The Dunstable defence, so impressive in their last two games, became a bit jittery, and looked increasingly vulnerable as the hosts scored four goals in the first half. The visitors had their chances but they failed to convert them. However, they came out for the second half with renewed vigour, pulled a goal back and for a while looked as if they might well obtain more compensation.
Significantly, a number of the home supporters stayed in the ground to join the Regiment in applauding the defeated team off the pitch, in recognition of their persistence over the ninety minutes. There was perhaps recognition as well that with a few more matches they could well turn their gained experience into a victory. That is a better tonic than being gallant losers.
‘You’ve lost no ground,’ said one sympathetic Stratford Town official, keen to inform me that fellow strugglers St Ives Town and Gosport Borough had both lost – and by more or less the same margin as Dunstable, who remain second from bottom, equal on points with St Ives who hold the place above on goal difference. That is a moot point, though as Dunstable do need to restrict the number of goal conceded, as it could be possible that goal difference might ultimately have a say in final matters.
So, what was the difference? Both teams started well, but the home side were far more dangerous with crosses, and in particular from corner kicks, which Dunstable seemed to conceded far too readily. The home statistician revealed that before today his team had taken fifty-three corners and only scored from three. Mind you, he added, the opponents have only scored two from eighty –seven. He keeps meticulous records, that fellow. For Stratford, their ‘surprise’ man of the match, Mike Taylor, was the scorer of a first half hat-trick – but these, I was told, were the first goals he had scored all season. There you are then; it is like a bus, you wait a long time then three come along at once.
In early exchanges, Lee Thomas looked the business and his first shot was held by Casey Harker. With Dunstable forced to play a ball or two back to their young keeper I answered criticism by saying we were not retreating but merely attacking from a different direction – but the visitors were soon on the defensive. After just seven minutes, Stratford broke through and Charlie Evans’ shot was parried into the path of Edwin Ahenkorah who finished smartly. The initial shot seemed to catch the defenders out of their preferred position.
Dunstable very nearly snaffled an immediate equaliser when Peter Kioso’s header was only just over the cross bar. Taylor had another go and Harker gathered well. Kioso had an intended shot blocked and Andrew Osei-Bonsu had a fine shot saved by Louis Connor. At this stage it was quite likely that Dunstable’s eager play might well be rewarded –even if they had a few close shaves at their end. With one of these a defensive ricochet almost deceived everyone and went just wide of the post.
It was not until the twenty-sixth minute that the hosts doubled their lead and it followed a home free- kick, centrally, outside the area. This was put over the bar, but Stratford had another soon after - from about twenty-five yards – it was only partially defended and Taylor was able to lob the ball past Harker.
Far from disheartened, back came Dunstable with another attack, which won a corner and a headed effort from John Sonuga, who was soon back at the other end, making a clearance, close to the goal-line. Taylor went down injured and he had been hobbling a bit – but we suspected that the injury was what ‘The Meaning Of Liff’ (sic), calls a ‘Hoddesdon’, whereby a player implies an injury, hobbles back into the game, wincing but applauded, yet is fooling no-one. He recovered enough to complete his hat –trick and nearly bag another.
Dunstable had a couple of unspectacular free-kicks and then testing cross from Charlie Evans saw Liam Francis almost net a third for the hosts, but it struck the top of the post- and Harker must have got a helping touch as yet another corner was awarded. Whilst all this was going on, we saw Scott Betts off the pitch on the far side and running round the perimeter as if performing a late penance.
‘Has he chucked in the towel?’ asked someone. ‘No’ was the reply, ‘but his taken off one of his boots. More penance? No – apparently he had split his boot and he had to go the long way round as he did not get permission to come back on yet. Meanwhile another couple of corners went in and were beaten away but a third successive one was headed in by Taylor and we still had four minutes to go for the interval.
Elijah Bako had a shot which brought yet another corner for Stratford – this was apparently over hit and the ball drifted out to the right and was crossed and - yes Taylor completed his hat-trick. Not content with this he had one late chance that Harker held.
Thus ended a half where, paradoxically, Dunstable had not been gloriously outplayed – they had contested keenly and one or two of their efforts, on another day might have found the net. And it was agreed that they had played generally well if we omit the rather poor defending at crucial moments. On my way to the boardroom I heard for the umpteenth time remarks that Dunstable have some ‘good players out there’. This is essentially true and they are greedy for experience – even if that gathering of such has brought some significant reverses.
I did notice that in the ‘press-box’ there were two reporters tapping away on laptops, another chap tweeting on a tablet whilst I scratched away on vellum parchment with my fountain pen. Shakespeare himself might have approved. A home official had pointed at the Regiment and their flags and asked me if they turned up both home and away. ‘Every game’, I said and was then told that he admired them for it. I said that some of them even turn up for the training, but without the flags, as they were in the wash.
There was a degree of irony in the fact that Dunstable had, in playing terms, the better second half. Substitutions were made With Brandy Makuendi coming on for Ryan Young. Keiran Ogden (who had played for the reserves on Thursday in a good win over Flackwell Heath), for Aaron Hudson and, much later, Claudio Silva for Lanre Ladipo. The hosts also used their three with Jazz Luckie replacing Thomas, James Hancocks replacing Eli Bako and Justin Marsden coming on for Ahenkorah.
Osei-Bonsu shot over the bar and someone asked me if ‘Bonsu ever scored with a header’, which shows that wit is well and alive in Shakespeare’s county. Indeed it was Bonsu who scored Dunstable’s goal just before the hour mark (with his foot not his bonce) and a little later Gedeon Okito combined with Arel Amu and it was almost 4-2. But only almost. Bonsu had another go and it was only just wide and it was thought that if the visitors kept this up there would be further goals for them – whether or not it was due to the complacency of their opponents.
Then, on seventy-three minutes Dunstable had a kamikaze moment – or rather Casey Harker did. The teenage goal-keeper who had yet to be in a losing team (I am aware that it is just three games) tried to dribble the ball around an opponent who was making a routine challenge. Harker lost possession and substitute Justin Marsden had the enjoyable task of tapping the ball into the untenanted net. ‘That is just lack of experience’ were the consoling words spoken to me by a home official. I tended to agree but I can recall our former goal-keeper and Dunstable legend Paul Taylor doing similar things and he had numbered almost 650 games for the club. It was truly disheartening and Harker’s gesture of annoyance with himself said it all.
But to the final whistle Dunstable plugged away at the onerous task and frustration was evident when Peter Kioso picked up his third caution in as many games. This was the only booking of the match that was free of any venomous intent. As we reached the end James Fry put one over the bar, Claudio Silva had a weak shot on target and a good run from Amu was halted in good time.
If I say that Stratford were not as superior as the score suggested, I think you know what I mean. The hosts had been creative and had finished well – whereas Dunstable had been creative but lacked the vital touch in front of goal. Visiting supporters took some pride in their team’s plucky second half display and were keen to encourage them since they always do their best but they were unable to extend their encouraging ‘run’ of two games unbeaten. They face King’s Lynn Town at Creasey Park on Tuesday night.
Louis Connor, Charlie Evans, Lee Thomas, Andy Gallinagh, Daniel Summerfield, Liam Francis, Eli Bako, (James Hancocks, 72), James Fry, captain, Mike Taylor, HAT-TRICK, 26, 41, 44, (Jazz Luckie, 63), Will Grocott, Edwin Ahenkorah, GOAL, 7,(Justin Marsden, 63, GOAL – 73). Other substitutes – Loyiso Recci and Ben Stephens.
Casey Harker, Peter Kioso, cautioned, Gedeon Okito, Lanre Ladipo, (Claudio Silva, 81), John Sonuga, captain, Scott Betts, Ryan Young, (Brandy Makuendi, 45), Ben Collins, Arel Amu, Andrew Osei-Bonsu, GOAL 59, Aaron Hudson(Keiran Ogden, 40). Other substitutes – Sam Odusoga and Joseph Chidyausiku.
Referee Richard Price, assisted by Richard Cutts and Matthew Hopton – all had very good games.