Blues pay late penalty for poor availability at Forest
- December 7th 2019, Fairlop Oak Playing Fields, 2pm
- Premier Division
- Referee: Stephen Tate
- Weather: Cloudy, breezy
- Pitch: Poor
|No.||Starting XI||Goals||Yellow & Red Cards||Subs On/Off|
|1||Fraser McGuinness (c)|
For the fourth time in recent weeks, the OHAFC 1st XI let much-needed Premier Division points slip through their fingers late on when they conceded an 83rd minute winner away to the Old Foresters on Saturday afternoon. A makeshift side shorn of nearly every recognisable attacking player in the squad had battled back well in the second half to level at 1-1 courtesy of an excellent Alex Breeden strike, but with time running down, skipper Fraser McGuinness brought down a forward on the very edge of the box and the ball was smashed through the heart of the Harrow wall. The defeat leaves the Blues still in seventh in the division, now just four points ahead of the Foresters.
It was cruel luck on the visitors, although given the dreadful availability that saw skipper McGuinness literally begging for players to make themselves available prior to Saturday, hardly an unsurprising result. The list of absent players would almost have filled a competitive XI on its own, but the drain of talent was most keenly felt up front, with none of James Breeden, James Tippett, George Gould, Alex Gilbert, Will Bamford, Chester Robinson or Mike Okoigun able to play. This meant the visitors starting the game with an extraordinary front three of Callum Barrett, Henry Charatan and Dan Firoozan – two full-backs and a midfielder. The defence looked solid enough, with regulars Jamie Jordache, Jonny Lalude, Connor Barrett and Hamish MacIntyre travelling, but the midfield was only completed thanks to 45 year-old David Lederman agreeing to play the first half of the 2nd XI fixture on the Hill before travelling round the north circular to join the 1s, lining up alongside Alex Breeden and Charlie Bick. Somewhat ridiculously, it was the second time this season the 1s have been forced to call on the veteran to complete their side, Lederman also playing 50 minutes of the Dunn Cup first round win at Eton.
And the makeshift nature of the side was comprehensively exposed in a fairly torrid first half that belonged almost exclusively to the home side. From the first whistle, the team in red were sharper on the ball, quicker into the challenge and far surer of their ideas. Indeed, the only thing they lacked in the initial period was an end product, as a number of promising attacks led to nothing, shots being fired wide and crosses missing their intended targets.
In contrast, the Blues struggled woefully to cope with both their opponents and the usual tricky conditions in Fairlop Oak, with a tight, uneven pitch and strong wind blowing across the grounds. Perhaps realising the attack possessed little by way of power or speed, longer balls forwards were used sparingly, with the side trying to patiently play their way up the pitch to little effect. There were brief glimmers of hope, Firoozan twice collecting the ball in the centre circle with the time to turn and look for a killer pass, but both times the final ball was overhit and the danger petered out. Charatan and Callum Barrett were willing runners, MacIntyre supporting down the left whenever possible, but little headway was made – the nickname of one of the Forest defenders – ‘Chill’ – an apt description of life at the back for the hosts’ defenders during the first forty-five minutes.
Defensively, the visitors battled hard, perhaps slightly too hard on occasion, with far too many free-kicks being conceded around the penalty area. These were dealt with reasonably well, but it was unsurprising that the breakthrough eventually came from a set-piece just past the half-hour. A couple of corners had already been defended, one running straight out for a goal kick, but a third was whipped beyond the far post, headed back into the danger area and nodded home by an unmarked attacker.
The visitors were delighted to get to the break just a goal down and agreed to change tack in the second half in a bid to bring about an improvement in their fortunes. Alex Breeden moved up front, with Dan Firoozan dropping back into the hole. It was also agreed to play longer, with the intricate football the side look to play on the immaculate Phil pitches ill-suited to the dreadful surface they were tasked with playing on here.
And the switches in both lineup and tactics reaped their rewards, with a much-improved performance from the OHAFC after the break. For half an hour the side battled away on more than equal terms with their opponents, Forest looking a shadow of their confident first-half selves. Chances were hard to come by, but the hosts’ rearguard was now being stretched on a regular basis, Barrett and Charatan chasing balls down the wings and Alex Breeden making an absolute nuisance of himself to the centre-halves. Several set-pieces came to nothing, Breeden unfortunate not to score when he headed a corner just over the bar.
At the other end, McGuinness still had to be alert in his goal, with several Forest long balls forcing him to decide whether to come off his line or not. The majority of the time the right decision was made. This forced the hosts to shoot from further out, something they attempted regularly with an almost comical lack of accuracy – numerous balls were smashed an ever-increasing distance wide, over and beyond the Harrow goal, with even some of the Forest players questioning the validity of the tactic.
And the hosts’ profligacy in front of goal was thrown into sharp focus when the Blues snatched a superb equaliser with just over twenty minutes remaining. A throw-in down the right allowed Henry Charatan to scamper free, he whipped the ball into the box and Alex Breeden met it with a perfectly-judged first-time volley to send the ball looping high over the stationary Forest keeper and into the far corner of the net.
The closing stages saw the visitors come under increasing pressure, but they continued to defend stoutly, conceding far fewer free-kicks and corners than in the first half. They were, however, indebted to a magnificent triple save by their skipper to maintain parity: McGuinness dived low to his right to parry a powerful shot, sprung up to then block the rebound, before scrambling to punch the ball clear a third time as a Forest player prepared to pounce.
As time ticked on, it appeared as though the visitors had done enough to earn a valuable point. But with just seven minutes remaining, another Forest through-ball saw the Harrow skipper race off his line, struggle to collect the ball and end up tangling his arms around the legs of a Forest player. Referee Stephen Tate awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the area and the Forest skipper decided on a simple plan of action, blasting the ball as hard as he could at the Harrow wall, which split just sufficiently for it to travel through untouched into the unguarded side of the goal. It was a fairly dreadful way to concede a late winner, given the effort put in during the second half.
Unsurprisingly, the Blues failed to muster much threat in the final few minutes and, once the final whistle had blown, they set off on the long walk back to the changing rooms, the darkening gloom summing up their mood only too well. It had been a decent effort from all eleven players on a horrible pitch, but the overriding sentiment back in the sanctuary of the dressing room was of what might have been with even just a couple more regulars making themselves available for the game. Forest are a decent side, no more, and one that the OHAFC should be aiming to beat if they harbour serious ambitions of fighting for a place in the top half of the table come the end of the season.
For now, however, the squad can take their minds off League action and concentrate on next weekend’s enticing Dunn Cup second round tie at home to KCS Wimbledon Old Boys on the Hill. Wimbledon lie in second in the Premier Division table and, with two games in hand on leaders Charterhouse, will undoubtedly have one eye on the title. If the Blues are to upset them in the Dunn, they need all their players fit, firing and ready to go.