This latest pre-season game, on an excellent pitch at Creasey Park saw the Canaries go down to two well-taken second-half goals from Leon Cashman and I must say that Dunstable deserved their win. Now I hastily add that there is no sentimental bias from me since my thirty year allegiance was with Dunstable Town not AFC. In fact this was the first time I have seen AFC play against anyone else but Town.
AFC had enjoyed a successful season, reaching the Play-Offs to what was the Southern League Premier Division, losing to Hartley Wintney. Dunstable Town, with no budget, suffered relegation under their new manager in his first season at the club, and both clubs now compete in the Central Division. After what I saw today I would not be surprised if AFC become the senior club – since this 2-0 win contrasts with Town’s latest pre-season defeat against Bedfont Sports.
After being greeted cordially I was told that AFC were missing Nathan Frater and also that they had signed Adam Watkins. If Hitchin’s last game, against a strong Maldon and Tiptree side was a bit of an eye-opener, today’s game also has a degree of suggestibility. In all the games I have seen and reported on so far, I feel this was the least impressive. Many discount the results of pre-season games as being of secondary importance to the achievement of fitness and team bonding; this may be so, but I am not alone in feeling that there should have been a bit more muscle about Hitchin today.
Having said that, the first twenty minutes revealed the Canaries as being in quiet command – but this was not sustained – and remember the searing heat was the same for both sets of players. an early Hitchin free-kick, centrally outside the penalty area resulted in L8ucas Kirkpatrick shooting wide, and shortly after he placed one high of the crossbar. An early goal from Canaries looked certain when they were awarded a free kick right on the ‘D’. Robbie Burns let fly and the ball hit the foot of the post and the urgent follow-up was just defended. In the next move Robbie burns was in possession in the penalty area but neatly dispossessed. He was also involved at the end of some pleasingly intricate forward play but again his effort was off-target.
I was not surprised at this apparent domination, and indeed was expecting it and my scribbled notes read that AFC were so far lacking cohesion. Ryan Frater, a brick wall of a defender, faced with someone like Trey Charles is like the immovable force against the irresistible object. Well, maybe cohesion was a little lacking they were but they, AFC, played themselves into the game and with clean and imaginative play they wrested the initiative and were beginning to look the better side. But before this, Kirkpatrick had another go on goal, and Jamie Head gathered comfortably. Jamie, of course, is one of a number of Town players who have made the short journey that divides AFC and Town. This young goalkeeper got me into a lot of trouble on one occasion, when playing against a club I will only identify as a Southern Central team in the Thames valley– and I will expand in my half-time unrelated bit. Head went off a little later to be replaced by Matt Sampson, who successfully defended the clean sheet.
Isaac Galliford was successfully remonstrating his ability to become as exciting a pace player as Trey Charles or Paddy Tshikala, but there was a thorny reminder that pace and agility may be nullified by gritty defending. At this point Hitchin had done all but score and with BJ Christie was a lone AFC striker it looked a matter of time before Hitchin would make their forward work pay dividends.
Then there was a water break. Fair enough – but it led to an impromptu and somewhat lengthy conference for both teams and I nurtured the idea that the Hitchin initiative would perhaps be surrendered. Home bias was playfully shown when Galliford was fouled and was derided by home supporters for alleged playacting, his broad grin cited as proof of his deception; but the free kick was unremarkable and justice was thus seen to be done.
It was then that AFC began to turn matters round. A BJ Christie chip was optimistic but then Newman Carney, son of Grant Carney (who once played for Hitchin Town), had two bites at the cherry, both dealt with by Michael Johnson. Following this, Dylan Barker had a free shot which he sent over the crossbar. At the other end another Hitchin free-kick was well-defended and then the impressive Charlie Clayton, wondrous on the left wing saw his effort clear the crossbar.
A Dunstable corner from Charlie May led to a fine shot from Joe Steele that looked the business but there was a fine one-handed save from Michael Johnson that drew spontaneous and deserved applause. A remarkably accurate clearance from Jamie head picked out Kyle Ajayi who fired wide. He had made his presence felt and I was informed that this young lad had represented England Schoolboys. ‘There’s a little snippet for you,’ said Craig Renfrew, AFC’s long-serving secretary. All gratefully received, thank you.
We had reached the interval and it had become clear that the hosts had doggedly played themselves into this game and indeed threatened ascendancy. I had been playfully ribbed by AFC officials as I was wearing a Dunstable Town polo shirt, but I genuinely moved at their good wishes in my new role at Hitchin Town but with the added comment that it was now their turn, poor sods, to read my interminable reports and enthusiastic digressions. ’You write two pages before you get to the kick-off ‘was one remark. I mentioned that someone at Hitchin described me as a ‘Resident Summariser’ which gave me the idea that I slept in the stand and occasionally awoke to read news bulletins.
Talking of digressions, here is the Jamie Head story, which does illustrate the trials of being a club official. In that game against the Thames valley side, Jamie had come out to challenge the striker who had been put through with a clinical pass. In the inevitable collision I feared that young Mr Head would be taking an early shower, but instead the referee booked the striker and awarded a free-kick against the home side. The assessor sitting near me asked me what I thought. I sheepishly admitted that I thought our goalie would be dismissed. ‘Not so,’ said the assessor – sorry observer, as ‘tis now – ‘you were looking at your player, and did not see that the striker had committed a foul’. Thank you, I said and quickly amended my notes and secretly applauding the referee.
At half-time I went to the Board Room, where I recall a notice, the gist of the text being that it would be appreciated if the current game was not discussed in order to keep things amicable. So, I was safe then? Not so. My entrance was greeted like a stranger entering a Wild West Saloon; silence when the imaginary piano abruptly stopped. I gave what I thought was a disarming smile and even took my hat off, fully expecting the request, tea, or coffee? Not so. ‘Your blooming keeper is a blooming disgrace’ was bellowed in my direction and the word was not’ blooming’ but a mite more Anglo Saxon. Since I was the only visiting official I was instinctively aware that my reply would cut no ice. If I had been Clint Eastwood, they would have been pushing up daisies by now.
My cup of tea was then slid in my direction like a glass of beer in the Wild West Saloon, contemptuously along the counter, and the sandwich ended up on the floor, propelled in the same way as the cup of tea, which spilled over my tie and jacket. My only recourse to dignity was to say, ‘It would appear, gentlemen, (I used the word with as heavy irony as I dared), ‘that the drinks are on me.’ Thus unrefreshed, I made my exit, which is why I always carry a little flask with me at most games. Needless to say that in the AFC boardroom I was given coffee and asked to make free with the custard creams.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, er I mean sunny Creasey Park, I used the interval to speak to many people I knew and when play resumed it could not have been more dramatic. From the first AFC Dunstable attack a goal was scored. I say dramatic but this can be modified as the scorer, Leon Cashman, late of the Royal Navy, scuffed the ball home, following a cunning pass. Perhaps Hitchin players were still considering the peroration of their manager which could, I conjecture, be summed up as digitatum extractum. Get your finger out, chaps. It was a curious half and not a bit like the Hitchin Town I have lately seen. Lots of substitutions were made and I was quietly expecting that Paddy Tshikala and Craig Packman would make a telling difference, adding their support to Trey Charles. Ezra Forde had a chance but he dwelled a nanosecond too long on the ball and the chance was lost.
A Dunstable free-kick saw the agile Ajayi make a neat back header, which merely assisted the ball out of play, but it was nice to see. A Conor Clarke cross was too close to Jamie Head and Eliot Bailey got strength behind his shot but it sailed into the car park. Jack Green had a measured shot that was not too wide and Charlie Smith’s effort saw a fine save by the AFC keeper – Sampson. Ayaji had a shot well saved and AFC’s Christian Tavernier demonstrated some text-book defending in thwarting another Hitchin effort.
Trey Charles was working hard as he ever does and his cross brought a Smith corner that was effectively defended. There was no denying that AFC were now the more ebullient side, signified by Charlie Clayton’s magnificent shot rebounding off the crossbar. So both teams had hit the woodwork or whatever they’re made of today, this followed a neat bit of assistance from Ayaji. Any hopes that Hitchin might snaffle a goal from either cunning, or indeed a set piece was put on the back burner when Cashman snaffled his second goal, with little over ten minutes to play. It was a smart header and, I must concede was with the run of play and was deserved.
It was not all up with Hitchin as they continued to provide good preparatory work and a fine angled shot from Craig Packham, but a consolatory goal was not permitted owing to efficient defending. Summing up I would say it was a solid performance from Dunstable and Hitchin were a little below par. Of course I cannot say that this can be translated into ‘AFC will have a wonderful season and Hitchin will have a mediocre one’. This is a pre-season game with lots of subs and the rhythm interrupted with water breaks and the mopping of sweaty brows. Both managers will draw their own conclusions and act accordingly which is what it is all about.
It does, however, signify the end of Hitchin’s pre-season games since on Tuesday they travel to Bishop’s Stortford to contest a game in the Hertfordshire Charity Cup, and as a competitive game it should sharpen attitudes.
From a personal point of view I was pleased to return to Creasey Park and meet some old friends and see a fair game of football where the result was just a little unexpected, but full credit goes to AFC Dunstable who after a shaky first twenty minutes conveniently forgot who was the senior team and got on with it and won deservedly.
Jamie Head, Danny May, Newman Carney, Ryan Frater, Joe Steele, Terry Griffiths, Dylan Baker, Christian Tavernier, BJ Christie, Drew Roberts, Charlie Clayton, substitutes- Leon Cashman, TWO GOALS, 46 and 80 minutes, Kyle Ajayi, Alex Ward.
Michael Johnson, Conor Clarke, Toby Syme, Kieran McCaffrey, Lewis Ferrell, Trey Charles, Charlie Smith, Scott Belgrove, Isaac Galliford, Lucas Kirkpatrick, Ezra Forde, Elliot Bailey, Craig Packham, Jack Green, Paddy Tschikala, Jonny Butler, Desejado Da Silva, Kyle Davison, Charlie Blake, Robbie Burns.