly favoured him. This was the ninth league meeting between the two sides and, of course the hosts were favourites, having won their last five successive games in league and cup.
Football, like life abounds in ironies and so it was that the first meaningful attempt on goal fell to Dunstable, for Arel Amu, who, latching on to a superb through ball had only Jack Turner to beat but firined straight at the keeper, who saved comfortably. Finishing is one area still under development, and it is highlighted because of the disappointment we feel. A move is created – we slip to the edge of our seats in real anticipation, only to share the frustration of the player who has unsuccessfully unloaded the shot. We console ourselves in the real belief that - it will come, chaps, it will come.
Dunstable had settled well on the artificial pitch, but already they were made to work harder than their hosts who had the greater possession Gedeon Okito, who had the unreserved praise of home supporters for some wonderful intervening tackles throughout the game, provided Amu with a half-chance that on another day might have been exploited. Slough’s James Dobson began to impose himself with both his runs in possession and his rather accurate corner kicks, had to wait until the eighty-eighth minute before he obtained his reward of a goal. But his incursions, along with the tormenting Brad Wadkins suggested strongly that the hosts looked like taking an imminent lead.
Wadkins’ first shot had a cavalier aspect and went well wide, his next shot was well saved by Will Henry and then a cross from Gavin James saw Wadkins put the ball into the school yard of the adjoining educational establishment that bore a prominent motto that may well apply to our players – Aspire, Achieve, Succeed. Set pieces looked dangerous for the hosts and it was from one of these that they opened the scoring. They had already threatened from successive corners, but here they won a free kick wide on the right. A high cross into the penalty box from the ubiquitous Dobson saw Brad Wadkins head past Henry. It was nearly two when Henry’s outstretched leg prevented Warren Harris from converting.
But Dunstable battled commendably against such adversity, but in their next attack, the attempt cleared the cross bar. I focused my attention on the sheer hard work imposed upon Dunstable with the extra running out of possession – and I feel this contributed to their obvious fatigue in the second half. Yet, despite this reverse today, there was a clear improvement shown in play and their attitude did not falter.
Slough had a very reasonable appeal turned down near the half-hour mark. Dobson set up James for a shot that was well saved by Henry who was getting plenty of action. Guy Hollis headed another effort into the school premises and then came some audacious play from Dunstable, who, a goal down did not see this game as irredeemable. Just after James had seen his shot saved by Henry, a forward move saw Lanre Ladipo have a go on goal, saved by Turner. A cross from the right was only partially cleared by Slough and Aaron Hudson, who had been on the periphery, seized on the unconvincing clearance and followed with a low shot to the bottom right corner and thus Dunstable were level.
At this stage, we felt perhaps that this was a turning point – you know what I mean, the plucky underdogs had equalised through sheer persistence and, coming as it did, so close to the interval it was a real boost. The Dunstable committee, so smart these days, and so polite and sporting, allowed themselves a few comments as to the nature of the way their team had battled and had done so well to be level – given the strong penalty appeal and the ‘saving leg ‘ of Will Henry. The undertone was that we might have been glad to snaffle an unlikely point that would have done us all the world of good.
What we eventually got may be summed up in the shorthand cliché of a game of two halves. Well, every game has two halves but this second period was one of such devastation that it beggars belief. My own view is that fatigue plays a part as the energy required of Dunstable players was huge – as it was in previous games where they have held their own for the first half to find the second almost unendurable. Quite simply they have to work a lot harder than their opponents to keep matters stable. With fatigue (but not a dissipation of spirit), mistakes are made and exploited by the opposition.
Every game, and I add sotto voce, every defeat, I hear encouraging remarks by opposition officials to the tune of ‘You have some good players there’, but the unspoken words are that they are just on the threshold of achievement, and the intensive coaching of manager Tony McCool and his assistant Gareth Jackson is paying dividends, not apparent yet in terms of handsome victories, but it is still a progressive work in progress, and given the conditions, an honourable one.
These lads may have had what was a thorough pasting, but they will turn out at Chesham United on Tuesday night with the same indomitable spirit. It is with a heavy heart that I report the second half, but an objective reporter recounts what happened and how, regardless. Tony McCool had elected not to make any substitutions yet and we all knew it was up to Dunstable to consolidate their achievements of the first half and to disregard the perceived notion that their equaliser had been against the flow of play.
Wadkins and Harris combined well in an early opportunity, with a shot deflected for yet another corner – but Ladipo and Hudson had a decent chance to take a cheeky lead and how they did not still haunts me. A Slough free kick saw Henry make a good save again but the concession of a corner with great deliberation by Kieran Ogden was like a harbinger of the capitulation. It was defended well but within nine minutes of the restart the hosts restored their lead when Brad Wadkins blasted into the top right corner from yet another damaging high cross. Within a minute it was 3-1 when home skipper Mark Nisbet volleyed home and I made the mental note that I might find my attention straying from my audio book on the drive home. Two goals of quality and simplicity in as many minutes. Dunstable gamely struggled for possession and after a Slough cross from the left after sixty-five minutes Wadkins made it 4-1.
Home fans relaxed into enjoyment and their substitute Manny Williams delighted them by making it 5-1. Shortly after Okito’s super challenge denied Chris Flood who very nearly made it a sixth goal for the home team. I had made the note that a second Dunstable goal was ‘a remote possibility’ and then there was a half chance for Amu and a golden chance for Chidyausiku who rounded Turner and fired inexplicably wide and I felt the derision heaped upon him by home supporters as he fell to earth in dire embarrassment.
Chris Flood did get his goal, made it 6-1 with eight minutes of normal time to go, Dobson got the goal he richly deserved on eighty-eight and in stoppage time Dobson completed the scoring. So 8-1 and a chastening time it was. Nevertheless this has to be put aside as the team faces Chesham United – a team containing many of our former players from last term. As a matter of history I do recall an 8-1 defeat at Chesham some years ago but the team recovered in the course of the season to be avenged. I cycled home that day in automatic pilot reminding myself that we need to keep the faith.
There are many games to go and each one is an opportunity and it important that our belief in development will bring our much needed first win of the season. It may be closer than we may think. See you at Chesham.
Jack Turner, Sean Fraser, George Wells, Guy Hollis, Mark Nisbet, captain, GOAL, 55 minutes, Nathan Webb, James Dobson, GOAL, 88 minutes, cautioned, Simon Dunn, Gavin James, (Matthew Lench), Brad Wadkins, GOAL, 14 minutes, man of the match, GOAL, 54 minutes, HAT-TRICK – 64 minutes, (Manny Williams, GOAL, 71 minutes, GOAL 90 +1), Warren Harris,(Chris Flood, GOAL, 82 minutes), Other substitutes – Josh Jackman and Lee Togwell.
Will Henry, Ben Collins, Gedeon Okito, Dunstable star player, Michael Adeyemi (Joe Chidyausiku, 61), Keiran Ogden, cautioned, Scott Betts, captain, Ryan Young, Lanre Ladipo, (Sam Odusoga, 81), Arel Amu, Claudio Silva, (Justin Koeries, 76), Aaron Hudson ( GOAL, 44 minutes), other substitutes – David Carty and Olawanimilo Ajigbolamu.
Referee – Dr Daniel Lamport, assisted by Samuel Read and Simon Maynard