Saturday 23rd February 2019, 1500 Kick Off
Harrow Borough FC vs Poole Town FC
The Build Up
With a match of my own in Harrow on Saturday morning, my football watching options were somewhat limited to the north west of London. I was turning out for my (very) infrequent Saturday side – I generally manage one appearance per season – and found that the nearest match was Harrow Borough vs Poole Town at Earlsmead. On occasions like this the Groundhopper App is truly worth its weight in gold, a 20 second search revealing the fixture only 3km away.
It was a corker too, 6th placed Harrow – well and truly off the boil with three losses and two draws in the last five – facing off against a very much in-form Poole Town. The visiting Dolphins hadn’t lost in eight, a run which had seen them overtake Harrow, going six points ahead of them in the final Evo Stik Southern Premier Division South Play Off spot. The Play Off race is really hotting up too – with Poole in the driving seat, Harrow, Merthyr Town, Farnborough, King’s Langley and the division’s form side Wimborne were breathing hot down their necks.
Harrow Borough were formed in 1933, as Roxonian FC, and have spent the majority of their history in the Isthmian League set-up, since getting elected to the league in 1975. Sadly, 44 years of Isthmian history was drawn to a close in the summer, when the Boro were transferred to the Southern League in the restructuring – a 12th place mid-table finish a fitting way for a side who had spent 29 straight years without promotion or relegation to finish. The highlight of their Isthmian stay was surely the 1983/84 title triumph, when the club elected not to take promotion due to financial constraints.
A midweek victory over Hayes & Yeading United on penalties in the Middlesex Senior Cup semi-final had been the sole good point of February for the Boro, who had also seen top scorer Dylan Kearney depart to Sutton United in recent weeks, and the visit of Poole Town promised a difficult afternoon. Tommy Killick’s side were very much on the up, and after a final day of the season relegation from the Vanarama National League South would be desperate to retain their Play Off status, and a shot at returning first time round.
When I arrived at the ground in the unseasonably warm weather, my legs burning after a chastening 5-1 defeat in my own match, I couldn’t initially find the entrance, and had to rely on the presence of a coach from Bournemouth as a waypoint to Earlsmead. The stadium has a capacity of 3,070, and in 1946 saw the record attendance of 3,000 set. Attendances have dwindled somewhat since then, and the average this season is 172.
With a small band travelling from Poole, the afternoon’s attendance of 202 was bolstered slightly above the seasonal average, and included myself and my two teammates. After a 104 mile trip from the Dorset coast, Poole’s fans would have been met with a fairly standard £10 entry fee, and £2 more for a well-packed programme.
At £4 for a hot dog and Diet Coke, the afternoon came in at £16, happily below the £20 I personally feel is a decent limit for Step Three football.
A tetchy opening meant there wasn’t much in the way of real action for the first quarter of an hour. As is often the case, both sides were sizing each other up, and appeared quite evenly matched – all of a sudden, their 3-3 draw last time out made sense. However, even in the somewhat static first 15, it became apparent that the visitors were intent on defending with a high line, when perhaps, it didn’t suit them all that well. This would become a theme, as ‘keeper Luke Cairney found himself forced to spring out of his box more times than Jack.
It wasn’t until the 16th minute when good play by Poole’s Marvin Brooks – who I was impressed by last season in the win away at Dartford – took a grip in the middle and jinked past two in midfield. He slipped a pass through to Jack Scrimshaw, but just as it looked like a presentable chance was on the horizon, the offside flag denied the on-loan Bournemouth striker.
Three minutes later, Scrimshaw did get free down the left hand side of Harrow Borough’s box, and shot sharply across the goal. Harrow’s Hafed Al-Droubi, formerly of Gibraltar’s Manchester 62 (amongst others), got down quickly with a strong hand and pushed the ball clear of danger.
It was around this time that the Boro players really started to pick up on the huge space between Poole’s defensive line, and the territory Cairney could realistically be expected to cover, without being some sort of weird goalkeeping N’Golo Kante. The likes of Josh Andrew and Shaun Preddie started to pump high balls towards the backtracking Poole defenders, particularly targeting the left channel, putting Jack Dickson under real pressure at times.
The warning signs that Harrow were identifying a route to goal were growing, when Michael Bryan ran on to a second ball and drove towards the box, before being brought down in a promising position. Minutes later, with 27 on the clock, another long ball went into no-man’s land, and was chased by Ryan Moss. With no time to think, Cairney headed clear, but the Royal Engineer will have watched with horror as the ball dropped invitingly for Frank Keita 40 yards out. The midfielder stepped onto the dropping ball, and without breaking stride impressively controlled a side-footed volley into the net, putting the hosts one up.
It was possibly harsh on Poole, as the game had been quite even, and Scrimshaw had a header just wide from a corner moments later. With Al-Drubi occasionally putting his mates in difficult positions with a few shanked clearances, I thought that the game could still swing either way, but despite having half the possession, Poole weren’t really able to break through the solid wall of bulk that Nathaniel Oseni and Shaun Preddie combined to form.
Mark Bitmead showed some nice footwork at times, and Ryan Moss was working hard to win the flick ons, but Harrow were short of inspiration too. Anthony O’Connor hadn’t showed much (besides eating the ground when he was fouled outside the box), but all this would change as the striker signed from North Greenford United stamped an indelible mark on the match in the second half.
Shortly before half time, both Poole and Harrow fashioned half chances. A Scrimshaw cross found Sam House for Poole, but he steered his side-footed volley wide, whilst a dropping second ball fell to Ryan Moss in the box, but his shot was well saved by Cairney.
At half time, the true difference in the sides (apart from the obvious goal by Keita) was the solidity of Oseni and Preddie. Whilst Preddie joined the Boro in 2015 from a side in San Francisco, former Man City Academy man Oseni is a recent arrival from Farnborough. They have clearly formed a good partnership though, and were solid under both the high ball and when Poole tried to work their way through. Ably flanked by Josh Andrew (built like a fridge) and Ryan Haugh (approximately 13 years old), their clean sheet at the break was well deserved.
It took only five minutes of the second half for the Anthony O’Connor show to get underway. With 18-goal Dylan Kearney out the door, Harrow would need someone else to pick up the slack, and O’Connor (who started the day with ten goals), like a footballing Martin Luther, firmly nailed his name to the door. On fifty minutes, he was set clear by a pass from midfield. As he opened his body up to bend the right-footed shot around Cairney, he scuffed his shot horribly, and like everyone else in the ground watched awkwardly as the scuff wrong-footed Cairney and dribbled into the net. 2-0, and one of the finest finishes you’re likely to see.
On 56 minutes, Moss got a firm header after getting over the top of Poole’s Leslie-Smith, and Harrow were really starting to establish a dominance in this match. In a complete reversal of the form books, the Boro weren’t being threatened at the book, and were starting to look as if they could bag a hatful.
Only a minute later, Keita had his second of the day, doubling his tally for the season, and it was another well taken goal. Good work by O’Connor (bringing him up to a goal and an assist) down the left resulting in an accurate cross to Keita in acres of space and time. He controlled the ball, phoned his missus, helped some nearby kids with their homework, and then calmly got the ball on his left foot and slotted past the ‘keeper. 3-0, and game as good as over.
It really was over shortly later, when with 65 minutes played, Anthony O’Connor got his second as well, bringing him up to 12, just three behind Ryan Moss as Harrow’s new top scorer. This time, there was no luck about O’Connor’s finish, as he steered a composed outside of the foot half volley into the bottom corner. Cairney didn’t even move, and frankly, there wouldn’t have been any point.
Poole were claiming a penalty two minutes later, but really they should have been claiming straight tens, as it was a pretty shoddy dive. A header in the box was blocked, and as the ball dropped to the onrushing Dolphins midfielder (I couldn’t see exactly who) he took a tumble, to a roar from the Poole fans, and an embarrassed groan from everyone else.
Ryan Moss came close to extending the lead on 75 minutes, when he volleyed over after good work from substitute Max Holland down the left. Shortly after, he had another chance, when he reacted fastest to a loose ball in midfield and drove goalwards. There was nothing wrong with his shot, but Cairney did everything right, and was out well to make probably the best save of the match.
The last proper chance came about three minutes later, when Poole substitute Adam Grange breezed past two and shot left-footed, but his effort sailed over. The final moment of note was on 82 minutes, when the exquisitely named Excellence Muhemba was brought on for Poole, and from that second we’d peaked and it was all downhill to the final whistle.
The Wash Up
So, 4-0 to Steve Baker’s Boro, and that run of bad form has firmly been put to bed. In Anthony O’Connor and Ryan Moss, they have a partnership who can certainly compensate for the loss of Kearney, and anything less than a Play Off spot will surely be looked at as a disappointment. This result leaves them only three points behind Poole, with neither changing position, but what it will do for the relative confidence levels of each side is more difficult to gauge.
Tommy Killick, on the other hand, will be back to the drawing board, as he’ll have been concerned at how easily his high defensive line was picked off seemingly at will be Harrow Borough. Similarly, the difficulty his side had in creating clear-cut chances will have left him scratching his head. There were good performances in light blue, and Cairney can certainly hold his head up high despite conceding four. He was left isolated and at risk by his defence too often, forced to sweep up behind them, and as Royal Engineer will be well used to setting up defences to stem the rising tide.
In Harrow red, the entire defensive unit earned their clean sheet, and on the rare occasions when Poole did get past them, Al-Drubi was up to the task. Ryan Moss was a tireless presence up front, but man of the match has to be between the two double goalscorers. Keita’s game wasn’t just limited to the goals, as his presence in midfield had a key impact on the match, but I can’t look beyond O’Connor. His two goals and an assist were crucial, and he was a constant thorn in the Poole side with his tenacity and lively running – particularly in the second half.
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