HARROW BOROUGH 2 MERSTHAM 2
For the first time this season, Harrow were involved in a drawn game, battling back from twice being a goal down to share the spoils with Merstham in a feisty game at Earlsmead.
With Will Turl and Howard Hall injured last Saturday at Enfield, there was a return for suspension for Arinse Uade at left-back, with Shaun Preddie reverting to right-back. New signing Reis Stanislaus, who’d played an important role for Hendon in their demolition of Borough in Harrow’s last league game, came in up-front, and another new signing, Taurean Roberts, arriving on a dual-registration from Hampton & Richmond Borough, got the nod over Anthony O’Connor in attack.
The visitors were the first to show when the Harrow defence, not for the first time this season, failed to attack the delivery of a corner and as it dropped to the ground, Hamilton-Forbes’s shot was deflected wide. Bamba then cut in from the right, switched back onto his left foot and struck a low shot across the goal. Visiting goalkeeper Haigh made a brave save at Charles Banya’s feet after he had played a one-two with Stanislaus before Sahr Kabba, once of Harrow but now with Merstham, arrived at the near post to hit a snap-shot that was blocked. The visitors got the goal that their early domination threatened in the 26th minute. Play developed on the right and the ball inside found Kabba entering the box in the inside-right channel. Melvin Minter had little choice other than to go out towards him at which point Kabba slipped the ball to his left and Ryan Hall slid it home.
Harrow levelled after 35 minutes. Haigh had just saved again at Banya’s feet when he was drawn to the edge of his box to try to deal with a high bouncing ball. He realised just too late that his momentum was going to see him handle it outside, and made an attempt to chest the ball away. But he made a mess of this and Stanislaus seized on the ball, side-stepped a defender and slammed it home.
Merstham nearly took the lead again when Kabba found Bamba whose shot beat Minter but hit the outside of the post. Roberts tried an ambitious shot on the turn when a square pass to Michael Bryan would have been a better bet. The half closed with referee Forrester finally losing patience with Merstham’s over-physical approach, with two players going into the book. Mind you, the tackle that earned Cooper a booking was somewhat hilarious: it took out Stanislaus but Cooper’s momentum took him head-first into the home dugout!
But Mr Forrester did not appear for the second half. Whether anyone even heard an appeal for a qualified official in the crowd is doubtful, given the ongoing issues with the Earlsmead tannoy, but after half an hour including long discussions with both players and management of both sides, the game recommenced with assistant referee Mr Stevens in charge. The other assistant, Mr Wyatt, looked after the line on the Earlsmead side of the pitch, but there was no-one on the other side and Mr Stevens was also having to attempt to spot any Merstham offsides.
The visitors again looked the sharper as the half began. Hutchings should have done better when – yet again – a corner was allowed to drop to ground level in the Harrow box, and then Addai skinned Uade before finding Bonnett-Johnson, who steadied himself but shot wide. In the 60th minute Roberts, who was having a far-from-pleasing debut, gave away a free-kick, and Ryan Hall’s low inswinging delivery went past everyone in the area, including Minter, and went in at the far post.
One would have hoped that the players of both sides would have tried to help the overworked officials, but Merstham were upset by a very heavy challenge from the already-booked Uade that left Maynard-Abnett on the ground. Harrow refused to kick the ball out of play for him to get treatment, and Bamba took things into his own hands with a crunching tackle on Preddie. Cue players of both hues racing from 50 or 60 yards to join in the ‘handbags’, and people off the benches too: do they not ever stop to think how pathetic this all appears? At the end of it, the two officials held a discussion, dished out three bookings, and lectured the two captains before things continued. Hopefully they told them that with just the two officials, they would be in their rights to abandon the game if there were any repeat.
Things did settle down but Harrow needed some inspiration from the bench and it came when Anthony O’Connor replaced Roberts. Almost immediately, Stanislaus squeezed past Hutchings but poked his shot just wide. But Merstham might have extended their lead when, first, Addai cut the ball back for Kabba to meet with a first-time shot that Minter saved well, and then when Bamba cut inside and shot past the far post. However, Harrow then put the visiting defence under some sustained pressure for the first time. O’Connor’s dangerous cross went begging, and Stanislaus’s flick at the near post from Bryan’s cross was blocked. If Haigh was in the doghouse for his part in Harrow’s first goal, he redeemed himself when first tipping over a Preddie back-header from Alfie Cain’s free-kick, and then by flying to his right to brilliantly claw away O’Connor’s far post header. The dam burst in the 86th minute, when Adam Richards got up above everyone to flick home Kurtis Cumberbatch’s driven corner from the left.
Haigh made a good punch clear from another Cumberbatch corner, and Minter saved from Bennett. There was just time for Merstham to rack up a fifth booking before Mr Stevens, who along with Mr Wyatt deserves massive credit for the management of the second half, blew for time. Harrow remain third and have a trip to Staines Town this Tuesday evening.
HARROW BOROUGH: Melvin Minter, Shaun Preddie, Arinse Uade (booked, 58 mins), Adam Richards (booked, 68 mins), Curtis Ujah, Kurtis Cumberbatch, Charles Banya, Mark McLeod (sub Alfie Cain, 75 mins), Reis Stanislaus, Michael Bryan, Taurean Roberts (sub Anthony O’Connor, 73 mins). Unused subs: Richard Pacquette, Tayo Davies-Coker, George Moore.
MERSTHAM: Chris Haigh, Michael Maynard-Abnett, Ben Harrison (booked, 90 mins), Stephen Hamilton-Forbes, Simon Cooper (booked, 45 mins), Jake Hutchings, Alex Addai (booked, 68 mins; sub Dan Bennett, 90 mins), Sean Bonnett-Johnson (booked, 43 mins), Sahr Kabba (sub Ibrahim Fofana, 78 mins), Ryan Hall, Youssef Bamba (booked, 68 mins; sub Reece Hall, 89 mins). Unused subs: Nathan Gordon, Malik Onwugbonu
Referee: Mr P Forrester (first half); Mr M Stevens (second half)
by Simon Grigor