Ten o’clock Saturday morning and local referee, Alex Rayment, surveyed the Creasey Park pitch in the biting wind, phone to his ear discussing with match referee, Chris Reeson, 100 miles away, areas of concern which may prevent the game against Stratford Town going ahead. The Met Office app was keenly studied & somewhat worrying forecasts for rain later in the morning and during the afternoon were at the forefront of our minds.
Alex & Chris gave the thumbs up and the pitch passed the first of the three inspections that took place on Saturday.
Inspection number two came at 1 15pm on a damper surface than three hours earlier. There was standing water in the middle of the pitch swollen by the steady morning rain. Our visitors, Stratford Town had already arrived as had some of their fans. Chris Reeson instructed the Dunstable Town officials to clear the standing water from the centre circle by 2 pm, or he would be left with no option but to call the game off. This fate had already befallen Stratford Town once this season, when their match at Basingstoke fell foul to the weather after they had arrived.
Heads were scratched. Phone calls were made. Prayers were said. Creasey Park Duty Manager, Georgina, worked her miracles and got permission for sand to be deployed over the standing water. Match sponsor, Andrew Amu, took charge of the necessary work, & got hold of the biggest receptacle he could find and with a bit of help from volunteers Bradley & Patrick carried sufficient sand to get the pitch in a playable condition.
Inspection number three at 2 pm and the pitch is passed fit. Game on to everyone’s huge relief.
The few hardy souls who braved the inclement weather were rewarded by watching a real feast of attacking, flowing football, played in the right spirit by two teams desperate to get the three points on offer. The attendance of 75 was the lowest of the season. Stratford brought in the region of 20-25 fans so the home support numbered 50 or thereabouts. Barton Rovers, 10 miles up the road also experienced their lowest attendance of the season as did other local teams, Aylesbury, Kempston Rovers & Chalfont St Peter. In the Southern Premier League, Hitchin’s home tie against Farnborough was also their lowest of the season and 190 lower than their season average.
This is the point where I tell you that there is something special and something entirely unique about our young men. They play with the same passion and desire whether there are 75 people watching or 1700. That’s the sign of a true professional. There is a prodigious talent flowing through this team in every position.
Kieran Ogden’s 60th minute thunderbolt nearly broke the back of the net, Arel Amu’s free kick which went up and over the wall and left the Stratford goalie rooted to the spot deserved a goal instead of cannoning off the crossbar. Two thirty yard passes out of midfield which split the Stratford defence were footballing perfection. Had this been a Premier League match, Gary Lineker & co on MOTD would have spent minutes admiring the vision and precision of the passing on display. Several of our young Lads have attracted the attention of League clubs who have sent their scouts and invited them for trials. Do not be surprised if in a year or two some of our team are making a living and a name for themselves in the professional game.
Part of Tony, Gareth and Kevin’s task is to put out a team every week that can compete and go the distance in a League where all the odds are stacked against them. But the other part of that task is to develop these young men to be the best they can be and help them advance to a level where their talents, skills and abilities are duly recognised and rewarded. However you chose to measure success both boxes are being ticked.
This was the second home match in succession where neutrals have said we deserved something out of the game. The second home match in succession where we have lost by the odd goal in 5. The home faithful I’m sure would have probably settled for a draw against St Neots, but yesterday a win, never mind a draw, would have not been unjust or undeserved, In addition to Arel’s free kick against the bar, Ty Ward hit the post in the 5th minute with a beautifully hit shot following a cut back from Andrew Osei-Bonsu and Charlie Black’s shot on goal got caught in the mud which enabled a goal line clearance. On a drier pitch Charlie would have bagged himself another goal.
The margins get thinner and thinner. However all is not doom and gloom. In front of goal we’re starting to create more chances and convert a higher percentage of these chances into goals. Our last three home matches have seen us score two goals in each game, a pleasing achievement and a cause for optimism as we approach the final quarter of the season. The team have scored 5 more goals in the last 8 matches than they did in the first eight matches of the season and conceded 9 less goals in the same period. The same two periods have seen 5 extra points in the last 8 games than were won in the first 8 games. The stats show the tide is turning and all of Tony & Gareth’s hard work is starting to pay dividends just at the right time.
Stratford Town boasted a couple of players with experience playing higher up the pyramid. One of those was centre forward, Mike Taylor, who had bagged a hat trick in the home fixture in October last year and scored a brace today to help his team get over the line. His second goal was well taken and showed why he’s had experience at a higher level with Solihull Moors and Worcester City.
Gedeon Okito returned from injury to captain the side. Charlie Black replaced Ethan Lamptey in the starting X1 which was otherwise unchanged from the side who had gone head to head and fought so valiantly last Saturday against table topping King’s Lynn.
Thrills and spills then ensued in an even opening exchange. Will Hunt was called into action in the 2nd minute producing the first of several fine saves. What a talent Tony & Gareth have unearthed in Will. Their ability to spot young men, ambitious to further their careers, with talent, drive and dedication is remarkable. Will again played an absolute blinder and has justified the decision to step up a couple of leagues and pit his wits against ex pro’s and some future stars of tomorrow.
5 minutes into the game and Andrew Osei-Bonsu wriggled his way past the Stratford backline, got to the by line and squared the ball back across goal to the feet of Ty Ward who shaped his body, found some room, and then struck the ball with the side of his feet, through defenders legs, past the outstretched hands of Louis Connor in the Stratford goal. I waited for the back of the net to ripple. To mine and everyone else’s surprise the ball hit the post and bounced to safety. A let off for Stratford and one which 4 minutes later they capitalised on when Mike Taylor found room in the Dunstable box to score a well taken goal. 1 – 0 Stratford.
There then followed the first of probably only two controversial incidents in the game. Andrew Osei-Bonsu received a delightful through ball and sprinted past the Stratford defence. Only Louis Connor stood in his path and a Dunstable equaliser. Connor went down bravely at Andrew’s feet. Andrew went down in the challenge. The referee waved play on. I saw looks of relief on several Stratford faces, loud appeals for a penalty from most of the Dunstable players, managers and fans behind the goal. The Assistant referee’s flag stayed down and Stratford survived the penalty scare.
A war of attrition was then fought in midfield with both sides playing attacking football, complimenting each other every step of the way. Apart from the goal, honours were pretty even in terms of possession and chances.
On 32 minutes Alex Ward let fly with a screamer which narrowly cleared the crossbar. Dunstable went through the gears and stepped up the pace as the first half neared conclusion.
On 39 minutes Dunstable hit the woodwork for the second time in the match. Arel Amu’s direct free kick was a beauty. Firmly hit, rising and with just enough curve to leave Connor in the Stratford goal rooted to the spot. A lick of crossbar paint was all that stood in the way of what would have been a thoroughly deserved equaliser. Arel’s dead ball ability is akin to that of our former Assistant (Player) Manager, Danny Talbot. Having a dead ball specialist like Arel is such an important and potent part of the Dunstable attacking capability.
Half time and the Dunstable players went up the tunnel one down but still in with a decent chance of turning the score around and getting something out of the game.
Three minutes into the start of the second half and it looked as though a beautiful piece of flowing football between Andrew Osei-Bonsu and Ryan Young had given Charlie Black the equaliser, however the ball slowed up in the muddy goalmouth allowing the Stratford defence to clear their lines.
Two minutes later and instead of being on level terms, Dunstable found themselves two down, with Mike Taylor volleying on the turn past Will Hunt to score a goal of great quality.
Four minutes later Will had to be at his best to stop Taylor getting his hat trick. Alex Ward gave way to Lanre Ladipo & then on the hour mark, Kieran Ogden scored the goal of the match, and surely what will be, come season end, a contender for the DTFC goal of the season.
Fully 30 yards out Kieran pounced on a loose ball and struck it with such strength and accuracy it beat Louis Connor all ends up and drew applause from the whole ground. Take a bow Mr Ogden.
60 minutes played and game on. Captain and Leader of Men, John Sonuga replaced Charlie Black. The game continued at a ferocious pace with the skill shown by both sides belying the soggy, muddy, surface.
Ty Ward and Peter Kioso both needed to be at their best in defensive battles, but it was the latter’s last ditch clearance which gave rise to a corner on the Dunstable right which was slotted home by Liam Francis.
Back then to the two goal mountain to climb. Heads stayed up and so nearly the deficit was reduced. Andrew Osei-Bonsu’s dangerous cross couldn’t fine a blue shirt and then a 40 yard pass from Lanre split the Stratford defence in two for Ryan Young to run on to only to be thwarted at the last minute by solid Stratford defending.
We went into added on time and at last Arel Amu got his just reward for his tireless dedication to the cause with a well placed shot to reduce the arrears. There was still time for Andrew Osei-Bonsu to burst through and shoot but he could only find the side netting.
Ultimately then Dunstable left the field beaten but by no means out played or outsmarted. Credit to Stratford for their part in a thrilling game and for a professional performance and to their friendly Committee who were generous in their praise for our Lads’ endeavours.
Our thanks to local referee, Alex Rayment for carrying out the early morning pitch inspection and again donating his fee to Club funds; to match referee, Chris Reeson, for enabling us to carry out the sanding of the pitch to ensure the match went ahead; to Facility Duty Manager, Georgina, in liaising with everyone in trying circumstances and obtaining clearance from her Management team to let work on the pitch proceed and lastly to Andrew Amu who sponsored the match and carried the sand to the centre circle.
No need for despondency or hand wringing. There’s still plenty of football to be played yet. The lads go about their business in a professional manner and remain respected, valued and appreciated by all of us at the Club. We can ask no more of them than what they do already. They truly are great ambassadors for the Club. Win, lose or draw, they give their absolute all & hold a special place in the history of this Club. Heroes one and all.
We are away to Merthyr Town FC in a rearraged fixture on Tuesday 13th February and then again at home on Saturday 17th February against Hereford FC, kick of 3pm.
This is going to be a big game for both teams and we expect a crowd of approximately 500 at Creasey Park. Gates will be open at 1230 hrs. There will be extra refreshment points to cope with the anticipated large crowd.
We are announcing a special deal for Luton Town season ticket holders of half price entry with proof of season ticket purchase.
There will be extra parking available in the overflow car parks, but it would be advisable to arrive as early as possible to avoid any delays. There will be stewards directing traffic in and out of Creasey Park so please be mindful of your safety and stay on the pavements and walkways when approaching and leaving the stadium.
We hope as many of you as possible will come along and watch the two sides go head to head on Saturday. The weather forecast is for dry and sunny weather. Luton Town have no fixture on Saturday. We have kept admission prices at the same price for Hereford’s visit, unlike other Clubs in the League who have raised their admission prices.
If you haven’t seen Dunstable Town play this season, please come along and watch and support our team as vocally and as passionately as you can.
There will be golden goal and 50 – 50 tickets on sale as well as Club pin badges. The winning pot for the 50 – 50 tickets should be well worth winning given the expected crowd and well worth a £ or £2 investment.
We look forward to seeing you all on Saturday, but before all that our Development squad have a rare home match on Thursday evening against Abbey Rangers, kick off 19:45.
We are Dunstable Town, never bowed, never giving up.