Blues fight back to earn valuable point in compelling game
- January 18th 2020, Harrow School 4G Astro, 11am
- Premier Division
- Referee: Sachin Patel
- Weather: Sunny, calm
- Pitch: Astroturf
|No.||Starting XI||Goals||Yellow & Red Cards||Subs On/Off|
|1||Fraser McGuinness (c)|
|10||James Breeden||48', 53', 60'|
The OHAFC 1st restored their sense of pride with a superb second-half comeback to earn a valuable point in a 4-4 draw at home to the Old Tonbridgians on Saturday afternoon.
Following last weekend’s demoralising 4-1 defeat at home to the Old Chigwellians, the Blues began brightly in perfect conditions on the Harrow School astroturf. But having failed to create any clear-cut chances, the visitors scored twice in the space of five minutes midway through the half to dent Harrow confidence. Despite another spell of pressure in the ten minutes leading up to half-time, the hosts couldn’t find a way through and things looked bleak at the interval.
But a stirring start to the second half saw leading scorer James Breeden turn the game on its’ head, as he produced three top quality finishes to put the OHAFC in front. Amazingly, within a few minutes of falling behind, the Tonbridgians levelled with a superb 40-yard shot from midfield that left keeper Fraser McGuinness powerless to intervene as the ball sailed over his head and into the net. Once more the hosts responded, a well-worked move saw George Gould exchange passes with Breeden before finishing neatly into the far corner with a flick of his boot to give Harrow the lead with a quarter of an hour remaining. Sadly, the lead was again short-lived, as Hamish MacIntyre was deceived inside the penalty area five minutes later, his foul gifting the visitors the chance to level from the spot – an opportunity they didn’t pass up. Despite the disappointment at the late equaliser conceded, the overall mood in the camp following the game was upbeat, with the character shown throughout in total contrast to the previous week’s effort.
As much as anything, Saturday’s display at least put a smile back on Harrovian faces, as well as those watching on, with four former 1s stalwarts among a decent crowd on a beautiful morning on the Hill. Having scored no more than a single goal in six of their last seven matches – and having won just once in the League since early October – a shroud of gloom has steadily descended over the squad as their promising start to life back in the top division has gradually turned sour. But this game was as bright and entertaining as the glorious sunshine, with plenty of quality football on display from both teams, as well as a wonderful array of beautifully taken goals.
Despite a number of 1s regulars unable to take part, skipper Fraser McGuinness was handed a useful lifeline when the 2nd XI fixture was postponed, allowing him to augment the 1s squad. In came centre-half Ed Beecham, utility forward Pablo Hutchinson and, making his first team debut, younger brother Andres, who has been in electric form for the 2s this season. James Cleverly retained his place following his debut last weekend, Luke Berry made his first appearance of the season and there was a welcome return to action for George Gould, who had been sidelined for a couple of months with a hamstring tear. He was fit enough to come off the bench if required.
With not even a hint of a breeze, conditions on the Hill were perfect, the waterlogged Phil pitches notwithstanding. The Blues made a bright start on the astro, switching play confidently and trying to find both Hutchinson brothers and James Breeden down the channels. Several promising attacks foundered on the final ball, with crosses being overhit or players attempting to beat one man too many. The hosts also appeared to have made a fairly clear tactical blunder with the more nimble, quicker James Breeden playing behind Pablo Hutchinson up front. This meant that whenever Harrow’s leading scorer received possession he was always too far from goal, whilst also asking the stockier, more powerful Hutchinson to latch onto balls over the top – against a pair of fairly immobile Tonbridgian centre-backs this blunted the home side’s threat.
Despite this, the hosts looked in control until the visitors opened the scoring after twenty minutes with practically their first attack of note. A decent build-up led to a cross coming in from the Tonbridge right and a forward was left unmarked at the far post to steer in. The goal lifted the visitors’ spirits and the game developed into a more even contest following that, the Blues still struggling to find any fluency to their attacking play.
And things went from bad to worse when Tonbridge doubled their lead with ten minutes remaining in the half. Despite vocal appeals for offside, play was allowed to continue and a pinpoint cross from the left wing was beautifully volleyed in at the far post, McGuinness left with no chance as the ball was rifled past him.
Given recent results, it would have been easy for the home side to go into their shell, but to Harrow’s credit they pressed forwards and dominated the ten minutes leading up to half-time. Again, several half-chances were created, but Tonbridge remained resolute at the back. James Breeden was played in down the inside right channel but his dinked finish sailed wide of the near post. Pablo Hutchinson then rose well at a corner only to head just wide, before Breeden skipped round several defenders on the left before forcing a low save from the keeper at his near post. Despite being 2-0 to the good, it was the visitors who were the happier side to hear the half-time whistle.
With George Gould’s hamstring restricting him to a maximum of half an hour of action, skipper Fraser McGuinness maintained the same eleven for the start of the half, with the front two switching roles so that James Breeden was now playing on the last defender.
And the change paid immediate dividends in an electrifying start to the half in which the hosts, and more specifically Breeden himself, turned the game around, scoring three times in fifteen minutes. Barely two minutes had elapsed after the re-start when the ball was slotted through to the striker on the left edge of the box and he picked his spot, planting the ball just inside the far post. Five minutes later the sides were level courtesy of an impudent, improvised finish from a long throw. A strong run down the wing from Andres Hutchinson earned the Blues the throw and it was hurled towards the near post where Breeden, with his back to goal, hooked the ball back over his shoulder, over the keeper and into the far corner from a fairly acute angle. Tonbridge defenders turned and stared at each other in amazement.
The visitors were now rocking, with play concentrated almost exclusively inside their half. And the recriminations grew louder on the hour-mark when Harrow’s leading scorer completed the turnaround, and his hat-trick, with another masterful finish. Again there were loud appeals for offside as the ball was played up to him ten yards outside the box, but with play allowed to continue he showed superb composure to carry the ball inside to a central position before placing his shot perfectly inside the far post from twenty yards out.
At this stage, it was impossible not to expect the hosts to go on and win the game comfortably, such was their domination. But remarkably, two minutes after taking the lead for the first time, the hosts found themselves pegged back to 3-3 courtesy of a quite brilliant effort from a Tonbridge midfielder, who collected the ball in space just inside the Harrow half, looked up to spot McGuinness slightly off his line, before producing a magnificent 40-yard shot that sailed over the Harrow keeper and into the back of the net. The celebrations were justifiably exuberant, the wind suddenly taken from Harrow sails.
Once again, the goal galvanised the visitors and the game became a more even contest, both sides carrying a goal threat whenever they approached their opponents’ final third. Gould was introduced off the bench for his first appearance since the earlier fixture against the Tonbridgians at the end of November, and the midfielder looked sharp, finding himself involved in plenty of action from the get-go.
Indeed, the 21 year-old thought he had crowned his comeback with a superb winning goal a quarter of an hour from time. Some intricate build-up play outside the Tonbridge box allowed him to play a one-two with James Breeden before running on to flick the ball over the keeper into the far corner with the outside of his right foot.
But with just six minutes remaining, and Harrow growing increasingly confident of holding onto what would have been a valuable victory, a simple error at the back gifted the visitors a penalty, Hamish MacIntyre tripping his opposite man inside the box as he tried to go past him. There were few complaints and the spot-kick was dispatched beyond the dive of McGuinness.
It was a cruel blow for the OHAFC, who had fought back superbly after the break to twice take the lead. There was an excellent spirit and determination from the side, although yet again the number of goals conceded must be a concern – the Blues have now conceded 43 times in 14 League games, the second highest number in the Premier Division behind only bottom side Chigwellians.
And things will not get any easier at all as the squad contemplates their final four fixtures of the season: next week reigning champions and current League leaders the Old Carthusians visit the hill, that is followed by a trip to second-placed KCS Wimbledon, before the season ends, curiously, with both the fixtures against the Old Etonians, currently fourth in the table. If the team can reproduce the quality of play and determination shown here, they should be able to compete with all of them.