Last-gasp Pittalis header earns 2s deserved point

Old Etonians 2nd XI
2 : 2
Old Harrovians 2nd XI
  • September 26th 2020, Eton College (Dutchmans), 11:30am
  • Division 2
  • Referee: Hugh Wylie
  • Weather: Sunny, breezy
  • Pitch: Good
No. Starting XI Goals Yellow & Red Cards Subs On/Off
1 Charlie Walsh
2 Will Monroe
3 Harry Woolley (c)
4 Alex Ellis
5 Edmund Massey 75'
6 Andres Hutchinson 31'
7 Jack Dolbey
8 David Lederman
9 Tristan David
10 Alexi Pittalis 87' 85'
11 Charlie Stebbings 50'
12 Ed Stewart 30'

A towering Alexi Pittalis header just three minutes from time sealed a dramatic, and deserved, share of the points for the OHAFC 2s away to their Etonian counterparts on Saturday. The result was all the more special given the visitors’ dreadful start to the encounter, falling behind after barely a couple of minutes and conceding a second after twenty minutes in a torrid period when the Etonians dominated. A fine strike from last season’s leading scorer Andres Hutchinson hauled the Blues back into the game before half-time and the visitors grew in confidence, slowly nullifying the Eton threat before sealing the draw late on. The point leaves the 2s seventh in Division Two with two points from their first three games.

Despite the trip down the M4 being made in glorious autumnal sunshine, the morning began with a dark cloud hanging over the OHAFC 2s. The sight of skipper Geoff Taunton-Collins emerging from his car on crutches, with a brace on his right leg, came as something of a shock to his teammates, with last weekend’s knee injury sustained at Merchant Taylors proving rather more serious than first thought. An MRI scan this week should reveal the full extent of the damage, with fingers being thoroughly crossed an operation will not be needed.

There was better injury news elsewhere however, with last weekend’s other casualty, Andres Hutchinson, recovering in time from his strained quad to make the starting lineup. With Tom Ward still unavailable due to a torn hamstring, Harry Woolley was partnered at the back by Alex Ellis. Jack Dolbey made his first start of the season in his favoured position of central midfield, with Charlie Stebbings returning for his first taste of OHAFC action in several seasons, the big man occupying the lone striker’s role with Hutchinson and Tristan David on either side. Ed Massey also made his first appearance of the season, slotting in at left-back.

Having faced the Etonians plenty of times over the past few seasons, with some degree of success, the visitors had a pretty clear idea of the side that lay in front of them: a fast, direct style of play with plenty of balls switched from one side to the other, accompanied by a pronounced aerial threat at set-pieces. But despite knowing full well what to expect, the Blues showed precious little evidence of being able to counter it in a torrid opening twenty minutes. With a decent breeze behind them, the hosts wasted no time in launching the ball forwards at every opportunity, bypassing the midfield and putting the Harrow back four under immense pressure. The Etonians poured forwards, wasting their first opportunity after barely a minute, but taking full advantage of the second. A long clearance from the Eton keeper sailed over the back four, was squared into the box and a low shot found the back of the net via the outstretched hand of Charlie Walsh, who seemed disappointed he hadn’t done better.

The next quarter of an hour saw the pattern repeated time and time again, with Will Monroe enduring a particularly rocky time at right-back, the tall Etonian left winger storming forwards to latch onto a number of balls pumped over the top. Harrow were barely clinging on, but they were powerless to prevent the hosts doubling their lead thanks to a stunning strike from long range. Despite not being closed down, the Eton forward seemed to be pushing his luck when he let fly from thirty-five yards out, only to produce a powerful, dipping shot that left Walsh with no chance as it flew into the far corner of the net. Understandably, the Etonians celebrated wildly, their grip on the game now seemingly iron-clad.

The visitors needed a spark from somewhere and Jack Dolbey decided he would be the catalyst for the comeback, living up to his ‘pitbull’ moniker by charging around the midfield and tackling anything in a light blue shirt. Dolbey’s energy transmitted itself throughout the team, with the visitors’ pressing high up the pitch and hurrying the Eton defenders into numerous wayward clearances. The back four also got to grips with where there defensive line should be, with the result that suddenly every Etonian ball over the top was either comfortably collected by goalkeeper Walsh or ran harmlessly behind for a goal kick.

And the change in momentum duly brought the first sight of goal for the visitors. The Etonians had already had one let-off when Alexi Pittalis couldn’t quite collect Lederman’s pinpoint fifty yard ball over the top, allowing the Eton keeper to collect in the nick of time. But shortly afterwards the pace and drive of the two wide players did the trick, Tristan David carrying the ball in from the right across the edge of the penalty area before unselfishly slipping it to Andres Hutchinson. Last season’s leading scorer never looked like missing, taking a couple of touches wide of the defender before firing past the keeper with his trusty left foot.

Understandably, spirits were high at the break, with genuine belief the Blues could continue their resurgence and earn something from the game, especially with the wind now behind them. Ed Stewart had replaced Charlie Stebbings prior to half-time, with Hutchinson pushed into a roaming role up front.

Predictably, the second half was a far more even contest, with the OHAFC enjoying playing higher up the pitch and continuing to press at every opportunity. There was still a threat from the home side however, with Charlie Walsh producing two fine saves to deny what would have been a vital third Eton goal. For the most part, the back four looked in control, with Alex Ellis turning in a virtuoso display, intercepting passes, calmly carrying the ball forwards and passing with accuracy. The visitors were also helped by some rather selfish forward play from the Etonians, who decided to shoot from narrow angles on several occasions when a cross would have proved more dangerous.

Despite the vastly improved nature of their performance, the Blues struggled to create chances of note, with the inswinging corners of David and Lederman looking the most likely route to goal. As it was, another set-piece could, and possibly should, have seen the sides level. A free-kick was somewhat bizarrely awarded Harrow’s way when Alexi Pittalis appeared to hack down an Etonian from behind. Some quick thinking from Ed Stewart saw Andres Hutchinson freed down the right and his low cross was met first-time by the onrushing Tristan David. Agonisingly, the ball rolled inches wide of the far post.

The visitors then suffered a couple of worrying injuries, with Ed Massey forced off when he was winded in the process of making a crunching challenge, and Pittalis momentarily sidelined by a sore ankle. Fortunately, both players were fit enough to resume action.

With time nearly up, there was time for one last free-kick, the ball ten yards inside the Eton half over on the right-hand side. Lederman drilled the ball towards the back post where Pittalis met it perfectly, timing his jump to perfection to head powerfully past the Eton keeper.

Despite some frantic exertions to snatch an unlikely winner, the Blues had to be content with the draw that was, on reflection, probably the right result. It had been a tremendous show of character from the side to battle back from their horrific start and should give them encouragement ahead of the long trek to face Sevenoaks this weekend.

The team’s reward, which arrived almost immediately after the final whistle, was a selection of freshly-delivered pizzas, including, somewhat disappointingly, two with pineapple on. Despite this unexpected setback, Massey declared the remaining pizzas ‘terrific’. All’s well that ends well…