PEPERA'S STRIKE IS ENOUGH
Debut for man of the match Bradley Hewitt
THE EVO-STIK SOUTHERN LEAGUE – PREMIER DIVISION 28 Jan. 17
DUNSTABLE TOWN 1 REDDITCH UNITED 0 HT 1-0 ATTENDANCE 109
PEPERA’S STRIKE IS ENOUGH
This was a welcome victory – not as emphatic as had been desired and the changed team worked hard throughout, but there was no poetry in this game. It was as prosaic as they come and, at times, a bit scrappy. I had arranged a pitch inspection at ten in the morning and there was no doubt that the run of postponed games was coming to an end. I had joked with the inspecting referee that we were currently in a good undefeated spell, alluding ironically to the postponements, but the pitch was soft and rather the worse for wear and, importantly, playable.
Both teams had been out of form, with the most startling recent result being Redditch United’s 8-1 thrashing at a resurgent Frome Town. Their most recent defeat was at home to Biggleswade Town and, coincidentally, Dunstable’s new signing was from our county neighbours – and was awarded the man of the match as well – namely centre-half Brad Hewitt.
Home manager Tony Fontenelle gave starts to Nathan Olukanmi and Josh Oyinsan, who had completed a suspension, and Jack Green was in the number eleven shirt as Jack Hutchinson has left to join an Australian club. Recent signing Jack Lampe has also departed for other shores, in the metaphorical sense. However, with a win as necessary and desirable for both teams, we expected an attacking game, but there were very few direct attempts and most of these fell to Dunstable.
A clerical error had former player Jhai Dhillon appearing for both teams in the squad lists, but he returned to Creasey Park as a Redditch United player, following a trial for Grimsby Town. In goal for the Reds was Luke O’Reilly who is on loan from Cardiff City.
The game had a promising start from a Dunstable point of view, with Brad Hewitt making an immediate impact and after a corner skipper Adam Pepera saw his firm header hit the crossbar. A minute later the mercurial Vences Bola fired in a diagonal shot that went wide. Jack Green’s pass to Josh Oyinsan saw the centre-forward attempt a cross but this was well blocked. This was a game where, in general defences dominated, but their task was made easier by some errant passing.
Redditch looked out of sorts and they struggled to get forward. Jordan Jones had ideas and he tried to pick out Donnell Benjamin on one promising move, but like so many succeeding attempts, they broke down through poor passing or casual intervention from those in the blue and white hoops. Dunstable seemed to be shedding the shackles of indifferent form and there was evidence of some returning confidence. They were better in distribution, switching play and were the more probing side. Pepera’s early attempt was about to be topped by a successful strike.
Dunstable forced a corner and Talbot sent it in smartly. This was partially beaten away but Talbot had another chance to cross and this time the tall Pepera headed past O’Reilly. The time of the goal was seventeen minutes and the delight of home players was evident. Nothing restores confidence as much as a goal. But there were no more to come and few chances to get one as well. Shortly after the successful strike Redditch had a chance when Dior Angus and Donnell Benjamin combined but the shot from the latter was deflected harmlessly. There was little bite about the Reds’ attack and even their best chance was slick but well off-side.
Olukanmi’s searching cross was cut out by O’Reilly and his move with Oyinsan brought a corner which after Talbot sent it in close to the goal line, it needed an off the line clearance with Pepera, of all people, close to getting a second. There is no doubt that a second goal would have made Dunstable a lot more comfortable but on this occasion it just seemed highly unlikely that Jack Smith’s goal would be breached. Even when the home keeper was caught out of position in the second half, the Reds got the blues and messed it up.
Gurjit Singh’s lob was well-intentioned but fell haplessly into touch and Shane Bush (extremely diligent today) did more or less the same at the other end. Talbot provided Olukanmi with a similar chance but he too saw his effort clear the bar. A late free-kick from some distance saw the home fans beckoning a crack at goal, and Talbot obliged but it was not successful but at the interval Dunstable were worthy of their lead.
Now I am an admirer of Jhai Dhillon’s footballing skills but his temperament was called into question as he left for the dressing room – he petulantly elbowed Olukanmi and had that been witnessed by the referee Dhillon would not have emerged for the second half. The fact that he did was of little consequence as he had a very quiet game by his standards and he was cautioned as well.
The referee described the game to me later as a ‘typical mid-table’ type of game and I would concur. But it seems to me that both of these teams are below their best and will need a couple more games to get into their stride. Dunstable had the lead, had hit the bar and had one cleared from the line, but ought to have produced more attempts on goal. It seems a long time since they have scored more than one goal in a match (and in others they have failed to find the net at all). Yet there were signs in this first half that there was stringency about their play but the final idea failed to bear fruit. Edging past St Neots by the same score saw the same diffidence in front of goal as today. But there was some flair as shown by Bola and Oyinsan and later by substitute Cathline – but I fear this would not be enough against one of the stronger sides. But it is an important start.
I recall the earlier match at Redditch on the new astro turf and the Reds edged it by the same score as today but those in blue and white probably deserved a draw. Today Dunstable deserved a win for being the more enterprising of the two sides, but lacking the swagger that tends to bring more goals and increased confidence. The youthful Reds’ manager who had routinely criticised the referee’s perceived ineptitude insofar as decisions were allegedly not in his team’s favour, made the objective move of introducing two of his three substitutes at the start of the second period.
If it was hoped that it would change the game’s aspect, it did not. Both managers used all three permitted subs in the end and still we saw no escape from the mediocrity. But the important fact for the home supporters was that Dunstable were ahead and did not look like conceding. Added to this the tally of cautions showed which of the teams was the more frustrated with proceedings with Redditch bagging four yellow cards to the home side’s one. The incidence of fouls conceded increased in the second half of stop/start football. It seemed to me that home supporters were quite content to get the three points and try the really pretty stuff next week. Well, it happens that Slough Town are the next opponents (at their new stadium) and they raised an eyebrow or two by spanking former league leaders Leamington 6-0 at the Windmill Stadium. This enabled Chippenham to ease into the top slot and we have to visit there as well ….
But no-one is at their very best after a lay-off and a couple of poor results. I suggest that there was enough in today’s underwhelming performance to show that (as I used to put in pupil reports) that we have yet to reach our full potential.
Brad Hewitt was a canny signing, showing the same solidity of the injured Sam Doolan. Bola has flair and Cathline can be quiet and then release a venomous match –winning shot. Zack Reynolds and Gedeon Okita still have the flair of attacking full backs and Pepera has never relinquished his inspirational role as leader and, as it turned out, the scorer of the winning goal today. The fact is that Dunstable for some matches have been a work in progress rather than the finished product. But the potential is there.
You could be forgiven for asking where this was in evidence in a scrappy second half replete with free-kicks, ill-conceived attacking notions and just one real goal attempt. Redditch presumably had received a wake-up call from their vociferous manager and their response was to rally and threaten to some extent, but it did not last. They forced three late corners which were routinely defended by a Dunstable defence that was determined not to give anything away.
The best legitimate chance in the second-half fell to Alex Cathline, who had come on as a substitute after a rather prolonged period of balletic preparations on the touch line. Talbot had threaded through a decent pass and Cathline let fly, and the Cardiff city loan player pulled off a magnificent save that will probably make him feel quite pleased with himself. It looked goal bound and the save was indeed worthy of the name. We could have done with more moments like that. Minutes later Reynolds barely tested him with a lob, but it was worth the effort. Redditch looked as if they might have bagged an equaliser with a slick move when Angus, who was still determined, sent a slick pass to the unmarked Luke Keen who felt he was in the frame until the flag was raised for an off-side.
Dunstable contained other efforts, however symbolic and there was an unspoken suggestion that they would take this solitary goal and leave it at that. The referee briefly halted matters to order the floodlights to be turned on – almost as if it might brighten the latter part of the half, but it did not do so. The dark clouds and bright bits of the sky were almost like the game in a way. The Redditch manager complained that not enough stoppage time was played, and he might have a point but his team did not look like scoring and their manager has the task that Tony Fontenelle has had – to raise the spirits and convince his players that they are, in essence a lot better than they appear to be.
When the game ended, Dunstable had their huddle and there was a slight suggestion that it was to admit some relief as well as engendering togetherness. Fontenelle told me afterwards that the change of formation was ‘little more positive’ and that he would have liked ‘to have got more goals, to make it a little less pressurised, as at one-nil I felt they still had a chance.’ But he said, quite significantly that he was ‘pleased we had got a home win, finally.’ I did not expect him to be euphoric, and then mentioned the little matter of facing Slough next week. ‘We’ll enjoy this week’ he said, but the unspoken words were that his team would have to be defensively strong and a lot more audacious in attack if a positive result were to be gained.
And why not? Historically this season the team has fared well against stronger teams and, frustratingly blown it against the mediocre ones or even lost against those who were patently much poorer. Both Fontenelle and Talbot, far from capitulating, have kept their faith in themselves as well as the team and shrugged off the muttering critics. A poor run (hitherto) does not constitute a crisis. There was an indication today that there is a balance in the side and players have shown a willingness to perform for their managers – and also their supporters. To be mid-table is far better than to be in the relegation zone and I believe there will be further progress because of the continuing experiments to find the best line-up and we seem to have overcome the injuries.
We are travelling hopefully and for us to arrive is to regain some of the prowess that marked the opening dozen games of the season. The best may well be yet to come, but the journey is well underway.
Jack Smith, Zack Reynolds, Gedeon Okita, Danny Talbot, Bradley Hewitt, Dunstable Town man of the match, Adam Pepera, captain, GOAL, 17 minutes, Nathan Olukanmi, (Danny Green), Shane Bush, Josh Oyinsan, (Alex Cathline), Vences Bola, cautioned, Jack Green, (Sam Baffour).
Other substitutes- Jordan Odofin.
Luke O’Reilly, Jordan Jones, Jhai Dhillon, cautioned, Duane Courtney, captain, Jordan Brown, (Shuja Mahmood), James Mutton, cautioned, Donnell Benjamin, (Jordan Cullinane-Liburd, cautioned), Eli Bako, Luke Keen, Dior Angus, Gurjit Singh, (Max Loveridge, cautioned), other substitutes – Bradley Catlow GK and Charles Morris.
Referee – Dean Appleby, Lincolnshire, assisted by Spencer Brewer and John Perry, both Hertfordshire.