Saturday 21st April 2018, 1500 KO
Dunstable Town FC vs St Ives Town FC
The Build Up
A Christening found me and my girlfriend in the surprisingly pleasant outskirts of Luton on a sunny Saturday, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a match in at such a crucial time of the season. I looked around the fixture lists, found this tasty Evo Stik League South Premier Division relegation scrap, and my mind was made up.
Dunstable Town have had a long and mixed history. Formed in 1883 they’ve folded twice, had the likes of George Best and Jeff Astle in their ranks, and been managed by Barry Fry. Now, in their third iteration, the Blues have flitted from the Spartan South Midland League to the Southern Premier over the last decade or so. Promoted most recently in 2013/4, Dunstable came close to folding in the summer. As a fan owned club, the decision was taken not to pay any players moving forward, and (with the exception of two players) a complete rebuild was necessitated.
Tony McCool has put together a young squad as a result, the majority of the team being under 23 years old. Having finished in 16th last season, with only four games to play, Dunstable were second from bottom coming into today’s match. Two points ahead of Gosport, who occupied the only relegation slot pre-1500, Dunstable play Gosport on Thursday, in the epitome of a relegation six pointer.
One place and 18 points higher were today’s visitors, St Ives Town. Already guaranteed safety, this manager Ricky Marheineke maybe doesn’t have as much pressure for the result, but would of course be fielding his strongest side. Having finished 15th last season, the Saints would do everything in their power to Kings Langley in 21st.
St Ives are relatively new to this level, with Conor Washington’s former employers only joining the league in 2016, when they beat the phoenix club, AFC Rushden & Diamonds, in the Play Offs. Winning one, drawing one, and losing four of their last six games, the Saints were in better form than their hosts, who had lost six on the bounce.
Creasey Park is a very clean and welcoming ground, with a capacity for 3,500. Named after former director Wally Creasey, I’m not exaggerating to say it is home to the most welcoming club I’ve visited. From Club Secretary Andrew Madaras and photographer Chris White to Chairman Alex Alexandrou, every single person I spoke to was incredibly friendly. At £10 for an adult ticket, only £1 for a programme (sparse on paper, but with a very impressive online equivalent) and chips and a Diet Coke just £2.10, Dunstable Town is definitely the cheapest match I’ve visited at Step 3.
A mention to the club officials and fans from St Ives as well, who contributed to a very enjoybale atmosphere on a (mostly) glorious afternoon in the Bedfordshire sunshine. The pitch looked in good condition, and there was an expectant, yet tense, feeling as the match kicked off.
That feeling must have translated to the players on the pitch, because the opening match was more cagey than a WWE Rage-in-the-Cage match up featuring Nicholas Cage. So much so, that it was 19 minutes before either side managed to craft an opportunity. When a good break down the St Ives right wing resulted in a low cross, striker Danny Kelly swept his first time shot against the bar. With the goal gaping and Oliver Snaith eagerly eyeing up the dropping ball, Kieran Ogden dived in with an exceptional clearance.
Three minutes later, Dunstable had their first chance, though it isn’t one Mano Langlais would want to watch back. With the ball dropping, around thirty yards from goal, the deep lying midfielder set himself for a strike. It was one of those shots that has a 10% chance of flying sweetly into the top corner, but sadly this was one of the 90%, and the ball ended up skewing wildly off target.
It was 42 minutes before the next incident that caused me to reach for my pen and paper, and that wasn’t even a shot. When the impressive Andrew Osei-Bonsu won the ball well in midfield, he released Ryan Young on the overlap. Tim Trebes, who along with Charlie De’Ath was making his 150th St Ives appearance, came out to close the space, and managed to get a deflection on the cross. Unfortunately for Dunstable there was no one in the middle to capitalise, and St Ives were able to clear.
Nil nil at half time, and it’s fair to say it hadn’t been a classic thus far. Clearly the pressure of the situation the Dunstable players found themselves in was having an effect, and with the visitors appearing happy to earn a point, there wasn’t much going for the game. Ryan Young, the winger from Wembley, had looked dangerous with his pace down the right, but often the ball to set him free had just been lacking.
Then, at half time came the news that Gosport Borough were somehow 4-0 up against Frome, meaning 23rd and 24th would be joint on points. Quite how a side with only two wins all season go 4-0 up is an entirely different matter, but it meant Dunstable really had to go for it in the second period.
And go for it they did. McCool sent his team out to hassle, harass and press and they showed much more attacking intent. Marshalled and motivated by the vocal pair of captain John Sonuga and Mano Langlais, Dunstable worked about as hard for the next 45 minutes as I’ve seen any team work all season.
With an hour played, top scorer Arel Amu chased down a high ball, beating the St Ives defence for pace. When Tim Trebes jumped to claim, Amu challenged (fairly) causing the ‘keeper to spill the ball. As the ball dropped and Amu looked to collect ahead of Daniel Moyes, he was pulled back quite visibly by Trebes. The goalie’s grip on Amu’s shirt you could have seen it with your eyes shut whilst stood in Hitchin. Bafflingly, the referee who was stood a mere five yards away couldn’t see it, and waved play on. As nailed on a penalty as you’ll ever see.
Well, until five minutes later anyway. When a Gedeon Okito corner reached the backpost, his brother Peter Kioso steamed in at the back stick. With the ball beckoning and glory in his eyes, he was shoved to the floor by a retreating Charlie De-Ath, but once again, referee Paul Johnson said nothing doing.
This (justified) sense of injustice seemed to spur the Blues on further, with Osei-Bonsu coming more and more to the fore. Ethan Lamptey showed some good footwork in the middle, whilst I can’t emphasise enough how hard Langlais worked to keep his teammates’ heads up and drive them forward.
On 72 minutes Osei-Bonsu let fly from thirty yards, but saw his shot drift wide, then five minutes later, the busy Danny Kelly had a similar effort for St Ives. This time Nathan Harness, on loan from Stevenage, palmed it away. It was a difficult last twenty for St Ives, but up until this point, Kelly had impressed me. He won the majority of the aerial balls, but often lacked for willing runners from midfield.
Former MK Dons midfielder, Osei-Bonsu, who is still only 19 looked like a real prospect at times in this match, and on 79 minutes he won a corner. When Okito – who showed good delivery from set pieces throughout – swang the ball in, Osei-Bonsu won the header, but Trebes saved easily.
Seven minutes later Kieran Ogden headed wide from a corner, as Dunstable really exerted some pressure. Clearly desperate for the three points, no one epitomised that desire more than right back Peter Kioso, with the Kinshasa born former MK Dons defender bombing forward time after time to support his attackers.
Two minutes into added time Osei-Bonsu came desperately close. When he got the ball around 25 yards from goal, he made space to shoot and watched as his effort deflected off a Saints’ heel. Cruelly, agonisingly, the ball span away from where the ‘keeper was rooted, but bounced off the outside of the post and wide. A few moments later, substitute Alex Ward got forward well, but his shot was deflected behind.
Just two minutes later, the Blues came as close again, from yet another corner. The impressive John Sonuga rose well to meet a corner, and although he beat Trebes, once again, Dunstable couldn’t beat the woodwork, and the ball clanged off the crossbar.
When Mr Johnson blew the whistle, the Dunstable players dropped exhausted to the turf. Some players were clearly distraught at having worked as hard as they did, having come as close as they did, but still failing to take the three points.
The Wash Up
Tony McCool has a big job on his hands this week, with three crucial matches still to come. As news filtered through that Gosport had won 7-0 against Frome, it meant that Dunstable had dropped to 24th on goals scored. Dunstable still have Frome to play, and Frome’s player crisis is so severe they were only able to field ten men for today’s game – a lot may depend on what sort of side they can put out in the final match.
St Ives can still catch Kings Langley above them, but must surely be looking at their preparations for next season now, whilst the Saints will still be scrapping for every point. I see some sides who are in the relegation zone, and I feel they deserve to be where they are, but with Dunstable I just don’t see it. They worked so, so hard today, and their players left everything on the pitch. They hit the woodwork twice and were denied two stonewall penalties. I genuinely felt for them on the final whistle, but it’s imperative that their players and management keep their heads up and focus on Thursday’s clash against Gosport.
With performances like those that Osei-Bonsu, Langlais and Sonuga put in today, there’s no reason they shouldn’t beat Gosport, and have a realistic chance at points against Biggleswade and Frome as well. Joint on points with the Hampshire side, but with a game in hand, Dunstable’s fate is still very much in their own hands.
I’ll save the last word for Peter Kioso, who was my man of the match today. Some of his driven cross field passes to Okito on the left were exceptional today, and his technical quality was apparent. Pacey and powerful as well, the full back is a real handful and deserved more for his efforts today.
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